Terrorism in Egypt: the cultural myth

Mohammed Nosseir

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Many of our problems in Egypt are simply a reflection of cultural traits that stimulate our thinking process. Terrorism, the most complicated challenge in modern history, is heavily shaped by our culture. The Egyptian state always wants to isolate this crisis from other challenges, yet terrorism is entwined with our sociopolitical problems. The recent twin terrorist attacks highlighted many Egyptian cultural deficiencies:

Same Destruction, Different Day: After St. Mark’s Cathedral was blown up last December, I had imagined that terrorists would never again be able to enter a single Egyptian Church. Obviously, I was wrong. Sadly, we don’t learn from our mistakes and didn’t take the measures to counter our security breaches permanently. Moreover, in Egypt we work in fits and starts. In the months following an attack, everyone is on guard against terrorism; when nothing happens for a while, we tend to relax – until another outbreak of terrorism takes us by surprise.

Working better when the boss is present: While one terrorist was easily able to enter St. George’s Church in Tanta, substantially better security measures made it difficult for another to enter the Alexandria church where Pope Tawadros II was present. The fact that the explosion happened outside the church is a partial defeat of terrorism (and obviously resulted in fewer casualties).

Thinking of today should not be at the expense of tomorrow: Imposing a state of emergency will not scare away a single brainwashed terrorist willing to commit suicide for a false cause. However, it will certainly affect tourists and investors who will be discouraged from either visiting or investing in Egypt. Additionally, by neglecting ordinary crime and violence, we are sending a message to terrorists that there is a room for them to get away with their acts successfully.

For Egypt to better address the challenge of terrorism, we need to develop a strategy in which government entities, independent institutions and citizens provide true inputs and have genuine ownership. Single-handed action that imposes the government’s philosophy on the community won’t help

Mohammed Nosseir

Overburdening Police: We can’t realistically expect a segment of society to be continuously on guard against possible terrorist attacks while the great majority of the Egyptian workforce behaves recklessly. We need to work on upgrading the entire society to act professionally, even if this is a long-term task. The Egyptian state wants to rely on a few police officers and intelligence personnel to handle this chronic challenge and refuses the help of others – which is desperately needed. Meanwhile, regime affiliates who speak to the media 24-hours a day are certainly stimulating terrorists.

Disparity is common, but we don’t notice it: We Egyptians tend to be biased in our daily life! We largely favor male gender to female, we prefer to employ people we know to unknown calibers (even when they have better qualifications), companies that are Muslim-dominated rarely employ any Christians, and companies owned by Copts have substantially more Christian employees. No wonder terrorists attack Churches.

Friends with one-way benefits: The Egyptian state is always calling upon other nations to support us in our fight against terrorism – a legitimate demand that should not be overlooked. Yet our government does not want to listen to a single suggestion offered by other countries on this subject, labeling it as interference in our national affairs.

Heroes, martyrs and government compensation: After each terrorist incident, the government works on identifying heroes, labeling victims as martyrs and financially compensating their families. Neglecting the real cause of the crisis, the state tries to convey this narrative to society: the hero is the “role model” we should emulate during the next terrorist attack, the victims, as martyrs, are in a better place today, and their families will be financially taken care of.

For Egypt to better address the challenge of terrorism, we need to develop a strategy in which government entities, independent institutions and citizens provide true inputs and have genuine ownership. Singlehanded action that imposes the government’s philosophy on the community won’t help. The entire population must be extremely alert to confront this challenge, which necessitates thoroughly addressing our cultural problems, such as inequalities and a laidback attitude.

We must provide our police force with state-of-the-art technology that can help them to tackle terrorism better. If we need the support of other nations, we must be willing to listen to their advice carefully.

Finally, we need to ensure that the law is applied fairly to all citizens; this will prevent terrorist leaders from brainwashing and recruiting marginalized citizens, based on the claim that they will be fighting against an irreligious and unjust society.
Mohammed Nosseir is an Egyptian liberal politician who advocates for advancing liberalism, political participation, and economic freedom. Mohammed was member of the higher committee at the Democratic Front Party from 2007 to 2012, and then member of the political bureau of the Free Egyptian Party till mid 2013. Mohammed advocates for his work through providing the Egyptian government with a number of schemes to better reform its government institutes, as well as he is a regular contributor to various Egyptian newspapers. Mohammed also has extensive experience in the private sector, working with a number of international companies assisting them in expanding their businesses in the Middle East. Mohammed graduated from Faculty of Commerce, Ain Shams University, Cairo (1986); he participated at Aspen Seminar on Leadership, Values and Good Society (2011), Eisenhower Fellow, Multi-National Program (2009) and Stanford Fellow for Democracy, Development & Rule of Law (2008).

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