Counter-Terrorism Policies in Egypt: Effectiveness and Challenges

19 October 2016 | Paper | English


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Five years after toppling Mubarak’s regime in Egypt, terrorism continues to be a threat to national security. The collapse of the police institutions that coincided with the 25 January 2011 revolution, the weakness of state institutions in controlling the borders of Egypt and in restoring security and order in the streets, and the increasing activism of Islamic groups, including the Salafi groups, have complicated the threat that the country is seeking to counter.

During the presidency of Mohamed Morsi from June 2012 to June 2013, the regime in its official discourse was reluctant to use the term terrorism. It used the terms “violence” and “Jihad”, and relied on the approach of negotiating with the terrorists in Northern Sinai instead of armed confrontations preferred by the army.[1] The analysis of the effectiveness of this approach reveals that it did not curb terrorism. Instead, it enabled the main terrorist organisation active there since 2011 Ansar Beit alMaqdes (Welayat Sinai since 2014) as well as other small groups to build transnational networks to gain needed logistical support from Gaza, and to increase their capabilities of attacking state facilities (Sharp, 2016, pp. 5-7). The annual global terrorism report issued by the US Administration covering the year of 2012 mentioned that “Egypt’s Northern Sinai region remained a transit route for smuggling arms and explosives into Gaza, as well as a base and transit point for Palestinian violent extremists.” The fall of Morsi’s regime following the 30 June 2013 revolution worsened the situation. The annual global terrorism report of 2014 concluded that “Egypt witnessed an increase in terrorism and violent extremism following the removal of the elected government on 3 July 2013. Although the majority of attacks were concentrated in Northern Sinai, some significant incidents occurred in the eastern Nile Delta between Cairo and the Suez Canal city of Ismailiya” (US Department of State, 2013).

Two years after the beginning of the presidency of Abdelfattah el-Sisi, Egypt is witnessing intertwined patterns of terrorism that vary in their importance and in the level of threat they raise for national security. The first pattern is ISIS terrorism in neighbouring countries, either in the Levant or Libya. The second pattern is the wave of returning fighters who left in previous years either to join the conflict in Syria or to join ISIS in Libya. The third pattern is represented by the domestic terrorism carried out by local terrorist organisations on the mainland and in Northern Sinai.

El-Sisi’s perceptions of the level of the threat posed by these patterns consider the first pattern as “important”, as it is weakening the nation state and pushing it towards “sliding into a vicious cycle of failure.” According to him, “the collapse of Syria would mean that all of its weapons and equipment would fall into the hands of the terrorists. If that happens the danger will not only hurt Syria but spill over to its neighbours and will pose a serious threat to the rest of the region, and this is what we fear” (“Egypt´s Sisi to AP”, 2015).  

These perceptions justify the Egyptian reluctance to announce a long-term military commitment outside its borders to counter terrorism in the region. The government is dedicating its diplomatic efforts to counter terrorism outside its borders through its membership of the Global Counter-Terrorism Forum, and its presidency of the UNSC Counter-Terrorism Committee.[2] Moreover, it relied on military means in countering ISIS in Libya unilaterally in February 2015 (Malsin & Stephen, 2015) and on security cooperation with the Iraqi government[3] and with the International Coalition to counter ISIS in Syria and Iraq.[4]

On the other hand, interviews conducted with many security officials reveal that there is an underestimation of the importance of the second pattern. There is a conviction that “it is no longer” a security issue “due to the rigid measures taken by the government”[5] that aim at limiting the number of people travelling directly to Syria or through Turkey. However, there is a lack of official statistics on the number of returnees. The official performance report published by the Egyptian presidency in June 2015 mentioned that the number of returnees from Syria who were arrested was 63 (Media Office of the Egyptian Presidency, 2015). The official performance report of June 2016 published by the presidency despite explaining the efforts of the government to counter terrorism on the national level did not include any detailed information on this particular issue (Media Office of the Egyptian Presidency, 2016, pp. 33-34).  

Domestic terrorism is considered to be the imminent threat to national security. President el-Sisi considers the fight against the local terrorists as “a ferocious war” (Lederer & Daniszewski, 2015). This stance was reiterated by former Prime Minister Ibraheem Mehleb in an interview in October 2014. He stated: “For the Egyptian military the most important thing is its borders and the stability and the protection of its country” (Elmenshawy, 2014).

There is a conviction among security officials and experts that the removal of Morsi’s regime on 30 June 2013, followed by the dispersal of the Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) sit-ins in Rab’a’a and in al-Nahda on 14 August 2013 is the main trigger for a new wave of domestic terrorism, which has been spreading in many modern urban cities on the mainland targeting civilians, infrastructures, police and army officers, as well as foreign embassies. As a result of that wave, Egypt’s rank jumped from 27 during the period 2002-2011 to 13 in the years 2013 and 2014 according to The Global Terrorism Index developed by the Institute for Economics and Peace (Global Terrorism Index, 2012; Global Terrorism Index Report, 2014; Global Terrorism Index Report, 2015). This paper argues that the complex nature of this wave is the main driver for Egypt to adopt a relatively new set of counter-terrorism policies in comparison to those adopted during the 1980s and 1990s.

Speaking of this new wave does not overlook the fact that terrorism in Sinai is an old issue, but it makes it more complex due to the increasing militarism of the terrorists currently active there. For decades, the lack of development, weak governance and increasing influence of the Salafi Jihadist groups turned Sinai into a safe haven for terrorist cells formed by “radicalised indigenous Bedouin Arabs, foreign fighters, and Palestinian militants from neighbouring Gaza” (Sharp, 2016).

In this context, this paper focuses on domestic terrorism in Egypt since the election of President el-Sisi in June 2014.[6] It examines the counter-terrorism policies adopted on the national level by Egypt both in Northern Sinai and on the mainland, and attempts to assess its effectiveness. It argues that these policies are developing along the way in light of the lessons the government is learning from the confrontations with the terrorists. The last section of the paper identifies challenges that limit the effectiveness of these policies, which results in the continuation of the threat. The conclusion suggests a number of policy options to the Egyptian government and its European partners to strengthen the capacity of the government in countering terrorism at the national level.

Who are the Terrorists? A Transforming Landscape

Many security officials argue that the current wave of terrorism is different from that of the 1990s as the “drivers of terrorism are no longer local, but regional and international.”[7] They overestimate the importance of the transnational networks among the terrorist organisations currently active in Egypt and their regional counterparts, along with the role of other countries in the region that support these organisations through facilitating the flow of money and weapons needed to maintain their survival.

In line with this argument, an Egyptian diplomat explained that the concept of “violent extremism” is used widely in the West, but the concept of terrorism is not applied in the case of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) so as to “undermine the efforts of the Egyptian government in gaining regional and international support for labelling the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation despite the threat it raises to Egypt’s national security.”[8]  

This section argues that the terrorist actors active in Egypt since the dispersal of the MB’s sit-ins in Raba’a and in al-Nahda on 14 August 2013 are practising traditional terrorism in Northern Sinai and urban terrorism in the main cities of the country. The terrorist actors active in both types are diverse and transforming and can be divided into two categories. The first category consists of traditional terrorist organisations that have been known since the 1980s and 1990s wave of terrorism asJihadistsor Takferien[9] that aim at establishing the Islamic Khilafa. During that period the two most active groups were al-Gama’a al-Islamiya and al-Jihad, which were active in attacking the police and foreign tourists.

