Publication: Egypt After the Spring: Revolt and Reaction
12 January 2016
Egypt faces intensifying security challenges on three different ‘fronts’: a full-blown war between the army and insurgent takfiri1 groups in North Sinai; an escalating Islamist insurgency across the rest of the country that has increasingly affected urban areas; and the threat of spillover from the civil war in Libya, where Egyptian forces have undertaken unilateral military action. While these challenges have affected stability and the standing of the government, and contributed to a nationwide sense of insecurity, they fundamentally differ in terms of their roots, nature and potency.
Since the rise to power of General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in July 2013, and the declaration of a ‘war on terror’, these challenges have been presented as interlinked and to be addressed simultaneously. The state has relied primarily on a military response, which has been depicted as the only solution to these existential crises and used to mobilise support and marginalise dissent. Such militarisation reflects not only the military’s disproportionate dominance of the political space and state resources (as has been the case since 1952), but also a systemic preference for the use of force over other tools of governance – whether at home or abroad – to achieve political objectives; and the elevation of the military as the unchallenged guardian of the nation.
This security-first approach, devoid of genuine outreach towards key dissenting or discontented groups in Egyptian society, has inadvertently engendered a predictable rise in violence, both individual and organised, and has led to the neglect of socio-economic and political issues. The approach has sent a message of exclusion, resulting in a dehumanising discourse on armed groups, civilians caught in the crossfire and all political opponents linked to a loosely defined ‘Islamism’. The government’s heavy-handedness is likely to cause a further backlash because it undermines Sisi’s ability to deliver on the basic promises of his mandate to re-establish political and economic stability. This chapter argues that, although Egypt currently faces unprecedented security challenges, which regional instability has exacerbated, the upsurge in violence since 2013 is also linked to the militarisation of the state.