The Need for an Effective and Comprehensive Counter-Terrorism Strategy in Combatting Regional Jihadism: The View from Cairo; Terrorism Monitor Volume: 12 Issue: 24

December 19, 2014 04:12 PM Age: 2 days

The newly found freedoms of the Arab Spring have permitted jihadists to increase their promotion of extreme ideologies and recruit new followers. This has nourished an environment of widespread chaos and a rise in extremists groups, such as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM) in Egypt’s Sinai. ABM recently announced their oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and changed their name to the “State of Sinai.” [1] Also recently, in the city of Derna in eastern Libya, close to Egypt’s western border, the Majlis Shura Shabab al-Islam militant group announced their allegiance to the Islamic State organization. [2] However, the threat of the Islamic State remains only a small part of a much wider and more serious phenomenon facing the Arab world and the international community. Indeed, the narrow and exclusive focus on the Islamic State also neglects other groups in an increasingly volatile region. Lately, the United Arab Emirates announced a list of 86 global “terrorist” organizations that it said should be included in the war on terror (Gulf News, November 15). The fight against terrorism needs to simultaneously confront all terrorist groups and cannot be one-dimensional or through military means alone, but will require political, socio-economic, religious, educational and cultural dimensions, as well as the genuine elimination of terrorism financing. There is an unprecedented well-financed growth of complex and fluid regional terrorism networks and this requires an effective comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy.

Terrorist Threat in Sinai

For Egypt, the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood regime from power possibly averted a Syrian-like civil war. Prior to their downfall, the Sinai Peninsula was slowly becoming a terrorist haven and the release of terrorists from prison by Muhammad Mursi did not help the situation (CNN, July 16, 2012; BBC Arabic, July 30, 2012). The Brotherhood is alleged to have directly colluded with militants in the Sinai in an attempt to undermine the Egyptian armed forces and security apparatus. It even prevented the Egyptian military from confronting militants in Sinai, exacerbating regional terrorism threats (Terrorism Monitor, August 15, 2013). Thus, the unprecedented 112 terrorist attacks that occurred in July 2013, immediately after the Brotherhood’s removal from power, should come as no surprise. [3] From the perspective of Egypt’s security establishment, the strategic interest was to preserve the state and its state institutions from increasing external and internal threats. The rise of terrorism was also expected, especially with the collapse of neighboring Libya and the consequent complete security vacuum that facilitated the transit of militants, and trafficking of illicit arms by land and sea into Sinai. [4] In addition, Iran has also continued its illegal smuggling of weapons through Sudanese networks to Sinai. [5] These activities pose direct threats to Egyptian national security and have a wide range of impacts on regional stability.

Moreover, in a private meeting held on June 23, 2013, the deputy supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Khairat al-Shater, reportedly and straightforwardly threatened Abd al Fatah al-Sisi, defense minister at the time, that jihadists from around the world would come fight against him and the Egyptian military if Mursi was deposed (Egyptian Streets, May 6). Today, there are small groups of foreign fighters in Sinai who hail from Yemen, Gaza, Sudan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Libya and elsewhere. [6] In an infamous television interview, prominent Brotherhood leader, Muhammad al-Beltagi, claimed that the restoration of the Muslim Brotherhood regime to power would immediately stop the terrorism in Sinai. [7] Additionally, on the eve of the downfall of the Brotherhood regime, militants in the city of Shaykh Zuweid in North Sinai quickly declared: “We have established a War Committee in Sinai… If the traitorous army, or police, or intelligence approach us, we will confront them with all the instruments of war” (Terrorism Monitor, August 15, 2013).