Currently, the most active organisation that belongs to this category is Ansar beit al Maqdes. It announced its loyalty to ISIS in November 2014 and since then it has been labelled Welayat Sinai. It operates mostly in Northern Sinai and is composed of Salafi Jihadists. Besides being hierarchically well organised, experienced in terrorist operations and having the capabilities to carry out numerous attacks following varying tactics (Gold, 2016), it is following the strategy of hiding within civilian communities in the villages of Northern Sinai. This makes it hard for the security forces to distinguish between Welayat Sinai’s strongholds and its areas of operations. Recently this group has widened its operation areas to include the mainland as well. For instance, it claimed responsibility for the assassination of the public prosecutor Hesham Barakat on 29 June 2015, and of the attempted assassination of the former Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim on 2 September 2013.

The second category of terrorists belongs to the pattern of leaderless terrorism, especially the small cells type. It is by definition home-grown, its members are citizens who were not subject to a structured training on terrorism or in traditional training camps, and were radicalised through being exposed to radical and extreme content disseminated through social media platforms or through direct communications with extremists in mosques or other gatherings (Ragab, 2015). In these cells, there is a dynamic flat network of communication among the members, which makes it difficult to identify the operational or ideological leader. Most perpetuators of this type of terrorism are very well educated, employed and belong to the middle class with good living conditions, and not socially isolated from their societies. Usually, these cells are formed by a limited number of people and based on trust and shared grievances.[10]

The best known examples of these cells are the Armed Hilwan Brigade Kata’eb Hilwan al-Mosalaha, The Revolutionary Punishment, and the Popular Resistance. They are mainly active on the mainland. The creation of these groups was triggered by the dispersal of the MB’s sit-ins in Raba’a and in al-Nahda in 2013. Since then the middle and lower level leadership of the MB, followers, and the Salafi-Jihadist groups like Hazemoon who took part in the sit-ins and stood against its forced dispersal have relied on violence as a strategy to manage their conflict with the newly established regime, leading to the creation of the aforementioned groups.

This development was preceded, as argued by Ibrahim al-Houdaiby, a former member of the MB and grandson of the second general guide of the group Hassan al-Houdaiby, by “a growing sympathy among the MB’s members towards violence.” Al-Houdaiby supported his argument with two main developments; firstly, “the cheers for the ISIS during the MB’s demonstrations” and, secondly, “the (oral) support of its young cadres like Ahmed al-Mogheir and Abdelrahman Ezz to the terrorist attacks that targeted the Egyptian army” (Al-Houdaiby, 2014). The two young cadres have since 1 March 2014 published through their Twitter accounts justifications for the MB’s shift away from peaceful confrontations with the regime towards violent clashes.[11] Similar developments were examined by other researchers who concluded that there is an increasing tendency among the young cadres of the MB towards using “low level violence” in their struggle with the newly-established regime.[12] 

Unlike the first type, these groups do not use religion to justify their violence and are not seeking to re-establish the Islamic Khilafa. Instead they use political justification. For instance, the motto of the Revolutionary Punishment reads: “It is time to correct the direction of the revolution (January 2011), to get rid of the dictator regime that aims to bury the revolution. The only way is to build military capabilities.”[13]

The resilience of the groups belonging to the second category and their capability to survive in the face of Egypt’s counter-terrorism measures varies. There are a number of small cells that declared their existence after the dispersal of the sit-ins in 2013 but they are no longer active. The most well-known cells are Molotov anti coup and Wala’a. Both, according to their official Facebook pages,[14] declared responsibility for attacking security targets in Alexandria, Cairo and in Giza.[15]

The life cycle of some other cells is defined by carrying out or planning one attack, and then having its members arrested. The Armed Hilwan Brigade is an example. On 15 August 2014 a video announcing the existence of this group was leaked to the media. It showed 15 masked gunmen, one of whom warned police forces active in southern Cairo of being a target for the group’s violence (“The Full Story of Armed Hilwan Brigade”, 2015). The investigations led to the arrest of 215 men suspected of being members of this brigade.

Other cells are more resilient. The Revolutionary Punishment, established on 25 January 2015 (Magdy, 2015) is an example. In its official founding statement it designated the “Egyptian police, army and the dictator regime” and the infrastructure as the main targets for its violent activities. In June 2015, it announced that it is active in 16 governorates, and that it managed to carry out 248 operations in six months.[16] The Revolutionary Punishment, along with the Popular Resistance, claimed responsibility for targeting electricity substations, circuits and pylons in Cairo, Giza, Aswan, Demiat, Bort Said, Fayoum, and Qalyoubia. These targets are strategic in nature and are causing high costs as in the case of attacking the electricity pylon of the Media Production City in April 2015, forcing private satellite channels off air, and the attack of 4 September 2014, known as “Black Thursday”, causing total blackout in Cairo and other places (Fouad, 2015; Ibrahim, 2014). The estimated total loss caused by these attacks amounts to around 1 million Egyptian pounds needed for the repair of each pylon (“Who Attacked Media”, 2015). In 2014 it also affected the electricity production by 15% to 20%, according to the Prime Minister’s statement (“Egypt´s Power Crisis”, 2014).

Moreover, the operations of Welayat Sinai are not confined to the army and the police, or to Northern Sinai; rather they are expanding to the mainland targeting civilians, infrastructures, foreign embassies[17] and public properties. For instance, on 21 August 2015, Welayat Sinai announced the beheading of a Croatian citizen (Hall & Drury, 2015), the responsibility for the attempted terrorist attack on June 2015 targeting foreign tourists in Luxor, and the bombing of the Italian consulate in Cairo on 11 July 2015. Also, on 16 July 2015, it announced responsibility for launching a missile from the shore of Sinai that hit an Egyptian naval vessel. It also claimed responsibility for the Russian A-321 Airbus that exploded after taking off from Sharm el Sheikh international airport on 31 October 2015 (US Department of State, 2015), although the Egyptian investigations of the crash are still ongoing.

Source: McManus & Greene, 2016.

The level of terrorism on the mainland and in Northern Sinai is becoming unpredictable, especially with the increasing reliance on Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) by the terrorists that require specific capabilities to be detected (“IED Attack”, n.d.), and the absence of a specific model or pattern that defines the characteristics of potential terrorists (Hefny, 2015).

Moreover, not all terrorist attacks that occurred since the dispersal were carried out by any of the above mentioned groups. According to the Tahrir Center’s data, 84% of the total attacks following the dispersal until October 2014 were not claimed by any known group. The unclaimed attacks continued in a higher number in the year 2015, and to a lesser degree in the first quarter of 2016 (McManus & Greene, 2016).These unknown attacks are perpetuated by unorganised individuals or by very small cells that decided to practise violence for various reasons.

In addition, the aforementioned organised groups are going through transformations that affect their level of activism. The US counter-terrorism report of 2014 recognised two terrorist groups: Welayat Sinai operating in Northern Sinai and Ajnad Misr operating in Cairo (US Department of State, 2014). According to the data of the Tahrir Center, Ajnad Misr became inactive after the killing of its founder and leader Hamam Atiya on 9 April 2014 by the Egyptian forces. It has not claimed responsibility for any of the attacks that took place in 2015 or in the first quarter of 2016.[1] In 2015, the US report considered the Welayat Sinai as the “significant threat” Egypt is countering[2] and it did not mention any other groups active on the mainland. The Tahrir Center’s count of terrorist attacks on the mainland concluded that the Popular Resistance was the most active in the first quarter of 2016, while the Revolutionary Punishment was more active during the year 2015 (McManus & Greene, 2016).

