International support for Egypt’s war on terror
WASHINGTON - The UN Security Council unanimously elected Egypt to lead the UN Counterterrorism Committee. The selection reflects the fact that Egypt is seen as a victim of and an important fighter against terrorism and that it remains a pivotal country in the region.
The committee is tasked with developing counterterrorism strategies and ensuring that states implement UN Security Council resolutions dealing with terrorism.
Egypt’s accession to head the counterterrorism committee comes two months after it was elected to a seat on the Security Council from January 2016 to December 2017, the fifth time it joined the council since the United Nations’ founding.
Egyptian officials hailed these achievements at a time when the news coming out of their country has not been positive.
Over the past few months, Egypt has had to cope with the fallout from the bombing of a Russian airliner over the Sinai peninsula that killed 224 people. The incident, which probably was the result of a bomb planted aboard the aircraft, led to a massive evacuation of Russian, British and other European tourists from the Sharm el-Sheikh area in southern Sinai and was a huge blow to the Egyptian tourism industry.
Egypt has also been criticised by international human rights groups for the detention of journalists and bloggers who have either been critical of the government or have printed stories not to the government’s liking. In addition, the turnout for the country’s recent parliamentary elections was low, a reflection of political apathy among many Egyptians and a sense that their votes have little influence in the wake of ongoing terrorist incidents, lackluster economic growth and the return of old elites to parliament.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Egyptian diplomats have been active shoring up Egypt’s relations with a number of countries. Although Egypt initially denied a terrorist connection to the downing of the Russian airliner, Sisi has come around and asked for international help.
During a November 5th news conference in London, Sisi and British Prime Minister David Cameron talked about their cooperation against terrorism. Cameron said: “We will continue our close security cooperation [with Egypt], including tackling the scourge of violent Islamist extremism… We’re committed to working together… to meet all concerns about the security of the [Sharm el-Sheikh] airport.”
Sisi said: “We are completely ready to cooperate with all our friends to make sure that the security measures taken at our airports provide the safety and security needed” for people to visit Egypt.
Sisi added that “the world needs now more than ever to unify peoples and cultures against the ideas and rhetoric of bigotry, extremism, hate, and denial of the other, [as these are] the ingredients of a fertile soil of terrorism, detrimental as it is to the pillars and values of societies”.
On the sidelines of the international climate conference in Paris, Sisi met with French President François Hollande, who praised Egypt’s support for France in the fight against terrorism. Sisi also met with French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian about increasing cooperation in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) and terrorism in Africa.
The Obama administration has assured Egypt of continued US military and security cooperation. On October 29th, US Ambassador in Cairo R. Stephen Beecroft called the delivery of four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt “another step forward in US-Egyptian cooperation on fighting terror, bringing stability to the region and strengthening our historic relationship”.
But this international support does not mean that concern over human rights violations has waned. US Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said recently: “I worry when [Egyptian authorities] arrest people for no good reason, when they have 40,000 or so people in prison and there’s clearly been an abridgement of various freedoms, such as the press and others.”
Yet McCain acknowledged Egypt’s cooperation as a reliable ally in a troublesome region: “Their military is good [and] a lot of it has to do with our support.”
Sisi is counting on this support not only to help Egypt’s own terrorism problem but also to counter terrorism in the region.
The unanimous vote for Egypt as chair of the UN Counterterrorism Committee indicates that it has many friends who want it to succeed and see it as a valuable partner.