The effects of terrorism go far and beyond the immediate violent act, since it also has profound social, economic, and cultural repercussions. Acting under a presidential mandate, Egypt’s Ministry of Social Solidarity has now launched a scientific research project dubbed the “Cost of Terrorism” with a view to tackling the different impacts of the phenomenon, particularly over the past three decades.
The project is being implemented in cooperation with the Egyptian Centre for Strategic Studies (ECSS), a Cairo-based independent think tank, with the participation of a slew of professors and experts concerned with the same field of study.
President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi had called for a research project on the impacts of terrorism in Egypt and the Islamic countries, said Minister of Social Solidarity Nevine Al-Qabbaj, who opened the first public symposium on the project on Monday.
Al-Sisi had also instructed that the research results should be made public so that the facts related to the magnitude of the losses incurred by the state and citizens as a result of the various waves of terrorism became better known, the minister added.
The move comes amid a scarcity of documented scientific studies focusing on inventorying the cost of terrorism either at the international or domestic levels, underscored Al-Qabbaj.
The Egyptian project encompasses four key axes — political, economic, social, and cultural — with each axis examined in terms of the cost of terrorism, its causes, and ways to counter it. The study represents the first initiative in Egypt to open a scientific dialogue about the phenomenon since the 1970s, ECSS Manager Khaled Okasha said.
The Egyptian state has incurred cumulative losses, some of which have had direct impacts, like human causalities, material damage to facilities and infrastructure, capital outflows, and expenses of repair, as a result of terrorism, according to Okasha.
Others have been in the form of indirect impacts, he added, including the state’s increased expenditure on the victims and their families, in addition to a hindrance to development and investment opportunities.
This had shifted the focus of the state’s resources to combating terrorism and addressing its repercussions, Okasha said. Social and cultural life was not isolated from the damage inflicted by terrorism, he added.
Terrorist organisations sought to threaten societal cohesion in order to establish extremist visions and exclusion-based values and also place restrictions on freedom of thought and creativity, he explained.
Women were a special target for groups whose mindsets viewed them as “incompetent” persons who are “nonessential” partners in society’s battles for survival and construction.
He added that Egypt has suffered from the “complex, deep, and extensive” effects of terrorism over recent decades, a matter that has led the state to push ahead with efforts to restore security and stability based on the fact that both are necessary for development.
Terrorism activity throughout 2014-2015 had reached an unprecedented level in the country’s history, Okasha said. Following the 30 June Revolution in 2013, there had been several terrorist attacks. However, as a result of the country’s efforts, terrorist activities had retreated since then, he added.
The study, when finished, will offer a comprehensive Egyptian approach to reducing the repercussions of terrorism on the social, economic, political, and cultural sectors, he said.
It clarifies how terrorism begins as “soft terror” that seeks to intimidate the state and society through an ideological system that expands within institutions and society and later turns into “hard terror” that targets inflicting material sabotage and destruction, Okasha said.
Head of the project and member of the ECSS advisory board Gamal Abdel-Gawad said violent actions could be the tip of an iceberg. In like manner, terrorism could have its roots in society, culture, and the economy. Several steps precede the moment in which an individual becomes involved in terrorism, he added.
“It is our work to find them,” he said.
Monday’s symposium tackled the preliminary findings of the research and strategies to reinforce the pillars of the modern state during two roundtable discussions.
Economic expert Abdel-Fattah Al-Gebali, principal researcher for the project’s economic axis, pointed out that terrorism has taken a heavy toll on the country’s tourism sector, public expenditure, and economic development.
Initial findings had showed that direct losses in the tourism sector due to terrorism, especially from 2011 to 2016, had hit nearly $64 billion.
Terrorist operations had also affected the rate of public spending on vital sectors such as health and education, he noted. The government has increased its spending and investment in those sectors to offset the withdrawal of private investment in order to maintain living standards, he explained.
But the increased rate of spending had led to an increase in the budget deficit, which was why the researchers had found a direct link between terrorist acts and the deficit, he added.
Development rates had also witnessed a decline on the heels of terrorist incidents as a result of a decline in foreign and private investments.
Mustafa Al-Feki, a prominent diplomat and political commentator, said that poverty was a time bomb for Egypt as it represents an incubation environment for terrorism.
“Poverty is one of the causes of frustration… and this results in a rejection of reality that may be expressed by adopting violence,” Al-Feki said. Poverty is not the only influential factor, but it is an important incubator for terrorism, he added.
Al-Qabbaj said that her ministry was facing up to terrorism by providing social protection, supporting economic empowerment, and entrenching citizenship.
The ministry and ECSS plan to hold a series of symposia to expand dialogue on the project, she added.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 April, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.