Nevertheless, examining the total number of terrorist attacks in Northern Sinai and on the mainland reveals that the numbers are decreasing. During the period January 2015 to September 2015, 592 attacks were counted by the Cairo Index developed by the Regional Center for Strategic Studies in Cairo. This number includes thwarted attacks and the attacks the terrorists managed to carry out.[3] 13.2% of the attacks were in Northern Sinai, 15.3% in Cairo, 14.2% in Giza, 8.2% in Sharqiya and 6.6% in Ismailiya. On average there were around 14 attacks per week during this period. By the end of 2015 the total number reached 642 attacks. The average number of attacks in this year is higher than the average number of attacks per week during the period June 2013 to December 2014, which reached, according to the Cairo Index, 6 attacks per week (“The Index of Terrorist Attacks”, 2015b; “The Index of Armed Violence”, 2016). Comparing the first quarter of 2016 with the first quarter of 2015, the Cairo Index data reveals that the former witnessed the lowest number of attacks reaching 29 in Northern Sinai, Giza and Alexandria,[4] while the first quarter of 2015 witnessed 354 attacks[5] and the first quarter of 2014 witnessed 59 attacks.

Thus, the level of terrorism in Northern Sinai and on the mainland was at its highest in 2014 and 2015, and in the following year in the case of the mainland it is declining as a result, according to a senior security official, of the “effective policies adopted by the government and the weak structure of the Revolutionary Punishment and the Popular Resistance groups.”[6] This could also apply to the aforementioned case of Ajnad Misr.

However, regardless of the number of the attacks, the significance of the targets being attacked is a key indicator that these groups still have the capability and the resources to attack targets unilaterally or through coordination with other groups. For instance, on 8 May 2016 four men carried out a mass shooting in Hilwan, killing 8 policemen. Both Welayat Sinai and the Popular Resistance claimed responsibility.

Counter-Terrorism Policies

Historically, countries that suffer from high levels of insecurity due to terrorism tend to rely on security strategies as the first defence strategy. Their main goal is to reduce the number of terrorist attacks. In these cases, adopting strategies that tackle the drivers of terrorism usually come at a later stage. During the 1980s and 1990s, Egypt experienced a wave of terrorism which it attempted to counter. Most of the efforts were directed to the security strategies in countering the two main terrorist groups al-Jihad and al-Gama’a al-Islamiya. Mubarak’s regime focused on the leaders of the two groups as they were considered to be the centre of gravity for both, and the source of the religious-Islamic ideology used to legitimise their existence and use of violence. Targeting the leaders was efficient in these two cases. The leaders of al-Gama’a al-Islamiya led a review of the group’s ideological base that justified the use of violence against the regime.[7]

As the current wave of terrorism is different from that of the 1980s and 1990s in terms of the geographic areas affected and the type of terrorist organisations, I argue that its complex nature is the main driver for adopting a relatively new set of policies in comparison to those adopted before, despite the absence of an announced national strategy for countering terrorism.

In examining the counter-terrorism policies in Egypt, the Tahrir Center concluded that the government’s main approach is “characterised by sweeping arrest campaigns throughout the country, broadened legal language designed to remove barriers to neutralise the enemy, and broad and indiscriminate security operations in the Sinai” (Egypt´s Rising Security Threat, 2015, p. 16).

Instead of focusing on the security dimension of the counter-terrorism policies adopted by the government, this paper attempts to comprehensively analyse these policies by using a model of analysis containing three levels: targeting the terrorists, helping the victims and preventing the spread of terrorism. The paper is thus broadening the scope of the policies examined to include non-security policies applied by the government in order to reduce the number of terrorist attacks, and the number of followers or recruits being attracted by these groups.

However, examining the effectiveness of these policies is a challenge due to the tendency among the officials to exaggerate their success in countering terrorism in a way that could cause confusion among researchers and pundits. For instance, the Minister of Interior stated on 13 September 2014 that “99% of terrorism was eliminated”[8] and the Army spokesman during the Sheikh Zowayid battle stated on 1 July 2015 that “no one, whoever he is, will be able to control even one millimetre of Sinai or any part of Egypt while the Egyptian army and police exist.”[9] The attacks following these statements proved the inaccuracy of their assessments.

Targeting the Terrorists

The first level of analysis includes policies aimed at weakening the terrorist groups, arresting the terrorists through maintaining a level of policing, collecting intelligence, and bringing them to justice and holding them to account for their actions according to national laws. It also includes direct military confrontations with the terrorist groups.

Egypt is adopting two sets of policies. The first set aims at providing a legal framework that legalises the counter-terrorism measures adopted. In light of article 237 of the 2014 Constitution, the Egyptian government[10] adopted the Terrorist Organisations Law.[11] However, no official list of terrorist organisations has been released since the designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation on 25 December 2013. Moreover, it adopted the Counter-Terrorism Law in August 2015 that defines terrorist acts, financing of terrorism, and the penalties for such acts, some of which are derived from the Egyptian Penal Code.[12] Accordingly, the government adopted many procedures to track the investments and money of the MB members, supervising more than 1,000 philanthropic organisations it owns, along with tracking and prosecuting MB members involved in the terrorist attacks, and banning them from travelling abroad or having them on the watch list.[13]

It is worth noting that the adoption of these laws is unprecedented in Egypt, and driven by security threats posed by terrorism in the post-2013 period. These new laws are helping the security institutions in “countering terrorism to an extent.”[14] It is worth mentioning that during the Mubarak era 1981-2011, the government did not pass any counter-terrorism laws, and relied on the Penal Code as well as the Emergency Law “that helped not only arresting the terrorists but also all those having a relationship with them.”[15] The total number of the terrorists in prisons at that time reached 8,000.[16]

The second set of policies aims at targeting the terrorists both in Northern Sinai and on the mainland. In Northern Sinai, the government has announced the state of emergency and has relied on the Law Enforcement Group in launching massive military operations against the terrorists. It is comprised mainly of the armed forces, National Security Service (NSS) and the Special Operations Forces that provide logistic support.[17] The most recent military operation is “Operation Right of the Martyr”, launched on 7 September 2015.

According to the spokesman of the Egyptian armed forces, the armed confrontations with Welayat Sinai in Sheikh Zowayed and Rafah during the Sheikh Zowayed battle of 1-5 July 2015 resulted in the killing of 261 terrorists, 33 terrorists were also arrested and 17 members of the armed forces killed.[18] These confrontations were a fight back from the army to the Welayat Sinai’s simultaneous attacks on gathering points of the armed forces in Rafah and Sheikh Zowayed.[19] According to the official statistics provided by the armed forces spokesman, the total number of terrorists in Northern Sinai who were killed during the period from 3 August 2014 to 13 August 13 2015 is 561. Moreover, 1,358 suspects were arrested. The armed forces managed to destroy 1,137 training camps, strongholds and arms stores used by the terrorists, and destroyed 462 SUVs and 409 motorcycles.[20] Moreover, on 9 November 2015, they managed to kill Ashraf Gharabi, a senior leader in Welayat Sinai, who allegedly orchestrated big terrorist attacks, as well as tracking the movement of the group members in the western desert (US Department of State, 2015). 

The armed forces are also concerned with controlling the borders with Gaza in order to isolate the terrorists from their counterparts and to cut their logistic networks. They have destroyed underground tunnels that had an estimated range of between 1,000 and 1,500 in 2011[21] and established a de-populated 1.5 kilometre buffer zone along the borders (US Department of State, 2015).

On the mainland, the Ministry of Interior[22] is taking the lead in countering terrorism. Its policies include arresting leaders responsible for planning and carrying out terrorist attacks, tracking their financial transactions, and dedicating hotline numbers for regular citizens to report suspicious activities that could escalate into terrorism.[23] The government has also recently focused on tightening the security procedures on all ports in order to prevent the smuggling of terrorists, and on increasing the physical presence of security forces in the streets.[24]

According to the official performance report published by the presidency in June 2015, during the period June 2014 to June 2015 these measures led to the arrest of 1,671 terrorist suspects and of 38,000 criminal suspects charged with practising and planning terrorist attacks. 30 terrorists were also killed, and 464 explosive devices and 19 explosive belts seized (The Media Office of the Egyptian Presidency, 2015). The official performance report of June 2016 published by the presidency explained the efforts of countering terrorism in Northern Sinai and on the mainland in general terms without providing figures on what has been achieved (Media Office of the Egyptian Presidency, 2016, pp. 33-34).

