Egypt’s vision for combating terrorism is rooted in the state’s firm view that terrorist groups, despite their differences, are of equal threat and their ideas are based in the same ideology that incites violence, killing, and terrorizing people. Egypt believes extremism in all its forms is the ideological umbrella which terrorist groups rely on in spreading their subversive message, and recruiting supporters through false religious interpretations. Egypt is working hard with a clear vision and effective policies to eliminate this phenomenon, not only through military means but also from all ideological, organizational and financial angles, since terrorism is a serious threat to the first human right – the right to life.
Egypt strongly believes in the importance of global cooperation to confront this phenomenon since it is a trans-border trend, meaning that if terrorism surfaces anywhere this does not mean it will be contained within that border. Rather, it will grow beyond the border and beyond the continent. Egypt is focused on boosting cooperation and sharing its expertise in regional and international organizations, and anti-terrorism fora. It also monitors international decisions on combating terrorism, coordinates with national agencies to implement these decisions across the country within domestic laws, trains African security and judicial institutions to raise their capabilities to fight terrorism. Also, bolsters opportunities to build and maintain peace in countries suffering from wars and conflicts that are fertile ground for housing terrorist groups.
Egypt also works on drying up sources of funds for terrorism on bilateral and international levels in cooperation with international partners in accordance with UN resolutions, and on the regional level through its membership of several regional and international organizations such as the Arab League, African Union, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, UN, the international coalition for combating terrorism. It closely monitors the efforts and outcomes of partnerships between Egypt and its global partners to share best practices in combating terrorism, its sources of funding, and recruiting human resources.
As part of the drive to combat extremist ideology and provide a moderate religious discourse, Egyptian religious institutions which are highly reputable around the world and have great credibility with the Muslim masses everywhere, namely Al-Azhar and Dar Al-Iftaa [Religious Edicts Foundation], play a key role in confronting radical ideology on the national, regional and international stage through several initiatives aiming to popularize and promote religion’s moderate and noble messages, and dismantle the ideological foundation of terrorist groups. They also refute radicalism promoted by these groups through social media especially, and their work is not limited to the Arabic language, but also in English, French, German, Spanish, Persian, Urdu, Chinese and African languages so these institutions can deliver their message to 193 countries around the world.
Egypt is also working on combating Islamophobia which aggravates the problem because it is another form of extremism that terrorist groups utilize to ingrain a siege mentality in their supporters, and plant the belief that the entire world is against them and their religion, which confirms extremist claims that the world is the enemy of Islam. Egypt always reiterates the need to combat Islamophobia on the international stage, and is working on the domestic scene to create an economic and social environment that rejects extremist ideology. Egypt wants to address the conditions that lead to the spread of terrorism, including discrimination based on ethnic, national or religious affiliations, political exclusion, socio-economic marginalization, and lack of good governance. The government, along with broad participation in society and in partnership with international development partners, launched a sustainable development strategy until 2030 to provide a good life for all citizens equally. The government also approved a comprehensive economic reform plan which raised economic growth from 4.4 per cent to 5.6 per cent between 2014 and 2019.
The government also began building landmark labor-intensive projects which reduced unemployment rates from 13.4 per cent in 2014 to 7.5 per cent in the second quarter of 2019. As part of its commitment to social justice and social solidarity to guarantee a life of dignity for all citizens and reduce poverty, the government implemented several programs and projects, most notably increasing the pensions of civil servant, public and private sector employees from EGP 103.1 billion to EGP 175 billion between 2014 and 2019, or a 41 per cent increase that benefits some 10 million Egyptians. It also launched the Solidarity and Dignity program to provide a social security network to the poor, old, handicapped, those unable to work and orphans which benefits another ten million citizens.
It also launched an unconditional cash support program known as “social security” that benefits 1.4 million families and provides academic scholarships to prevent children in these families from dropping out of school. It has also provided $929 million in funds for development projects in the poorest areas, and $550 million from the World Bank for public housing and school food programs to cover 11 million children. The government also multiplied its efforts to provide adequate, safe and healthy housing for citizens and is working on providing a variety of units for all income levels, as well as renovating housing for the neediest families. It has provided 333,000 new housing units for low-income families since 2015, with token down payments and rent, that benefits some three million citizens, and provided 74,651 units for middle income families. The government plans to build 395,000 more units for low-income families until 2020.
The social housing program for low- and middle-income families provided 210,806 soft loans between 2014 and 2018 to enable them to own their unit. The state also adopted a comprehensive national plan to eliminate slum areas, whereby slum residents are given a choice to either move to other neighborhoods or accept financial compensation or accept temporary alternative housing or take a lump sum to find other housing until their neighborhood is developed. They would be given a housing unit in the neighborhood after the work is done. Around 90 slum areas around the country are being developed, with a total of 92,455 housing units.
