Egypt Establishes National Council to Combat Terrorism and Extremism

Egypt’s counter-extremism and counter-terrorism strategy is based on a comprehensive approach which focuses on dismantling the core ideology which constitutes the threat itself and confronting the different terrorist groups which are its manifestations

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi (Photo: AP)

Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi issued a decree on July 26, 2017, formally establishing the National Council to Combat Terrorism and Extremism (NCCTE). Under the leadership of President El-Sisi, Egypt has developed a comprehensive strategy to fight Islamic extremism and terrorism that endangers the stability and security of Egypt and the region.

Egypt considers the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State and al-Qaeda and their affiliated groups as a grave threat to Egypt. The Egyptian approach relies on comprehensively and categorically refuting and countering all forms of extremism and terrorism, rather than making distinctions and categorizations.

Kamal Amer, head of parliament's National Security and Defense Committee, said that the new council should primarily target political Islam movements – particularly the Muslim Brotherhood. "Political Islam movements are no different from radical or militant Islamist movements, and all should be ferociously fought," said Amer, arguing that "the Muslim Brotherhood is the movement that re-invented radical jihadist ideology and is responsible for the spread of this venomous ideology around the world."

The decree was published in the Egyptian Official Gazette, and stipulated that the establishment of the "National Council to Counter Terrorism and Extremism aims to rally institutional and societal capacities to uproot the causes of terrorism and to address its impact."

The NCCTE, which is chaired by the president, will include the parliament speaker, the prime minister, the grand imam of Al-Azhar, the Coptic Orthodox pope, as well as a number of ministers, including the defense, religious endowments, justice, interior and foreign ministers. Several public figures will also be on the council, including former grand mufti Ali Gomaa, the head of the State Information Service Diaa Rahswan, writer Farouq Goweda and actor Mohamed Sobhy.

The council will be composed of different sub-committees, each entrusted with implementing a particular task. There will be a sub-committee charged with analyzing political and radical Islamist ideology, another to gather information on Islamist terrorist organizations, one to protect minorities, and a fourth to develop security and cultural strategies to combat extremist ideas.

The Tasks and Responsibilities of the NCCTE

1. Implement a comprehensive national strategy to combat terrorism and extremism, both at home and abroad.

2. Coordinate with religious institutions and security agencies to spread moderate religious discourse in the face of radical ideologies.

3. Amend existing legislation to address obstacles facing access to justice.

4. Facilitate coordination and cooperation between all security and political bodies and with the international community, especially neighboring countries.

5. Coordinate Arab positions on terrorism-related issues, and establish a regional inter-Arab entity to this end.

6. Suggest security plans and legal strategies and follow up on their implementation, and hold meetings every two months or whenever necessary, according to the decree.

Summary

Egypt is battling an Islamist insurgency mainly concentrated in the northern part of Sinai. However, Islamist militants have recently carried out attacks in other parts of the country, mainly against police and army personal as well as Coptic Christian civilians.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is keenly aware, more than most others, of the profoundly destructive effect of Islamist radicalism and terrorism and the unprecedented eruption of violence in the name of Islam that is sowing havoc in Egypt and throughout the Middle East.

Egypt recognized that the source of the motivations and actions of radical groups is the same extremist ideology and although it produced many variants, it served the same goals. The Egyptian approach relies on countering all forms of extremism and radicalism, rather than making distinctions and categorizations, based on assumption that extremism by its very nature is a stepping-stone towards violence.

Egypt’s counter-extremism and counter-terrorism strategy is based on a comprehensive approach which focuses on combating and dismantling the core ideology which constitutes the threat itself, confronting the different terrorist groups which are its manifestations, and working to create an environment conducive to the rejection of radical thought, so as to prevent the resurgence of the threat.

Egypt’s efforts in this regard rely upon venerated religious institutions such as Al-Azhar and Dar Al-Ifta’, who work in partnership with moderate voices and communities throughout the world to discredit the logical and religious basis of extremist thought and promote the values of tolerance and peace. The outcome of the struggle in Egypt, the intellectual and cultural capital of the Arab world, has ramifications far beyond its borders. 

Egypt prioritizes cooperation with international partners in this vein, working collectively to create a strong, viable counter-narrative with effective distribution methods. Egypt’s Awqaf Minister Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa has said, "Islamic religious scholars from across the world will confirm in one voice: 'no' to extremism and 'yes' to tolerance."

President El-Sisi remains committed to his drive against militancy and terrorism. However, to be successful in the war against extremism and terrorism, El-Sisi will need to find the balance between the use of force and strict security measures with education to encourage a more moderate version of Islam.

While the results of President El-Sisi's drive have been mixed thus far, Egypt can be a model for other countries with similar problems and priorities to form counter extremism and terrorism strategy.

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