It can be argued that the context of countering terrorism in Northern Sinai is making it “difficult” to defeat the terrorists, and it is the “most difficult” in comparison to the previous decades or to the terrorism on the mainland.[25] For instance, in 2006, the Ministry of Interior managed to arrest around 600 terrorists responsible for the attacks in the 2000s, which was followed by a period of calm.[26] This difficulty can be explained by two factors. First, the terrorists managed to develop a strong relationship network with the Bedouins that is making their moves and operations easier than before and the operations of the army more difficult. They also managed to monitor all the army ambushes and collection points in a way that makes it harder for the soldiers to operate or to collect needed intelligence in an effective way.[27] Second, the terrorists are following the model of urban terrorism using guerrilla tactics, and hiding between the civilians, making it hard to track them or target them using conventional arms. This results in an increasing potential for civilian deaths due to the confrontations.   

Having the armed forces along with the police as the main actors countering terrorism in Northern Sinai and on the mainland since the delegation granted by the people to the then minister of defence on 26 July 2013 (“El-Sisi Calls Egyptians”, 2013), turned them into an easy target for terrorists who are mobile and not located in well-defined zones. This leads to an increasing number of casualties among the armed forces and the police. These numbers increase in Northern Sinai in comparison to the mainland, where the numbers of casualties among the police is higher. For instance, according to the statistics provided by the official spokesman of the armed forces, the total number of casualties from January 2015 to March 2015 is 55; 24 belong to the police while the rest to the armed forces. On the other hand, the total number of terrorists killed in Northern Sinai during the same period is 8.[28] The total number of police ranks and officers assassinated or killed from January 2014 to December 2015 is 290,[29] the total number of attacks during this period according to the Cairo Index is 996, which means that on average each attack led to the killing of 3 police officers.

Moreover, according to the Cairo Index, the number of casualties from the armed forces and the police in the first quarter of 2016 in Northern Sinai and the mainland was 49, while the total number of attacks that took place was 20 (“The Index of Armed Violence”, 2016, pp. 8-9). This means that each attack caused on average the death of 2-3 soldiers.

Helping the Victims

In general, measures aimed at helping the victims are based on preventing the victims from becoming potential recruits to the terrorist organisations, providing a safe haven or a shelter to the terrorists, or becoming vulnerable to radical and extreme ideas. The Egyptian Counter-Terrorism Law focuses on the definition of terrorism and the right of the state to counter terrorist actions. It does not define the victims of terrorism as a concept.[30] However, the government’s policies during the period examined in this paper have been paying more attention to this dimension in countering terrorism. It is not concerned only with helping the victims of terrorism but also those who suffered due to the counter-terrorism measures that have been adopted.

In the case of the police and army ranks and officers being killed as part of the confrontations with the terrorists, the government designated them as martyrs and granted their families several medals (“El-Sisi Issued a Decree”, 2016). The government also provides financial compensation according to article 54 of the Counter-Terrorism Law (“In Accordance with Counter-Terrorism Law”, 2015). These policies are aimed at keeping the morale of the army and the police at its highest, and at containing any grievances among the families, especially after what a police officer called “Karm al-Kawadeis syndrome”, referring to the Karm al-Kawadeis attacks on 24 October 2014 that led to the killing of around 30 army soldiers by the terrorists.[31]

In the case of civilian victims, compensation has been decided by the government case by case. The Ministry of Justice discussed the compensation for judges assassinated by the terrorists (“The Judges Care Fund”, 2015), and the former minister of agriculture decided to allocate land area of 5 acres and houses for 26 families affected by the Karm al-Kawadeis attack (“The Minister of Agriculture Grants”, 2014). Besides, the government is keen on developing compensation schemes for individuals being affected by the counter-terrorism measures. It allocated 400 million Egyptian pounds to pay the compensation of the civilians living in the border area in Northern Sinai. From 22-26 January 2015, the National Council for Human Rights created a fact finding committee in Northern Sinai. It called for providing people affected by counter-terrorism operations with accommodation in safe areas.[32]

Moreover, in April 2015 the Ministry of Social Solidarity allocated around 10,000 Egyptian pounds for each family that lost a civilian in the attacks in al-Areesh city (“The Ministry of Solidarity´s Committees”, 2015). In addition, the Prime Minister, Sherif Ismail, announced on 21 September 2015 that the government “will provide urgent humanitarian assistance to the population affected by the confrontations with the terrorists, and develop a compensation scheme for the victims of the confrontation with the terrorists.”[33] However, the compensation scheme has not yet been announced.[34]

It is worth mentioning that on 3 June 2016 the government announced the launch of the national project of the development of Sinai. The total budget of this project is 150 billion Egyptian pounds (“Sinai Development Agency”, 2016) to be dedicated to implementing development programmes covering fishing, housing, water treatment and agricultural sectors.[35] These projects are expected to indirectly enhance the living conditions in Northern Sinai in the long term, thus helping to deal with the grievances among the Bedouins created by the counter-terrorism measures. However, there is still a need to remedy those grievances in the short run, especially in the cases of people affected directly by these measures.

Tackling the Root Causes

The third set of policies is aimed at targeting the root causes in order to prevent the continuation of terrorism as a threat to national security. The main goal of these policies is to reduce the number of followers and recruits of terrorist groups.  

Terrorism as a violent action is the physical aspect of radical ideas. The policies adopted by the government are focused more on the physical aspect of the threat through the first set of policies examined above that aim at reducing the number of terrorist attacks. Any attention to radical and extreme ideas are occasional and associated with the occurrence of huge terrorist attacks. Also, even though the government is becoming more concerned about countering radicalism, it focuses on religious Islamic extremism and radicalism only, overlooking that other types of radicalism and extremism are driving terrorism both on the mainland and in Northern Sinai. For instance, President Abdelfatah el-Sisi called for a Thawra Deneya (religious revolution) and for the review of the religious Islamic discourse in order to counter religious radicalism. This call had its echo among the three religious institutions, al-Azhar, Dar al-Ifta’a and the Ministry of Endowments or Awqaf. Al-Azhar launched an online platform, the Observer, in order to refute the messages disseminated by terrorist organisations over the internet.[36] It is running in eight languages other than Arabic. The Ministry of Endowmentsfor its part adopted a number of measures in order to prevent imams holding radical interpretations of Sharia’a from delivering sermons in mosques that are subject to its supervision.[37] Another online platform was launched by Dar al-Ifta’a to counter the radical religious interpretation of Islam on the internet.

