On 24 July 2013, three weeks after Egypt’s army removed Muslim Brotherhood (MB) member Mohammed Morsi from the presidency, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, then defence minister, called on the Egyptian people to back the army and the police to fight terrorism across the country. Seen as a way to create a mandate for continued military rule after the coup, this call to fight terror has defined Egypt ever since.
Four years on, widespread repressive tactics by the Egyptian government are more severe than even during President Mubarak’s most desperate years in charge. President Sisi, who has ruled since 2014, has used the terror threat to justify intense repression: sweeping counter-terror (CT) laws to clamp down on dissent, a Stalin-style programme of mass incarceration overseen by military tribunals, widespread ‘assembly-line’ use of torture and extra-judicial killing. Egged on by state-controlled media, the strategy targets not only violent individuals but also journalists and dissenting citizens. In Sinai, Egypt’s hidden war has escalated, in part due to the collective punishment of local communities who have faced aerial bombardment, forced displacement and deprivation of essential services.
Such repression typically foments further conflict and terror attacks. In Egypt, the situation has unquestionably worsened: since 2013, violence by the state and non-state groups has caused the deaths of thousands of Egyptians, including civilians, members of armed groups, police and army personnel. The US, Britain and several other European governments have nevertheless cheered the regime on. For them, the mistaken idea that Egypt’s approach is an effective way to counter ‘terrorism’ is too convenient to challenge openly.
For now it remains highly profitable to sell arms to Egypt and easier to avoid sending signals that could lead to Egypt playing a spoiler role on Western priorities such as Libya, Israel and Palestine, and maritime trade. Yet the regime’s behaviour is as cruel and counter-productive as Yemen’s and Syria’s were in the run-up to their devastating civil wars. It will likely fuel further terror, and could well provoke a deep, intractable crisis in the long term rather than stave off the threat posed by violent groups.
This in-depth article explains what is happening in Egypt and why a better response is needed nationally and internationally to end the bitter cycle of bloodshed.
Header photo: Aftermath of the crackdown by Egyptian security forces on supporters of former president Mohamed Morsi in Rabaa al-Adawiya and Al-Nahda squares after Morsi's removal from power in the 2013 coup. Photo: Mosa’ab Elshamy
1. Ketchley M (2017), ‘How Egypt’s generals used street protests to stage a coup’, The Washington Post, 3 July
2. On correlation between state terror and terror attacks, see: Institute for Economics and Peace (2016), ‘Global terrorism index 2016’, November. On repression fuelling conflict, see Attree L (2012), ‘Issue paper 2: What are the key challenges? What works in addressing them?’, Saferworld