Memorial service to mourn the victims of the North Sinai mosque attack in Cairo, Egypt, on Nov. 27, 2017. Picture by Ahmed Gomaa/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images. All rights reserved. The most lethal attack in Egypt’s history proves three things above all else. First, that so-called ‘Islamic’ terrorism not only has little to do with Islam except providing a rhetorical banner. Even labelling another Muslim an ‘unbeliever’ (takfir) is profoundly frowned upon – let alone killing fellow Muslims.
Second, that its victims are first and foremost Muslims. Western media may concentrate its attention on attacks in the west, but most victims of this violence are Muslims living in Muslim-majority countries.
Third, this heinous attack and the massive violent response by Egypt’s armed forces emphasise the Egyptian government’s inability to address the roots of the violence and of the country’s instability. Faced with economic dire straits and with political dissent – both evident well before the 2011 revolution – Egypt’s governments and armed forces have responded always only with violence. Yet this violence not only cannot provide answers to the social, economic and political tensions the country is riven with, but actually worsens conditions under which radicalization and violence occur.
It is only a matter of time before more tragedies befall a proud nation
This vicious cycle, which last Friday’s attack is a tragic reminder of, should teach European governments an important lesson. Egypt’s rulers are unable or unwilling to provide serious answers to the country’s problems. They are unable to provide the stability and security which their western allies seek. Indeed, for a regime lacking in mass support, violence and fear are a crucial tool to remain in power: to each group – Sunnis, Copts, Sufi, women, the poor – the regime presents itself as the only bastion against the violence of others, and yet this regime has not only left the causes of violence unaddressed, it has actively stoked violence and conflict by spear-heading an extreme xenophobic nationalism aimed paradoxically primarily at the west, its theoretical ally. Conflict and political radicalization are the lifeblood of a regime unable to wean itself off the exploitation of its own people.
Decision-makers in western capitals often invoke Realpolitik as a justification for supporting Egypt’s brutal regime, but Realpolitik means making policy based on recognition of reality such as it actually is, not as we would like it to be. Supporting Sissi in the name of a ‘stability’ which he himself undermines is the exact opposite of Realpolitik.
Until Egypt’s government changes tack, its actions will continue to destabilise not only Egypt itself, but the entire Euro-Mediterranean area. Until then, it is only a matter of time before more tragedies befall a proud nation.