It can be argued that the adoption of these activities coincided with the post-2013 momentum of countering radicalism and terrorism, but its effectiveness in countering radical ideas remains limited due to two factors. First, the government is emphasising the religious aspect of the fight against terrorism and radicalism. For instance, the deputy of Sheikh al-Azhar issued fatwas urging citizens to report terrorists and considered it as a religious duty (“Deputy of Al-Azhar”, 2015). This attitude overestimates the religious nature of radicalism and overlooks other types of radical ideas leading to terrorism. For instance, a number of active terrorist leaders in Northern Sinai are brothers and sons of terrorists who were arrested by the police forces in the aforementioned 2006 campaigns and were not treated well by the government. Therefore, the grievances created were the main reason for them to join Welayat Sinai and not religion.[38] Besides, many young Bedouins who sympathise with the terrorists, or are joining them or providing logistical support do so because either they lost their jobs due to the destruction of the tunnels, which created an informal trade economy they benefited from, and are seeking new sources of income, or are suffering from ill-treatment by the security forces who confiscate their cars that are the main means of transport. As explained by one of the residents in Rafah, “in the eyes of the security forces all people of Rafah and Sheikh Zowayed become potential terrorists.”[39]

On the mainland, the members of the active terrorist groups, especially the Revolutionary Punishment and the Popular Resistance, are not driven by religious radical ideas, but rather by a set of intertwined drivers that combine personal grievances, political and religious reasons, as well as economic and social motivations as mentioned in the first section.

Second, the efforts of the three religious institutions are influenced by the conviction that has dominated the security circles since 2013, which considered the MB as the only terrorist and radical group in the country. For instance, the Ministry of Endowments’ measure of banning imams from giving sermons without permission was confined to the imams belonging to, or sympathising with, the MB (Elmenshawy, 2014). This over-politicisation justifies why these institutions place less emphasis on the contribution of Salafi groups to the spread of radicalism in many urban cities and in the western desert, which is left without being countered.

Discussion of the Effectiveness

This paper argues that the policies adopted by the government are developing along the way and reflect new attitudes in the security circles that were absent in the previous decades, especially when it comes to the first and second levels of policies. For instance, the adoption of counter-terrorism laws is an advanced step in terms of providing the legal framework for the adopted measures against the terrorists. However, the effectiveness of these policies in reducing the number of terrorist attacks and in mapping the terrorists is still limited. On the one hand, the capabilities of the security forces to prevent terrorist attacks are developing on a slow scale. The total number of terrorist plots thwarted from 1 January until 30 September 2015 is 175, which represent 29.7% of all terrorist incidents being counted during that period by the Cairo Index, and the number of attacks that took place was 417 attacks, which represents 70.28%. The percentage of the terrorist plots being thwarted during 2014 was 25%, while those that took place was 75%. The number of thwarted attacks in the first quarter of 2016 is 9, while those that took place is 20. Thus, the thwarted attacks represent 31% of the total planned and executed attacks (“The Index of Terrorist Attacks”, 2015a; “The Index of Terrorist Attacks”, 2015b).

On the other hand, there is no well-defined list of active terrorist cells in Northern Sinai or on the mainland. Usually, developing such a list depends on the amount of information that counter-terrorism agencies are able to collect and analyse as well as on the level of cooperation and intelligence sharing among the army and the police as they are the two institutions carrying the burden of countering terrorism, together with their regional and international counterparts. Recently, the total number of active terrorists in Northern Sinai has been estimated at 2,000.[40]

Moreover, the financial compensation provided to the victims is an important development that reveals a desire to avoid any grievances created by its absence despite the economic stagnation the country is suffering from. However, the absence of a well-defined scheme as well as the criteria upon which the compensation is granted is a shortage that needs to be tackled. One resident of the de-populated area in Sinai complained of the insufficient amount of money she received in return for leaving her house, as she was not able to buy a similar house in al-Aresh city.[41]

In addition, the attempt to reduce the number of new members joining the terrorist groups is still an issue. Apart from overlooking non-religious radical ideas driving terrorism, the transforming nature of terrorism reveals that what matters are no longer the leaders, especially in the case of leaderless terrorism, where there is no single leader to capture or to track, but rather multiple centres of gravities that are being shaped by the surrounding contexts. Examining the profiles of a sample of cases of individuals who practised violence[42] reveals that it is a combination of political, religious, economic and personal drivers, which make it difficult to stereotype potential terrorists. In some cases, the driver for radicalisation and terrorism is the idea that is inspiring the individuals, or the experience of practising violent actions that takes the shape of terrorism. In other cases it is a set of intertwined drivers that combine grievances, political and religious reasons, as well as economic and social motivations. For instance, Mohamed Bakry Haroun has been accused of being an active operational leader in Welayat Sinai. He is a businessman aged 31. The investigation revealed that he took part in the attempted assassination of the former Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibraheem, and the assassination of Mohamed Mabrook the officer in the NSS. Ashraf Ashmawy is another example; he was working as a commando in the Egyptian Army. He is accused of being a leader in the same group, and recently the head of al-Morabetoon group.[43] In both cases, the socioeconomic profiles refute the argument that poverty and unemployment are the main drivers of terrorism.

It is notable that these combined factors are triggers for civilians as well as junior officers in the police or in the armed forces to leave their jobs and to join the terrorist organisations. The latter is an old phenomenon that can be traced back to the mid-twentieth century, but “since the dispersal of Raba’a and al-Nahda it is growing in a marked way.”[44]

Besides, most of the mainland terrorism is taking place in governorates with a high level of development and low level of poverty. No significant attacks have taken place in Upper Egypt, which suffered from terrorism during the 1990s.[45]

In addition, the terrorist attacks taking place in Northern Sinai or on the mainland are still significant. The significance is not due to the number of attacks but the type of targets, which reflects the fact that the capabilities of the terrorists in carrying out their attacks are developing, especially when it comes to the usage of IEDs. Besides, in the post-2013 period, the total number of counted attacks is still high. As previously mentioned, from January to December 2015 the total number of attacks reached 642 with an average of 13 attacks per week. During the period June 2013 to December 2014, the total number of attacks was 444, with an average of 6 attacks per week (“The Index of Terrorist Attacks”, 2015b; “The Index of Armed Violence”, 2016). Also, the type of targets being attacked still represents a high security and political cost for the government. The assassination of the Attorney General, Hesham Barakat, in June 2015, as well as the targeting of foreign embassies and the infrastructure, are indicative examples.

Challenges Ahead

This paper argues that after two years in power, el-Sisi’s government faces six main challenges in countering terrorism. First, speaking of the progress in countering terrorism requires not only reducing the number of terrorist attacks but also decreasing the significance of the attacks in terms of the type of targets. The capability of terrorists to attack significant targets is still an issue, especially with the increasing difficulties of predicting and preventing terrorist attacks, as proven by comparing the thwarted attacks and those executed in the second section.

Moreover, entities carrying out terrorist attacks in Northern Sinai and on the mainland are becoming more advanced in respect of the arms and materials used in their attacks, which in turn is due to their success in maintaining their logistic networks across the borders.[46] Despite the low frequency of terrorist attacks, the type of arms, the number of casualties and the type of targets is causing a high level of insecurity. For instance, on 26 June 2014 three homemade bombs exploded in three metro stations located in three critical and heavily populated areas in Cairo: Ghamra, Shubra el-Kheima and Hadayek al-Kobba (“String of Bombings”, 2014). The aforementionedSheikh Zowayedattacks that were carried out by Welayat Sinai revealed its heavy reliance on SUVs, RPJ and mortars, as well as their capabilities to carry out simultaneous attacks.

In addition, the attempted assassination of the former Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim on 5 September 2013 was carried out by vehicle-borne IED (high explosive device containing c4 planted in a car) (“IED Attack”, n.d.) and led to the wounding of 15 civilians, 10 police officers and the death of one person (“Attempted Assassination of the Minister”, 2013). While the assassination of the public prosecutor Hesham Barakat on 29 June 2015 was carried out by vehicle-borne IED containing huge amounts of c4, which led to the destruction of 13 cars including Barakat’s car, the damage of the 11 surrounding shops and 6 buildings, the death of Barakat himself and the injury of 5 police officers and 3 civilians.[47] Welayat Sinai claimed responsibility for both attacks, and despite the ongoing military operations in Northern Sinai, the organisation is still capable of planning and carrying out attacks.

