Egypt may need more than state of emergency

Sunday 16/04/2017
Not enough. A police helicopter flies before the funeral of victims of the Palm Sunday bombings of Egyptian Coptic churches in Cairo, on April 10. (Reuters)

Cairo - Imposing a state of emergency may give Egyptian authorities additional powers to track and arrest suspected terrorists but fighting terrorism effectively needs more than that, experts said.
“By taking all the necessary secu­rity measures, the state of emergen­cy can help arrest terrorists, but this is something and eradicating ter­rorism is something else,” said left­ist politician Hussein Abdel-Razik. “Fighting terrorism should not be restricted to security, but should include an intellectual and cultural dimension.”
The state of emergency went into effect April 10, a day after two sui­cide attackers set off explosive de­vices inside churches in the north­ern coastal city of Alexandria and in the Nile Delta city of Tanta. The bombings left at least 40 people dead and more than 150 others in­jured.
Coptic Pope Tawadros II was in­side Saint Mark’s Church in Alexan­dria, minutes before a bomb was set off in the church. By claiming the attacks, the Islamic State (ISIS) in­dicated that its anti-Christian drive was still part of its overall plans.
With the state of emergency, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al- Sisi seems to be seriously increasing security measures against terrorist groups. This comes with Roman Catholic Pope Francis planning to visit Egypt in late April.
A state of emergency has been in effect for three years in Sinai where Egypt is fighting a group affiliated with ISIS. The recent decree, how­ever, marked the first time the state of emergency was being enforced outside Sinai since 2013 when Is­lamist President Muhammad Morsi was ousted by the army following mass protests against his govern­ment.
Security experts said the state of emergency would allow Sisi to re­fer terrorism cases to special courts where judges can quickly adjudicate them. Rulings issued by these courts would not be subject to appeal, they said.
“This will achieve the purpose be­hind enforcing the state of emergen­cy,” said Farouk Megrahi, a retired police major-general. “Ordinary courts have problems issuing quick rulings in cases of terrorism partly because of laws regulating the work of these courts and partly because these courts are crippled with too much work.”
The state of emergency gives the president the right to ask the army to guard important state institu­tions, impose tighter supervision on the media, decide when commercial shops can open and close, terminate fire arms’ licences and force resi­dents to evacuate some areas.
These measures, experts said, will fight terrorists, not terrorism itself because the eradication of terrorism requires an ideological and cultural war as well.
“You cannot claim to fight terror­ism while you allow the terrorists to spread their venomous ideas eve­rywhere,” Abdel-Razik said. “Look at who controls the mosques and you will know why it is not easy to stem… the extremist tide.”
Mosque control has become a contentious issue as more of them have fallen under the control of Is­lamist groups, including the ultra-orthodox Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Religious Endowments Min­istry, a state agency, is responsible for supervising the country’s ma­jor mosques but a large number of smaller mosques, especially in rural parts of the Nile Delta and southern Egypt, are said to be controlled by Salafists and the Muslim Brother­hood.
“These are where the next gen­eration of terrorists is groomed,” Abdel-Razik said of these smaller mosques.
The government has been crack­ing down on the Muslim Brother­hood since mid-2013. It, however, ignores the Salafists’ control of many mosques, including in Alex­andria.
However, some Salafists preach hatred against non-Muslims, say women are unequal to men, insist that Christians do not have the right to assume positions of leadership in this country and bar Muslims from congratulating Christians on their religious occasions, experts said.
The Religious Endowments Min­istry says it is not silent and is try­ing to have all mosques under its control.
Apart from measures to prevent clerics not commissioned by it from preaching, the ministry added, it re­moves extremist materials, includ­ing books written by hardliners.
“[Control of mosques] is an im­portant issue in fact because the ideas preached at the mosques de­termine people’s understanding of their religion,” said Sheikh Ibrahim Moheieddin, a senior Religious En­dowments Ministry official. “We realise that mosques are at the fore­front of this country’s battle against terrorism and this is why we do our best to prevent extremists from controlling them.”