Published:  03:07 AM, 07 December 2017

Egypt is burning, who's responsible?

Egypt is burning, who's responsible? The view of Rawda Mosque, roughly 40 kilometres west of the north Sinai capital of al-Arish, Egypt, after a deadly terrorist attack.

The terrorist attack on a mosque in Egypt's northern Sinai on Nov. 24 was the deadliest in the country's recent history. The death toll of the terrifying attack stood at 309, with most of the casualties belonging to one village in the city of Arish; sadly, they hail from one tribe.

 In an attempt to understand what is going on in the Sinai in particular and the whole country in general, we have to go back to 2013, months before the Egyptian army's move to topple the first ever democratically-elected and civilian president, Mohammed Morsi.

While addressing dozens of Egyptian anchors, journalists, and actors, the defense minister at that time, Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, said, "Please don't ask the Egyptian army to re-intervene in the political scene, as if this happens, I tell you that we would not be able to restore stability to the country in 40 years, and maybe we cannot do that within that time." Do not be as surprised as I was at the time, these remarks were Sissi's, and they were recorded.

 A week after the deadly coup the same defense minister carried out in July of that infamous year, where all the electoral results that took place following 2011's pro-democracy uprising were totally burnt, Sissi directed a landmark call to the Egyptian people, saying, "I am calling on all spectrums of the Egyptian people to take to streets with a view to assigning me to face the probable terror."

Again, the military strongman knew very well that his reckless move would bring terror, chaos and sabotage back to his country, and he took brutal steps, turning a deaf ear to all local, regional and international critics at the time. Indeed, Sissi preferred his personal and the army's short-term objectives at the expense of people and youth's longstanding goals to live under democracy and dignity.

It is the youth's lack of hope that brought savagery to Egypt because they saw their first democratic experience thwarted by an ousting of the country's first democratic president. It is the lack of hope that transformed a promising Egypt into a chaos-occupied country.

I remember Cairo's streets weeks after Mubarak's removal. Cairo was totally full of hope, optimism and determination. People's conversations in streets, cafes, homes were mostly focusing on how to be part of rebuilding their own country on the bases of justice, freedom and equality before their dreams were aborted.

Taking a look at the Global Terrorism Database that consists of terrorist attacks that have taken place in the Middle East and North Africa between 2011 and 2016, we find that the lowest average of these attacks was in 2011 and 2012 during the first two years of the pro-democracy uprisings, the two years of hope, before shifting into very high rates in 2013 and 2014, most within weeks following the demise of the Egyptian democratic experience, the model that inspired the whole region.

Another dynamic behind the rise in terrorist attacks in Egypt is the political deadlock in the country and the 4-year-long violent crackdown by the regime launched against all its opponents, most of whom were from moderate political Islam movements like the Muslim Brotherhood.

The youth of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic groups were told that the Arab Spring constituted a big chance to prove that changing tyrannical and dictatorial regimes could take place via peaceful protests and demonstrations and through the democratic gates, which posed a big challenge at that time due to the rhetoric of the al-Qaeda terrorist organization.

The saying "Violence begets violence" completely applies to the Egyptian case. Days after the terrorist attack in 2016 inside St. Peter's church in central Cairo, Egyptian media outlets interviewed the mother of the suicide bomber - 22-year-old Mahmoud Shafiq Mohammed Mustafa, who was identified by Sissi hours after the deadly attack left more than 23 people dead.

His mother said her son was taking part in a peaceful anti-regime protest before being arrested and tortured by Egyptian security forces. She went on to lament that her son stayed in an unknown prison with no charge for two years before being released and travelling to an unknown destination. Terror is not justified at all, but knowing the motives makes it easier to understand the situation.

New York-based Human Rights Watch issued a report on the human rights situation in Egypt for the period August 2015 to August 2016, documenting that 912 victims experienced an enforced disappearance, and 52 have not reappeared. The non-governmental group affirmed that Egypt's security officers are well known for torturing suspects, while being in enforced disappearance. It went on to note that between January and October 2016, at least 433 detainees claimed that they were subject to mistreatment and torture while in custody.

Cairo-based Arab Network for Human Rights (nongovernmental) said in a report issued late in 2016 that Egyptian prisons have around 60,000 political prisoners, while the number of criminal detainees was 46,000, making Egypt a state in which political detainees outnumber those arrested in criminal cases.

Another dynamic behind the rise of terrorist attacks in Egypt's Sinai is the lack of economic development and high rates of poverty and unemployment. Dreadful statistics published by the state-run National Center for Statistics and Information show that around 28 million out of a population of 90 million live under the poverty line.

 A report issued two years earlier by the state-run Social Fund for Development shows that more than 45 percent of the Sinai's people were under the poverty line. Sinai affairs researcher Mustafa Sinjar told Al-Monitor in May 2014 that the basic needs of the Sinai's citizens suffer from severe shortage and the people are to a great extent marginalized.

He said: "As a citizen, I find it difficult to access water and proper treatment, as well as a good education. Also, there are no good roads in the province, no good power networks, there is no infrastructure." These statistics and testimonies indicate some of the critical sources of terror in the country; thus, it is very difficult to defeat terrorism in a place before prioritizing development and combating poverty and high rates of unemployment.

The writer is Egypt-based journalist                             ------Ali Al- Hasan
The article appeared in Daily Sabah

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