Achieving progress in countering terrorism through focusing on countering violent actions without adopting a strategy aiming at countering radical ideas that act as the engine for terrorism is another challenge.[48] As previously mentioned, the programmes and initiatives launched by the religious institutions are inconsistent and selective and have not been yet subject to any assessment of their effectiveness. Moreover, the security institutions have managed to arrest the terrorists, but the absence of policies that counter radicalism in prisons is feeding terrorism with new members. Leaving the detainees and arrested terrorists in the same cells with other criminals turns the jails into an environment through which they can recruit new potential terrorists. The Scorpion2 Aqrab2 and Tora prisons are two examples. The government has recently become aware of this trend. It organised many meetings for the prisoners with Sheikh Usama al-Azhari, an Azhari scholar and el-Sisi advisor for religious affairs, in order to refute their radical ideas[49] but again this policy focuses on the religious radical ideas, although a huge number of the prisoners were arrested due to their political activities and according to the Counter-Terrorism Law are considered terrorists.

The third challenge is regarding the increasing reliance on the armed forces in countering terrorism, which makes the confrontation subject to the rules of war, especially the well-known rule of shooting any potential enemy regardless of any imminent threat posed, which could create grievances among the civilian population living in the confrontation areas.[50] Many residents in Northern Sinai consider that the “blind shooting of buildings where there is suspicion that the terrorists are hiding is creating grievances against the army.”[51]

Expanding the role of the police in countering terrorism makes the confrontation subject to the law enforcement rules whereby terrorists are treated as criminals and not as war criminals. The 1990s experience of countering terrorism revealed the increasing flexibility and sensitivity of the Egyptian police to the surroundings and to the civilian’s concerns at a time of confrontations, which resulted in increasing cooperation of the civilians with the police. In other words, the police forces are capable of coexisting with local communities and building relationship with them as well as of recruiting informants, which is very important in countering urban terrorism.[52]

This challenge is related to the highly debatable issue of whether the physical existence of the armed forces deters the terrorists or turns the forces into an easy target. This issue is very important to countries that have a large land mass like Egypt, which makes the movement of the forces complicated and takes a long time in comparison to the ability of terrorists to redeploy. In Northern Sinai, the forces recently began to “avoid establishing gathering points in the main roads while maintaining their capabilities of searching all potential strongholds of the terrorists,”[53] which led to reducing the number of military casualties. For instance, the military operations in Northern Sinai during the period 1 March 2016 to 11 June 2016 led to the killing of 346 terrorists, the injury of 41 terrorists, the arrest of 4 suspects, and zero casualties for the army.[54]

Another important challenge is the over-politicisation of countering terrorism. There is a phenomenon among policy and security circles that considers the MB as the reason for and the driver of all terrorist attacks Egypt is experiencing, using the cases of the Revolutionary Punishment and Hilwan Brigade as evidence. Despite the negative impact of the attacks of these groups on security and stability, this rhetoric overlooks the fact that, for instance, Welayat Sinai is being inspired by ISIS and developing transnational networks with other terrorist organisations active in the conflict zones in neighbouring countries.

Besides, the transforming landscape of the active terrorist organisations as analysed in the first section suggests that there could be another transformation in the landscape where those active on the mainland coordinate their activities with Welayat Sinai, or merge together. The mutual claim of responsibility of the latter with the Popular Resistance in the case of the 2016 Hilwan attack is very indicative. If this development continued, it would affect the drivers of the organisations active on the mainland to be not only political and social but also religious, which makes countering it more complicated. 

Thus, recognising the differences between the type of terrorism in Northern Sinai and that on the mainland, as well as the transforming relationship between them, is very important for planning the counter-terrorism policies. 

The fifth challenge is regarding the balance between achieving security through countering terrorism and protecting human rights as being mentioned in the 2014 Constitution. This challenge is also being faced by all western democracies that tend to apply stricter measures in times of countering terrorism. The debate in France following the Charlie Hebdo attacks is indicative in that regard.[55] However, the challenge is not regarding the possibility of adopting a law that legalises countering terrorism, but the extent to which the law is very specific in defining terrorism in comparison to other crimes, and the measure of accountability that can be applied if there is a misuse of the law.

However, on the level of polices adopted in Northern Sinai, it is notable that the government is becoming keen to achieve this balance. Its statement of 20 September 2015 reads: “Achieving all the goals of the comprehensive strategies for countering terrorism including the developmental and security dimensions in order to achieve stability and absolute commitment to human rights standards.” It also restricted the usage of weapons in confronting the terrorists as it reads “commitment not to shoot any source of threat before it poses imminent threats to the security personnel, taking into account the principles of proportionality and necessity along with alleviating the suffering of the population in these areas.”[56]

On the mainland, helping the victim policies is an advanced step that requires development, as mentioned.

The last challenge the government is facing is the politicisation of regional and international cooperation to build its capacity to counter terrorism. Countering terrorism has been included upon the request of Egypt in the first individual cooperation programme between the NATO and Egypt since 2007 and in the following 2014 Individual Partnership and Cooperation Programme (IPCP).[57] According to NATO officials, cooperation in this issue “is particularly valued.”[58] This cooperation according to NATO’s policy guidelines on counter-terrorism covers the fields of consultations and information sharing, training, education and exercises, capability development and support to operations, science and technology cooperation, and civil emergency planning and crisis management.[59]

However, there are conflicting evaluations of the effectiveness of cooperation with NATO. The dominant conviction among the diplomats of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is that there is a “lack of will” on the NATO side when it comes to providing the required technical assistance to counter terrorism and minefields.[60] This is justified by the dedication of NATO’s efforts in the field of armed confrontations with the terrorists without paying attention to the radical ideas driving terrorism or the side effect of the Arab-Israeli conflict,[61] which makes the level of cooperation in this field confined to intelligence sharing regarding terrorist networks.[62] On the other hand, NATO officials explained that the cooperation is “tailored to the specific interests and needs of Egypt. Egypt has not requested specific NATO technical assistance to counter terrorism in the Sinai.”[63]

Discussions with many NATO officials in the department of the Middle East as well as the officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reveals that the main controversial issue is that the Ministry of Defence is the main partner for NATO and not much of a role is given to the Ministry of Interior. There is also disagreement regarding the designation of the MB as a terrorist organisation since 25 December 2013. Besides, there is no Egyptian participation in the post-military operations against the terrorists, for example in Afghanistan 2001, in comparison to the UAE and Jordan that provided support to the NATO operations in the field of building mosques and rehabilitation of Imams.[64]

Cooperation with the United States in this field has also been hindered by contradiction of priorities. Egypt prefers to maintain and develop its army as a professional one capable of launching and taking part in conventional wars, while the United States sees the need for it to evolve into an unconventional one, through reorienting the military assistance to Egypt to focus on countering terrorism, border security, Sinai security, and maritime security (Sharp, 2016, pp. 15-16).

The increasing militarisation of terrorism in Northern Sinai and of countering terrorism measures is triggering a revision of this position among Egyptians. Egyptian army officials argue that “this position is going through revision due to the increasing threat of terrorism.”[65] However, achieving that shift is complicated and could take a long time. According to Stratfor’s assessment: “In order to reorient the military toward unconventional warfare, the Egyptian military needs heavy investment into rapid reaction forces equipped with sophisticated infantry weapons, optics and communication gear […] backed by enhanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms. In order to transport them, Egypt would also need numerous modern aviation assets” (Sharp, 2015, pp. 15-16).

