It is ironic that there are 13 international agreements and protocols on combating violence and terrorism that still have not reached a specific definition of a terrorist act or its perpetrators. This shows that terrorism, as a local and global phenomenon, is an evolving phenomenon that requires regular legislative revisions on both the domestic and international level – at least every 10 years, for example.
This measure is a key principle adopted by the United Nations in the draft of a comprehensive convention on combating global terrorism that is still under negotiation, making it the 14th in a series of international treaties on this dangerous phenomenon.
One topic is criminalising terrorism acts, subjecting them to the law, prosecuting terrorists or extraditing them, and eliminating any domestic laws that make exceptions for individuals or groups based on ethnic, religious or ideological reasons. Also, that countries should cooperate in combating terrorism, expedite exchange of intelligence and prosecute terrorists.
All this is important for every Egyptian for two reasons. First, we are today in the throes of a battle against the evils of domestic and international terrorism, which requires cooperation from all countries and international and regional institutions.
Second, this wave of terrorism is more dangerous than the one Egypt faced in the 1990s because it targets both the state and citizens with the aim of overthrowing Egypt and humiliating its people.
Regional countries are clearly and shamelessly collaborating in this – either through funds, harbouring terrorist groups, political support or propaganda. Support also comes through training and forming militias, providing weapons, intelligence and negative propaganda against Egypt and its government and creating Internet websites to communicate with terrorists inside the country. Further efforts also include inciting against the country's regime and society, intimidating individuals and undermining current political developments in Egypt that aim to build institutions.
In the 1990s, the battle was with groups that used violence as a tool and religion as a political cover and rationale for terrorism. But in comparison to what is taking place today, these earlier groups seem like amateurs. There are reports of multi-national armed militias in Libya who are training in several camps which Qatar and Turkey are funding and helping to train, arm and plan for what is described as an invasion of Egypt from the west. This gives us insight into the nature of the ongoing battle and how it pertains to the nation as a whole, the state, its institutions and Egypt’s very existence.
It is a confrontation that is more like an open and all-out war backed by domestic and trans-border organisations that are professional combatants and terrorists who untruthfully raise religious banners. They are more like mercenary groups who kill people under false pretenses and have nothing to do with faith, beliefs or human sensibilities – rather, their only aim is terrorising in the worst ways.
Killing police and army soldiers, attempts to torch, destroy and sabotage public property and transportation, circulating rumours to destroy the morale of officials and citizens and other terrorist actions by Muslim Brotherhood students at Egyptian universities reveal the nature of the dirty war we are facing.
There is no doubt that the current battle is fiercer and more dangerous and thus doubles the burden on state institutions, society as a whole and every honourable citizen who wants pride, dignity, security and genuine sovereignty for his country. It also requires a degree of calculated and regulated sacrifices within a specific timeframe in order for the Egyptian state to recover its strength and prestige through both the law and responsible liberties.
In order to win the battle against local terrorist groups and their overseas links, there are two measures that should be taken. First, restructuring the police force with due consideration to its lack of resources, the pressure it is under at the moment and the current ban on European countries from sending equipment to Egyptian police forces as a punitive measure for what occurred on 30 June. These matters need to be addressed, along with establishing a new police culture based on human rights as part of the country’s democratic outlook. Also necessary is unlimited public support for the police.
Second, there is a need for a clear anti-terrorism law, guided by relevant international and Arab treaties as well as the expertise of other countries that have anti-terrorism laws, international agreements and gains in freedoms and human rights. In a nutshell, the dilemma of writing an anti-terrorism law is to balance between extraordinary powers that can be granted to law enforcement agencies and upholding the rights and freedoms of citizens.
Everyone knows that most human rights groups oppose any legislation or amendments to the penal code that would give some flexibility to relevant agencies in combating terrorism, claiming this would violate citizens' rights. They believe it would lead to abuse by the police, increased arrests and installing a police state that violates the constitution and law.
Concerns about security agencies infringing on rights and freedoms is legitimate, but this concern should not obstruct passing a stern anti-terrorism law that meets international criteria and reasonable global practice. In order to overcome these fears, there must be a public debate to decide on legislation and procedural controls to prevent abuses by security agencies. Quoting human rights concerns about amending the penal code and criminal procedure code to prevent any attempt to write an anti-terrorism law is a way to dodge the responsibility of upholding the Egyptian state at a moment fraught with serious security and terrorist threats. It is also evades protecting the right to life of every Egyptian and human being living in this country.
The legislative unit at the State Council has revised amendments and added many legal controls, which is welcome. Indeed, it's the first step towards reaching disciplined legislation to combat terrorism. This is something we should build on, not tear apart.