How to Counter Extremism: Inside Egypt’s Frontline Fight Against Global Terrorism

Mar 31, 2017 - 4 min read

After more than three decades of military-to-military and intelligence-to-intelligence cooperation with the United States, Egypt’s security forces are not only the largest in the Middle East, they’re among the most modern and formidable.

But even with U.S. training and equipment, military might alone can’t defeat what is now a global network of terror cells and violent extremists. That requires multilateral coordination. And it’s exactly why Egypt has been working with allies across the international community to combat ISIS, stabilize lawless regions that serve as breeding grounds for terrorist recruitment, and choke off the flow of resources fueling militant groups.

But the heart of Egypt’s international counter-terrorism operation remains the country’s enduring alliance with the U.S. It’s a partnership that’s already surfaced actionable insights and — as allies like Israel can attest to — delivered tangible results.

CHALLENGE 1: Shutting down the underground arms trade many terror cells depend on.

For years, terrorists and other criminals have gotten away with trafficking humans, narcotics and weapons between Egypt, Israel, and the Gaza Strip. In response, Egypt began systematically cracking down on tunnel smuggling along the Gaza border and coordinated with Israel on construction of a wall along the shared Egypt-Israel border.

LESSON 1: STARVE, DISARM, DEPRIVE

By targeting the transportation networks that keep terror cells stocked with arms and other essential resources, Egypt is showing how the world can declaw and begin to dismantle violent groups with few alternate means of supplying their fighters.

CHALLENGE 2: Stopping extremist recruitment.

Of course, material goods aren’t the only fodder terrorist operations rely on. While doing everything possible to keep weapons out of the hands of terrorists, Egypt is simultaneously working to keep vulnerable people from becoming terrorists in the first place.

Through a dedicated, deliberate increase in positive engagement with local populations throughout sensitive regions, like the Islamic State-affiliated Sinai Province, Egypt is giving would-be terror recruits fewer and fewer reasons to pick up a gun or strap on a bomb.

LESSON 2: THIN THE RANKS

From tactics as simple as investing in water and agricultural projects, to more systematic approaches like leveraging Egypt’s own religious institutions to promote moderation and tolerance, the country is developing a template for nations across the Middle East to help stem terrorism at its root.

CHALLENGE 3: Containing a global, multi-headed network of extremists.

Perhaps the most critical element of Egypt’s sophisticated counter-terrorism program is its commitment to international cooperation. Situated next to a dysfunctional Libya, teeming with armed groups and unchecked violence, Egypt is well positioned to confront the terrorism emanating from this failed state — but Egyptian leaders know they can be even more effective by combining their efforts with allies who have a shared stake in combating global terrorism.

LESSON 3: DON’T GO IT ALONE

Through close military-to-military cooperation, leadership-level relationship-building and policy alignment, and intelligence sharing with counter-terrorism agencies from allied powers like the U.S., Egypt is helping build a united global front against terrorism and refine effective tactics like preventing terrorist funding and recruitment.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

Key to Egypt’s collaborative approach is, of course, willing partners. Egypt itself is perhaps the best-positioned nation in the Arab world to combat terrorism. It’s already the leader of moderate Arab states, and both the U.S. and Israel count it as one of their oldest and strongest allies in the region.

One dynamic that’s helped make the country such an effective ally is the three-decade track record Egypt shares with the U.S. on coordinated security measures. U.S.-supplied military equipment and training has helped hone the Egyptian military and counterterrorism communities into a powerful, nimble, and modern weapon against extremists. Not only has this partnership made Egypt more safe, it’s helping stabilize the region — which makes the whole world safer.

Today, Egypt and the U.S. stand at a crossroads, with an incredible opportunity to halt the spread of violence emanating from unstable countries like Libya. It’s in both nations’ best interests — and, frankly, in the interests of all peace-loving people — to recommit to their alliance against extremism, capitalize on their deep shared history, and give the rest of the world a few more tangible results to learn from.

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