However, Egypt is still giving priority to increasing its purchases of conventional arms not only from the US but also from Russia and France, and has strengthened its cooperation with Germany in the field of military industries (The Media Office of the Egyptian Presidency, 2016, pp. 33-34). The type of arms purchased are strengthening the capacity of the army to work outside borders for long periods of time and distance,[66] and accordingly its rank jumped from 22 to 4 in the year 2015, according to SIPRI’s database of global arms trade.[67]

In addition, the crash of the Russian A-321 Airbus after taking off from Sharm el-Sheikh airport on 31 October 2015 revealed the lack of intelligence sharing between Egypt and its western partners. The British, Americans and Russians leaked information that this crash was caused by a bomb. The Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs stated that “the information we have heard about has not been shared with Egyptian security agencies in detail” (Dearden, 2015).

Conclusion and Policy Options

It can be argued that terrorism in Northern Sinai and on the mainland will continue to be a threat to national security as long as the terrorists are able to launch significant attacks, and as long as there is no well-articulated strategy for tackling the drivers of terrorism. Thus, the important question is how to move ahead?

Countering terrorism on the national level until now has been done with no effective cooperation with the regional and international partners as previously mentioned. Thus, this paper suggests a number of policy options to the Egyptian government and to its European partners in order to develop the capacity of the government to counter terrorism on the national level.

First, it is important to establish a national council or a national committee for countering terrorism. The main duties of this institution would be to draft a well-articulated strategy for countering terrorism, planning the counter-terrorism policies on the level of targeting the terrorists, helping the victims, and preventing terrorism and following up its implementation. The strategy should be based on the partnership between state, local communities and the civil society in order to raise awareness and to guarantee societal support for the strategy. Best practices drawn from European and Russian experiences can be useful in this regard.

Second, enhancing the capacity of the Ministry of Interior to counter terrorism and expand its roles in countering urban terrorism. It is important to think about developing forces that are solely dedicated to countering terrorism. Its number as proposed by security experts can “range between 40 and 45 thousand soldiers.”[68] The current police forces countering terrorism comprise the NSS International Counter-Terrorism Unit and the special forces units of the central security forces. They are small in numbers, and their duties are not confined to countering terrorism.[69]

The role of the Europeans and the Russians in developing the capacities of these forces once established, and their counterparts in the armed forces to be up to date with the use of advanced technology is also very important.

Third, enhancing the technical assistance provided to Egypt by regional and international parties to counter terrorism, especially in the field of IED detectors and border security.

Fourth, changing the scheme of the financial aid package provided by the EU to civil society in Egypt to include programmes that aim to build the capacity of civil society and media to counter terrorism and radicalism on the local level, and help victims of terrorism.[70]

Fifth, the European and American partners need to think about dedicating financial aid to support the government’s efforts to compensate the victims of terrorism and counter-terrorism measures.

Sixth, the Egyptian government needs to adopt a national strategy for countering radicalism that focuses not only on radical religious ideas but also on other political and social ideas. It also needs to tackle not only the root causes of radicalism but also, and this is the most important in the short term, the triggers for radicalism. European countries can support this step by sharing the experience of de-radicalisation programmes that proved to be relatively successful, as in the case of the German de-radicalisation programmes.

Seventh, enhancing intelligence and security cooperation with Egypt to better identify the map of active terrorists targeting Egypt (financial networks, recruitment networks, etc).

The last recommendation is to support the academic research on issues relevant to terrorism and radicalism. There is a lack of academic programmes in Egyptian universities and research centres that are specialised in these issues. It is important to support the national think tanks and research institutions to focus on the study of terrorism and develop knowledge and understanding of it among policy circles, civil society and the academic community.


[1] The nom de guerre of the founder and the leader is Maged al-Din al-Masry. The group is facing a regrouping issue although it elected a new leader.

[2] On 9April 2014, Hamam Atiya, the founder and leader of Ajnad Mist, was killed by Egyptian forces. Nom de guerre: Maged al-Din al-Masry. It is facing a regrouping issue although it elected a new leader, which resulted in inactivation. See US Department of State (2015). Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism. Country Reports on Terrorism 2015. Retrieved from

[3] Ragab, E., personal interview with Ahmed elBehery, Editor-in-Chief of the Cairo Index, February 2016.

[4] There were 9 thwarted attacks.

[5] For the total number of attacks in each month in the years 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, see: The Index of Armed Violence in the First Quarter of 2016 (in Arabic), p. 15. Regional Center for Strategic Studies.

[6] Ragab, E., personal interview with a senior security official, 2 June 2016.

[7] For more details, see: Ragab, E. (2013, April). Targeting Leaders in Countering Terrorism: The Case of Egypt. The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs, no. 1/2013.

[8] For the full text of the minister’s statement in Arabic, see: Youm7 (2014, September 14).

[9] For the Full text of the statement in Arabic see the portal of CBC satellite channel.

[10] Before the election of the parliament during November-December 2015, the legislative authority was held by a legislative committee, the cabinet and the president.

[11] See the full text of the law as published in al-Watan newspaper (2014, November 26). Retrieved from

[12] For the full text of the law, see al-Ahram daily newspaper (2015, August 17).

[13] Ragab, E. (2015, September). Policies of Countering Terrorism in Egypt under President el-Sisi: Effectiveness and Challenges, paper presented in a workshop organised by DGAP in Germany; Ragab, E. (2016, March). Preliminary Assessment of Countering Terrorism Policies in Egypt (in Arabic). Afaq Siyasiya. The Arab Center for Researches and Studies.

[14] Ragab, E., personal interview with a senior security official, 2 June 2016.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ragab, E., personal interview with a former Assistant Minister of Interior for Central Security Forces, April 2016

[18] See the full this statement as published in al-Youm al-Sabe’e newspaper (Youm7) web portal (in Arabic). (2015, July 1).

[19] For details on this operation, see video released by the armed forces official spokesman on his official Facebook page on 3 July 2015 at See also the detailed report on this attack published on Rassd’s web portal on 3 July 2015 at

[20] These numbers were compiled by the author from 31 statements issued by the armed forces official spokesman during the period 3 August 2014 to 13 August 2015.

[21] See: Egypt Destroyed 1055 Gaza Tunnels since January 2011: Army Official. (2013, October 4). Ahram Online. Retrieved from–Gaza-tunnels-since-January–Army-.aspx; Egypt: We’ve Destroyed 1,370 Tunnels into Gaza. (2014, March 12). Haaretz. Retrieved from

[22] Special operations forces, part of the central security forces and National Security Services (NSS).

[23] For more on these numbers, see: The Armed Forces Dedicate a Hot Line Number for Reporting Suspicious Activities (in Arabic). (2014, October 24). DotMasr’s.

[24] Statement by Ehab Badawy, the spokesman of the Egyptian Presidency 1 July 2014. See Al-Sharq al-Awsat (in Arabic). (2014, July 2).

[25] Ragab, E., personal interview with a senior security official, 2 June 2016.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ragab, E., personal interview with a number of soldiers that served in al-Areesh, May 2016.

[28] These numbers were compiled by the author from 31 statements issued by the armed forces official spokesman during the period 3 August 2014 to 13 August 2015.

[29] This number was published in the special issue of al-Masry al-Youm newspaper on National Police Day. See al-Masry al-Youm (2016, January 26). 

[30] Ragab, E., personal interview with a law expert, 14 July 2016.

[31] Ragab, E., personal interview with an officer in the army, February 2016.

[32] For the full text of the committee’s report, see: Fact Finding Report of the National Council for Human Rights in Sinai (in Arabic) (2015, April 3). Alwatan. Retrieved from

[33] See the full text of the statement in Arabic as published in al-Masry al-Youm on 21 September 2015 at

[34] Ragab, E., personal interview with the Secretary of the National Council for Human Rights, Ambassador Mokhles Qotb, 3 September 2015.

