How Egyptian society can rally against terrorism

Ziad Bahaa-Eldin
Saturday 11 Jul 2015

Defeating terrorism in Egypt requires social cohesion and abandoning the fevered conditions that prompted social division

The Egyptian people—across classes, confessions, generations, and national political forces—were united in the past days in their refusal to submit to the escalating terrorism, their championing of the state and armed forces, and their support of the families of the martyrs who died defending the nation.

This spontaneous coming together expressed Egyptians’ realization that the state and society face one common enemy that requires the unhesitating, and undivided mobilization of all national and popular capacities. It spoke of the realization that armed terrorism seeks to smash the state, threaten its unity, destroy its institutions, and dispel its hopes for development and stability.

The battle is not over, and a decisive victory requires maintaining this national alignment, restored in a moment of imminent danger, and preserving social unity and cohesion. This is the ultimate lifeline.

But maintaining this national alignment requires us to face the fact that Egyptian society over the past two years has been riven by discord and internal conflict that only benefits terrorist groups and those betting on the failure of the country.

This division was a grave mistake caused by those who ignored the real danger facing the nation and instead turned to settling political scores and dividing the spoils of June 30.

Instead of fostering cooperation and coordination among parties eager to vanquish terrorism, uphold the civil state, and move toward development and justice, a fierce campaign was launched against the young people that led the January and June revolutions, public figures of every stripe, independent journalists, activists in civic and party activities, moderate Islamists who opposed Muslim Brotherhood rule, and technocrats with expertise accumulated throughout the Mubarak years and whom the country needs today.

No one escaped the smear campaign, aimed at every political and intellectual current, every person of conscience or independent voice. Meanwhile, the danger of terrorism grew, taking advantage of this environment full of accusations of treason, divisions, and political conflict.

I am not talking here about rebuilding the June 30 alliance. That was a unique historical moment in which politically opposed forces joined together to bring down the Brotherhood rule. It was, therefore, only natural that this coalition would unravel given the parties’ divergent ideological stances and economic and political interests. The mistake, then, was not the dissolution of this ad-hoc coalition, but that rules and mechanisms to manage disagreement and conflict were not established and respected, as they must be in any pluralistic society.

These would have allowed forging a national consensus to face major challenges—terrorism, first and foremost—and agree on urgent national priorities while also permitting peaceful differences in political and economic views. This is why respect for the constitution and law is so critical, not because they are sacred, flawless texts, but because they are the only way to preserve diversity and difference while still pursuing a larger common purpose.

I expect some will say that it is too late. Only the armed forces and police can resolve the battle with terrorism now, and there is no room for political and social forces or talk about the constitution and law at this decisive moment. 

But although I have full confidence in the Egyptian army’s ability to defeat terrorism militarily, a total victory is only possible by confronting it politically and ideologically as well, by drying up its funding and support sources, and by addressing the social and economic conditions spurring youth to join its ranks.
And none of this is possible without first fixing the skewed priorities of the last two years that have led the state and its media to draw no distinction between those who take up arms against the nation and its citizens and those who defend opinions, express an independent or dissident view, and cling to law and justice.

It is not too late to reconsider. Although grave events bring us losses and victims and inspire feelings of grief, pain, and anger, they also present the opportunity to correct our course and learn from past lessons.

The most of important of these is that defeating terrorism requires social cohesion and abandoning the fevered conditions that prompted social division. Moreover, national unity is the best way to express our appreciation for the sacrifices of those who fell on the battlefield against terrorism.

My sincerest condolences to the Egyptian people and the families of the martyrs, especially Hisham Barakat and the officers and soldiers of the armed forces, and I wish their families patience and solace in this trying time.

The writer holds a PhD in financial law from the London School of Economics. He is a former deputy prime minister, former chairman of the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority and former chairman of the General Authority for Investments.

This article was published in Arabic in El-Shorouq newspaper on Tuesday 7 July.

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