International support for Egypt’s war on terror

Election to lead UN counterterrorism committee reflects backing in crucial fight
Friday 18/12/2015
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, (C) listening to Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry

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.