Egypt may need more than state of emergency
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.”