[35] For more, see: Fact Sheet on the Performance of President el-Sisi (in Arabic), pp. 6-8. (June 2016). The Media office of the Egyptian Presidency.

[36] See the Observer’s web page at

[37] For more, see: Radwan, T. (2015, July 23). Egypt’s Ministry of Endowments and the Fight Against Extremism. The Atlantic Council. Retrieved from

[38] Ragab, E., personal interview with a senior security official, 2 June 2016.

[39] Ragab, E., personal interview with an activist originally from Rafah, where she was living until the establishment of the buffer zone, 15 July 2015.

[40] Ragab, E., personal interview with a former security official, 22 June 2016.

[41] Ragab, E., personal interview with an activist originally from Rafah, where she was living until the establishment of the buffer zone, 10-15 July 2015.

[42] For more on these profiles examined by the author, see: Ragab, E. (2016). Radicalism: Definition and Context (in Arabic). Ahwal Masriya (published quarterly by al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies), issue no. 60, pp. 13-27.

[43] See the profiles of the leaders of Ansar Beit al-Maqdes and the attacks they took part in according to the official investigations as published in Youm7 on 21 October 2014.

[44] Ragab, E., personal interview with Khaled Okasha, an ex official of the police and a security expert, 12 May 2015.

[45] For more on this point, see: (Counter-)terrorism in the post-Arab Spring Context, report of the NATO Advanced Research Workshop, organised by the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague (ICCT), al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS) and the Netherlands Institute of International Relations – Clingendael in Brussels on 6-7 October 2015.

[46] Ragab, E., personal interview with a senior security official, 2 June 2016.

[47] For more, see: Explosives Used in the Attack on the PP is the Same Used in Assassinating al-Hariry in Lebanon (2015, June 30). Al-Arabiya.

[48] For more on this shortage in policies, see: Wardany, Y. (2015, January). Youth Extremism: Approaches of Countering Extremism among the Youth in Egypt (in Arabic). Bada’el, al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, issue no. 10.

[49] This issue was investigated by Mohamed Khayal, a journalist for al-Shorouk newspaper, who published two separate reports. See Khayal, M. (2016, April 21). It is Tora: A Governmental Center for ISIS Recruitment (in Arabic). Retrieved from; Khayal, M. (2016, June 13). El-Sisi Advisor for Religious Affairs is Leading Reviews with the Youth of Islamic Groups at Prisons (in Arabic). Retrieved from

[50] For more on these rules and how it differs from the law enforcement rules in fighting terrorism, see: Roth, K. (n.d.). Drawing the Line: War Rules and Law Enforcement Rules in the Fight against Terrorism. Retrieved from; Ragab, E. (2015, September). Challenges of Countering Terrorism in Arab Countries during Transitional Periods (in Arabic). Afaq Siyasiya, The Arab Center for Researches and Studies.

[51] Ragab, E., personal interview with a resident of al-Areesh in Sinai, 21 June 2016.

[52] Ragab, E., personal interview with a senior security official, 2 June 2016.

[53] Ibid.

[54] These numbers were compiled by the author from the statements issued by the armed forces official spokesman during the period from 1 March 2016 to 11 June 2016.

[55] See: France: An Attack on Free Expression: Response to Charlie Hebdo Killings Should Protect Rights (2015, January 8). Human Rights Watch. Retrieved from

[56] See the full text of the statement in Arabic as published in al-Masry al-Youm on 21 September 2015 at

[57] Ragab, E., email interview with an official in NATO´s Counter-Terrorism Department, 26 November 2015.

[58] Ibid.

[59] NATO prepared a short fact sheet setting out some examples and ideas for cooperation in countering terrorism. It is available on NATO’s website at

[60] Ragab, E. (2014, November; 2015, April-May). Discussion with a diplomat in the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Department of the Affairs of Security Organisations, who was responsible for handling the relationship with NATO. 

[61] Ragab, E., personal interview with Ambassador Mohamed al-Oraby, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the parliament, 9 August 2015.

[62] A lecture given by Nechola De Santis, the head of the Middle East and North Africa Department in NATO to the Egyptian delegation of journalists, media professionals and Academics, Brussels, 10-11 June 2015.

[63] Ragab, E., email interview with an official in NATO´s Counter-Terrorism Department, 26 November 2016; Ragab, E., email interview with an official in NATO´s Political Affairs and Security Policies Department, 26 November 2016.

[64] Ragab, E. (2015, April-May). Discussions with an official in the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; a lecture given by Joliet Bird, the head of the Counter-Terrorism Department in NATO to the Egyptian delegation of journalists, media professionals and academics, Brussels, 10 June 2015.

[65] Ragab, E., personal interview with a senior army official, 2 September 2015.

[66] Ragab, E., personal interview with a former army general, 1 June 2016.

[67] See SIPRI’s database at

[68] Ragab, E., personal interview with a former Assistant Minister of Interior for Central Security Forces, April 2016.

[69] Ibid.

[70] Ragab, E. Effectiveness and Challenges of Countering Terrorism in Egypt (July 2004-July 2005). Paper presented in the NATO ARW organised by ICCT, ACPSS and Clingendael, Brussels, 4-6 October 2015.

[71] For more on the conflicting views of the then Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and the Egyptian army regarding Sinai as explained by the then information minister in the MB government, see: Salah Maksood, S.A. (2015, June 24). The Crisis of Sinai between President Morsi and Field Marshal el-Sisi (part 1). Al-Jazeera.

[72] For more, see: Gold, Z., & Miller, E. (2016, June 16). Egypt’s Theory of Terrorism: Why It Is a Problem for the United States. Foreign Affairs.Retrieved from

[73] See: Egypt FM Arrives in Iraq for Counter-Terrorism Talks (2016, July 2). Middle East Monitor. Retrieved from

[74] For more on Egypt’s contribution in this coalition, see: Drennan, J. (2014, November 12). Who Has Contributed What in the Coalition Against the Islamic State? Foreign Policy. Retrieved from; Elmenshawy, M. (2014, November 6). Egypt’s War on Terror: ISIS, President Sisi, and the U.S.-led Coalition. Middle East Institute. Retrieved from

[75] Ragab, E., personal interview with a senior security official, 2 June 2016.

[76]Abdelfattah el-Sisi was elected as President of Egypt in June 2014, and the election was one of the steps mentioned in the roadmap announced on 3 July 2013 and supported by the groups that called for the 30 June 2013 uprising.

[77] Ragab, E., personal interview with a senior security official, 2 June 2016.

[78] Ragab, E., personal interviews with an Egyptian diplomat responsible for managing the relationship with NATO at the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, April-May, 2015.

[79] The researcher noticed at the time of conducting the interviews that this term is widely used in security circles.

[80] For more on this pattern, see: Sageman, M. (2008). Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the Twenty-First Century. Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press; Michael, G., & Wolf, L. (2012). Terror and the Rise of Leaderless Resistance. Tennessee: Vanderbilt University Press.

[81] These Tweets were published in Arabic in the Youm 7 newspaper, see: Youm 7 (2014, March 14). Retrieved from

[82] For more, see: The Many Battles of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. (2015, June 7). Al-Jazeera. Retrieved from

[83] See the official blog of the Revolutionary Punishment.

[84] See Molotov anti-coup page on Facebook at

[85] For more on these attacks, see: Sayed, A. (2014, February 6). Partially Violent Movements (in Arabic), Sasapost.

[86] See the fact sheet of the activities of the Revolutionary Punishment as published on its official blog.

[87] The Italian Consulate in Cairo was attacked by terrorists on 11 July 2015 and the Embassy of Niger on 29 July 2015.


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