The return of jihadists from Syria has been another major concern for Egyptian security officials, particularly if they seek to bring their battlefield experience to Sinai (Reuters, April 13). [8] This is the same kind of threat Egypt faced in 1990s with the return of jihadists from Afghanistan with combat skills. The blowback from Syria was evident with last year’s high profile assassination attempt against the minister of interior by Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis and militants who had returned from Syria (Cairo Post, February 10). More recent attacks have become much more sophisticated, such as the October 24 Karam al-Qawadis checkpoint attack or the November 12 navy vessel attack (Reuters, November 14; Los Angeles Times, November 12). The official spokesman of the interior ministry alluded to the navy attack having been facilitated by foreign intelligence services (al-Bawaba, November 17). More specifically, a credible source with knowledge of the ongoing investigation reportedly claimed Turkish intelligence involvement, with the alleged aim of kidnapping soldiers as bargaining chips for release of Brotherhood figures from prison. Among the nationalities involved in the offensive were Turkish nationals plus members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch (Hamas) (al-Bawaba, November 16). It is noteworthy that Egyptian-Turkish relations are presently at an all-time low due to Turkey’s full-fledged support of the Muslim Brotherhood and its efforts to provide them an operational hub to continue their attempt to reverse the new realities on the ground in Cairo. [9]

Today, therefore, Egypt finds itself in the midst of a serious war on terror. Although, there have been several terrorist incidents in major cities, the conflict has been pretty much contained to North Sinai. There are several militant groups operating on the ground: Hamas, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, Tawhid wal-Jihad, al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula, Ansar al-Jihad, the Muhammad Jamal Network and Jaysh al-Islam. [10] The most prominent group is ABM, which has allegedly been supported financially and logistically by the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, with the task of undermining the Egyptian armed forces (Egyptian Independent, September 9, 2013; Jerusalem Post, February 1). In fact, in a recent video message, ABM even reiterated the same rhetoric as the Muslim Brotherhood in regards to President al-Sisi and the Egyptian armed forces. [11] These various groups in Sinai and across the region also receive large amount of funds through non-governmental organizations and various other channels, underlining the need to tackle terrorism financing across the Middle East. [12]

Reasons for Optimism

It is worthwhile to note that we have recently seen unprecedented close cooperation between the Egyptian military, the Ministry of Interior and the intelligence services. [13] The relationship between the police and the military reached a low point in 2011, but today this has completely changed. This has helped security operations yield a higher success rate. For example, 14 terrorist attacks occurred in July. [14] This is an eight-fold decrease from the 112 attacks in the same month in 2013, which demonstrates that the security forces are gaining the upper hand. In October, there were 11 attacks compared to over 20 attacks a year earlier. These numbers give reason for optimism. Also, the recent “Badr 2014” maneuvers, the largest in the history of the Egyptian armed forces, demonstrated the combat readiness of the military. [15] Furthermore, the interior ministry recently announced the establishment of a new state-of-the-art training facility to increase the police’s counter-terrorism capabilities. [16] As Egypt takes such steps, however, there still remain many serious challenges for Egypt and the wider international community in the fight against terrorism.

In addition, the role of religious institutions is becoming more important with various new initiatives to combat extremist ideologies. Al-Azhar is the prime example, as it recently commenced a major counter-extremism campaign targeting two million grade school students and 400,000 university students. This is being done with close cooperation with the Ministry of Religious Affairs and efforts included sending “advocacy and cultural caravans” across the country with a particular focus on Sinai. The Ministry of Religious Affairs has also implemented a “unified Friday sermon” program across Egypt in an attempt to regulate religious rhetoric in mosques. According to Shaykh Abdul Zaher Shehata, a lecturer of Shari’a law at al-Azhar: “Al-Azhar is keen in this period on updating the religious discourse and disseminating Islam’s moderate views” (al-Shorfa, November 14). In addition, Egypt’s Dar al-Ifta has played an active role in publically combating violent ideologies (al-Arabiya, August 24). For example, Dar al-Ifta has partnered with the Ministry of Youth for the first time in hopes of promoting a moderate understanding of Islam among Egyptian youth (El Fagr, November 6).

