By Mohammed Nosseir
Egypt is certainly facing a political crisis. Whether you perceive 30 June to be a revolution or a coup, its consequences have, undeniably, driven the country in an unpleasant direction. The nation is polarised, split into two main political groups, and numerous terrorist acts are being committed across the country, hindering political and economic efforts. How should Egypt deal with these challenges? Do we need to make more use of our muscles or our brains in order to escape this dilemma?
Past and current interim governments, along with most public figures, are apparently determined to deal with this crisis by maximising muscle power – to the extent of bending the law if needed – to dispose of their opponents and the terrorists in one go (unfortunately, the two groups have blended together to serve a political end). Thus, the government is applying the power of force, while national public figures play the role of validating and justifying its practices and behaviour.
Is the flexing of muscles a new phenomenon in Egypt? Definitely not – Egypt is a country that has been led and driven by muscle power for decades, to the extent that no alternative to this practice is ever considered. Egypt is clearly a security-driven state, wherein the security apparatus plays a key role not only in governing the country, but also in determining its future. The state often boasts that Egypt is ruled with an iron fist, claiming that the 25 January Revolution was a single failing of this rule, a failing that the State has managed to overcome over an unnoticeable period, successfully reverting to the old days.
Government by force is a vision that was put in place in Egypt a long time ago. It is based on the claim that the country faces internal and external terrorist challenges that can only be dealt with by means of certain security measures, and, obviously, by giving the upper hand in the handling of these problems to security people. This concept is not applied only on the national level, but also in all governorates and organisations. As a result, each single challenge has to be handled by security personnel who either occupy key positions in all government organizations or at least wield considerable behind-the-scenes influence in civilian-led entities.
Thus, reaching a settlement with terrorism would not benefit the security state, since this would certainly reduce the power, privilege and social appreciation presently enjoyed by the security apparatus. Containing the terrorist threat might be a realistic goal for the security apparatus, but eliminating this threat will diminish its power substantially.
Apart from their immoral activities that have led to the killing of hundreds of innocent civilians, terrorist groups and their affiliates and supporters have foolishly allowed the security apparatus to sustain its iron rule over society as a whole. Rather than gaining any ground, these groups have been hurt by the shameless actions they have been committing for decades, actions that have resulted in burdening the state with substantial economic cost that could be better allocated to other purposes. In addition, the terrorists have contributed to inflating the security group’s political role by facilitating its use of muscle power not only against terrorism, but vis-à-vis the society at large.
A false reasoning is always put forth in the form of the question: can we actually dialogue with a terrorist group? The direct reply to this question in my opinion is, yes, we can, and we should. Human beings are more likely to be persuaded by arguments than by force. However, the main challenge is that security people are not skilled in the use of argumentation tools, but they are capable of using force (whether legitimate or illegitimate) quite competently. Thus, they tend to use their preferred vision and tools and to completely reject any soft power approach. To avoid the path of dialogue, any peaceful initiative raised is often killed on the spot. Furthermore, affiliated politicians are encouraging this security approach, which strengthens their political positions and weakens that of their opponents – but which is certainly harming the country.
Another argument states that terrorist groups decline to engage in all dialogue. This is absolutely true and it will not change. Persuading people who are committed to acts of murder to engage in peaceful dialogue is a difficult endeavor, because these people are aware that they are lawbreakers. However, the purpose of dialogue is not to change the mindset of the lawbreakers; it is to prevent their sympathisers from joining in their terrorist activities. Furthermore, most nations that faced crises similar to the one that Egypt is facing today eventually settled their predicament through national dialogue.
Initiating dialogue with terrorist groups does not mean waiving their crimes and not bringing them to trial. On the contrary, enforcing justice is definitely a fundamental part of reaching out to all citizens, an action that proves that the state is keen on abiding by, and respecting, the law. In addition and parallel to the above, the state must establish strong and fair security measures to prevent terrorism and to convey the message that Egypt is a stable state.
Furthermore, the government can play a strong role in moving a number of ignorant citizens who believe in terrorism towards the path of peaceful dialogue. The purpose of establishing dialogue is to create a channel between the state and its citizens, a channel based on argument vs. counter argument, instead of the current terrorism vs. harsh security one. This will prompt society to think of arguments to present instead of only considering the use of force. Such a process will also benefit the state, allowing it to gradually develop into a genuinely democratic state rather than into a security state.
Continuous use of muscle power has a negative impact on society; it encourages citizens to resolve their personal conflicts through violent means, creating patterns of behavior that eventually could become difficult to change. Finally, those who justify using the State’s muscle power should consider thinking of possible ways to revise the current situation. The possibilities may be slim, but they do exist. Egypt managed in the past to recover its occupied territory through peaceful means. It is therefore shameful to claim that a peaceful settlement among Egyptians is difficult to achieve.
Mohammed Nosseir is an Egyptian Liberal Politician working on reforming Egypt on true liberal values, proper application of democracy and free market economy. Mohammed was member of the Higher Committee, Headed the International Relations of the Democratic Front Party from 2008 to 2012.