Under Al-Sisi’s Rule Relative Moderation Gets Nowhere – A View That Drives Radicalization

Three weeks after the military coup against the first democratically President Mohamed Morsi, Gen. Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi asked the Egyptians in 2013 to give the army the mandate to fight terrorism.

Al-Sisi addressed the Egyptian public saying, “I have a request for all Egyptians,” he said, adding “all honorable, decent Egyptians” to take to the streets to march for the military, thereby giving him and his army “a mandate and an order to fight potential violence and terrorism.”

However, “three years later, the violence and terrorism Sisi pledged to prevent remain a potent reality” wrote Omar Ashour -a senior lecturer in security studies at the University of Exeter and an associate fellow at Chatham House in London- in The Daily Star.

Moreover, the senior lecturer considered the military itself as a leading perpetrator – and instigator – of violence.

In his article titled ”Sisi’s Egypt reaps its security harvest,” Ashour stated that the regime’s policy led by al-Sisi has agitated violence and led to more turmoil in the country.

Al-Sisi’s policy concentrated on “cracking down anyone who protested the overthrow of Egypt’s first-ever freely elected president, Mohammad Morsi. The crackdown culminated on Aug. 14, 2013, when the military stormed sit-ins in Cairo’s Rabaa Square and Giza’s Al-Nahda Square,” said Ashour.

The Human Rights Watch called the evacuation of Rabaa and al-Nahda sit-ins the “worst mass unlawful killings in Egypt’s modern history” and “a likely crime against humanity.” More than 1,000 demonstrators died in less than 10 hours. The Egyptian Center for Social and Economic Rights recorded 932 fully documented bodies, 294 partly documented bodies, and 29 undocumented bodies, including 17 women and 30 teenage girls and boys.

After the bloody massacre, al-Sisi regime’s message was clear and obvious he was clearly convinced that eradicating his opponents was a better strategy than including them. As a result, the young political activists who wanted change quickly realized that ballots, strikes ,and sit-ins would be useless because they might get killed.

The political life and democracy have withdrawn after January Revolution in 2011 which carried many hopes to the country which lived under the rule of Mubarak’s’ dictatorship for 30 years.

But the military coup has ruined the youth’s hopes and pushed the country toward an unprecedented wave of violence.

Ashour said, “Unsurprisingly, the coup and subsequent crackdown on opponents triggered a spike in an enduring insurgency.”

Almost immediately,  in response to an already restive North Sinai, elite brigades from the Second and Third Field Armies, assisted by the air force, launched operation “Desert Storm” to quell the burgeoning rebellion. Afterward, the military spokesperson declared that 78 “terrorists” had been killed and 207 arrested, effectively ending terrorism in the Sinai.

But violence didn’t stop as the insurgency seemed to have more motivation than ever. A few months later, Sinai insurgents shot down a Mi-17 helicopter that belonged to the Second Field Army, an unprecedented display of military capacity.

By November 2014, local rebels were swearing their loyalty to the so-called Islamic State (Daesh, ISIS) – another unprecedented move, they became as known as the Sinai Province a group.

It’s noteworthy that a jihadist organization in Egypt had ever before offered its loyalty to a foreign entity.

Sinai Province- like other ISIS-affiliated groups- publishes its military metrics and reports both monthly and annually. Those data indicate that last year the group killed about 800 soldiers and 130 civilians (alleged informants or collaborators). It also claims to have captured heavy mortars, two ZU-23 anti-aircraft autocannons, five DShK heavy machine guns and dozens of AK assault rifles.

Moreover, Sinai Province started targeting foreign targets as downing the Russian airliner back in October 2015, SP operatives infiltrated Sharm el-Sheikh Airport and planted a bomb on the Russian Airbus, killing all 224 of its passengers and crew.

It was the worst terrorist operation in the history of Egypt and Russia. In the first two months of this year, SP reported that it had destroyed 25 armored vehicles (including tanks, minesweepers, and bulldozers) and killed 100 soldiers (the military acknowledged 37).

Despite Sisi’s pledge, violence and terrorism are clearly expanding. It’s quite true that the insurgency has remained largely limited in Northeastern Sinai and parts of the Western Desert, with occasional strikes in the Nile Valley, but it started to widen its scale in Cairo.

Recently, gunmen attacked an undercover security minibus in Cairo’s Helwan suburb last May, killed all eight armed security agents, and vanished into the working-class cement jungle.

The scale of violence is expanding in Egypt and is expected to escalate the coming time especially with closing and suppressing the democratic peaceful channels in the country. Limiting freedom of expression and political participation will probably increase radicalization.

Ashour has documented that relative moderates who have remained committed to contesting official policies by democratic means are now sidelined and mocked.

One prominent case that he mentioned is Essam Derbala, the head of the Consultative Council of the Islamic Group, a post-jihadist organization that led a terror campaign in the early 1990s, before abandoning political violence in 1997 and engaging in mainstream politics.

From 2002 to 2009, Derbala and other IG leaders produced around 30 books to counter Al-Qaeda’s ideology. After ISIS announced its intention to declare a “province” in Upper Egypt in April 2015, Derbala toured the Upper Egyptian IG strongholds, giving public lectures countering Daesh ideology.

But a few months later, he was arrested and died in prison. Among his last messages to his supporters was “not to give up on democracy and peaceful resistance.”

Derbala’s death reinforced the view that, “In today’s Egypt, relative moderation gets you nowhere – a view that drives radicalization,” said Ashour.

One evidence that supports this view is Ahmad al-Darawy’s case, he was former police officer and a popular pro-democracy activist who ran in Egypt’s first free and fair parliamentary election in 2012. However, Rabaa Square massacre was a turning point in his life from democracy to radicalization as he decided to join ISIS, where he was later killed.

In this context, it is clear that the Egyptian regime under al-Sisi rule will leave no other way for the youth or the advocates of democracy except using the opposite track of violence and radicalization. “One of the main motivations behind the 2013 military coup was to counter potential violence and terrorism. Yet one of its main upshots is a surge in violence and terrorism, committed by both state and non-state actors – and there is no sign of de-escalation, much less reconciliation, in sight, ” Ashour said.