In midst of regional turmoil, we have also seen positive economic indicators and growth in the Egyptian economy. These are among the encouraging signs: the Suez Canal mega project, a cut in subsidies, Moody’s upgrade of Egypt’s credit rating outlook to stable from negative and the creation of 897 new companies in the month of September (al-Ahram Online, September 16; Financial Times, September 16). [17] More recently, the biggest U.S. business delegation in history visited Egypt to seek investment opportunities (AP, November 11). The long-term security situation is therefore likely to improve along with improvements in the economy. Additionally, the strong financial support provided by Gulf countries and close security cooperation with regional allies will help provide guarantees that Egypt will eventually overcome the transnational terrorism threats facing the country.


In a region devastated by violence, extremism, and terrorism, Egypt has long been considered the linchpin for regional stability and a strong advocate for Middle East peace. The international community, therefore, ought to fully support Egypt in its fight against terrorism (al-Arabiya, June 3). From the Egyptian point of view, the way forward requires the international community to unite under a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy. With no comprehensive international counter-terrorism strategy and the elimination of terrorism finance, the battle against terrorism will be prolonged and left to future generations to confront. However, it should also be noted that it is common for Egyptians to assert that the Obama administration’s credibility has dramatically slipped in Egypt and across the Middle East because of its contradictory regional policies. [18] These include: not acting after Syria crossed the United States’ “red line” on the use of chemical weapons, willingness to cooperate on counter-terrorism with Iran – designated by the U.S. Department of State as sponsor of terrorism – and the deliberate months-long delay in the delivery of Apache attack helicopters to Egypt, which are needed in the fight against terrorism in Sinai (Yahoo News, October 10). [19] It is necessary for Washington to revise its Middle East strategy based on the well-established and reliable relationship with Egypt’s armed forces. The adoption of a coherent policy by the White House in regard to Egypt’s fight against terrorism would also have a positive impact on curbing the wave of ferocious terrorism facing the region.

Adel El-Adawy is a Ph.D. candidate at King’s College London War Studies Department.??


1. “ISIS: Sinai Jihadists Respond to al-Baghdadi and Change Name,” November 14, 2014,

2. Aaron Zelin, “The Islamic State's First Colony in Libya,” Washington Institute, October 10, 2014,

3. Emily Dyer and Oren Kessler, “Terror in the Sinai,” The Henry Jackson Society, May 2014,, p. 27.

4. Final Report by Panel of Experts for UN Security Council,, p. 33.

5. Op Cit. Emily Dyer and Oren Kessler, p.3.

6. Ibid. p. 16.

7. Interview on al-Nahar TV with Muslim Brotherhood leader Muhammad al-Beltagi,

8. “Analysis: Blowback from the Syrian jihad has begun”; “Al-Nusra Front fighter reportedly arrested for planning attacks in Egypt”

9. “Turkey’s relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood,” Al-Arabiya Institute for Studies, October 2, 2014,

10. Nikola Kova? and Trista Guertin, “Armed Groups in the Sinai Peninsula,” Civil-Military Fusion Centre, February 2013,; Op. Cit. Emily Dyer and Oren Kessler, p. 32.

11. See video message by Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, November 15, 2014,

12. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Aaron Zelin, “Uncharitable Organizations,” Foreign Policy, February 26, 2013,

13. United States Department of State Publication, Bureau of Counterterrorism, “Country Reports on Terrorism 2013,” April 2014,

14. Personal Database.

15. See: “The Egyptian Armed Forces carries out the largest combined arms exercise in the region since ‘Badr-1996,’” October 19, 2014,

16. See: Minister of Interior marks the opening of new training village, November 19, 2014,

17. “Rating Action: Moody's changes Egypt's outlook to stable from negative, affirms Caa1 rating,” October 20, 2014,; See Khahera Wel Nas Primetime news, November 13, 2014,

18. Adel El-Adawy, “Egypt Remains Confused by White House Policy,” Washington Institute, November 20, 2014,

19. “State Sponsors of Terrorism,” U.S. Department of State,