With regard to healthcare, between 2015 and 2018 some 20 new hospitals, medical centers and clinics were built in 20 governorates, and 38 existing hospitals, medical centers and clinics were refurbished, and the number of families treated at state health insurance hospitals increased, with more poor patients given access to treatments. A comprehensive health insurance law was issued and will gradually be compulsory for all citizens, while gradually raising the standard and efficiency of medical facilities before applying the new system.
In September 2018, the campaign “100 million Health” was launched to eradicate Virus C and detect non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. In February 2019, another free campaign was launched to detect and treat obesity diseases, stunting and severe anemia among students under the age of 12.
For women, the 2015 parliamentary elections ushered in 90 female MPs bringing the rate of female members to 15.5 per cent of seats, up from 1.2 per cent in 2012. Since 2018, there have been eight female ministers in charge of 25 per cent of cabinet portfolios. And for the first time ever, two women were appointed as governors. Women occupy 27 per cent of deputy governor positions, as well as preside over district, local councils and as mayors in some villages. Women occupy 25 per cent of leadership positions in the Central Bank of Egypt and 12 per cent of seats on the boards of banks. They are also present in the judiciary and the president’s national security adviser is a female.
With regards to the economic empowerment of women, equal opportunity units were created in all ministries to ensure equality in the workplace, and prevent discriminatory practices against women. There are also legal awareness programs on the rights of working women, confronting violence against women, and three national strategies were launched in 2015: the National Strategy to Combat Violence Against Women; the National Strategy to Combat Female Genital Mutilation (FGM); and the National Strategy to Combat Early Marriage. Tougher penalties on FGM were also adopted.
On the rights of children and the handicapped, the government – in partnership with NGOs – launched the “National Strategy for Childhood and Motherhood: 2017-2023”, with an integrated development view to provide better services, raise the quality of life for children, and focus on protecting the health, survival, development, education and participation of children in public life. Special attention is given to basic services for children in poor families, and 2018 was declared the Year of the Handicapped. The law guarantees their effective participation in all aspects of life, and grants special benefits to them at government offices and education services. The Civil Service Law allocated five per cent of government jobs to the handicapped, reduced their working hours by one hour every day, and increased their paid vacation time. A health strategy for the handicapped was adopted in partnership with NGOs to provide medical care at reasonable prices.
With regards to freedom of belief, a law was issued on the construction and renovation of churches to protect freedom of belief and regulate the rules for acquiring a license, removing previous violations, and adjusting the status of houses of worship. Until July 2019, the status of 1,021 churches and service buildings was adjusted.
Egypt is also seeking to develop its military capabilities in combating terrorism. The army is carrying out an intense campaign to fight terrorism, and Egypt believes in the importance of firm military action to prevent regional expansion of terrorism, and protect civilians from savage violence by terrorists. To showcase the effectiveness of these operations, Egypt is working closely with international partners to bolster anti-terrorism efforts, and continues to do its utmost to combat terrorism despite regional challenges that directly impact Egypt’s security and chronic crises in the Middle East that are causing the quantitative and qualitative evolution of terrorism. Also, the proliferation of extremist ideology, civil wars, and waves of mass displacement.
There are also challenges regarding security and the right of Egyptians to life as a basic right, and guarding political human rights. After the revolutions in 2011 and 2013, Egypt faced serious security challenges and many terrorist attacks that caused great destruction of life and property. It exerted great efforts in recent years to restore security and political stability through a clear and cooperative vision for combating terrorism, and developed policies, plans and mechanisms to combat terrorism, protect political and civil rights, and exercise existing constitutional and legal guarantees on the matter, as well as develop these guarantees.
There remains a crucial problem facing the fight against terrorism, namely some countries funding terrorist currents to interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries. There is also the dilemma of agreeing on a unified definition of terrorism, which is highly controversial. Some actions are labeled as terrorist when they are not, such as armed resistance by national liberation movements with the goal of independence and self-determination. Agreeing on one definition of international terrorism is crucial on the international stage, because only then can global bodies adopt a unified legal reference. This would also unify the theoretical criteria defining this phenomenon, support countries on the frontlines of fighting terrorism to protect world citizens’ right to life, mobilize genuine efforts to end armed conflicts, and benefit from available regional expertise in building and maintaining peace.
This article was first published in: Egyptian Center for Strategic Studies, Human Rights: The Trajectory to Combat Terrorism, Special edition, Cairo, November 2019.