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Egypt
November 6, 2015

Will Egypt’s President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi be able to contain the country’s growing Islamist threat?

by
Tom Wilson

Originally published in City AM

Tobias Borck, a researcher at the Strategy and Security Institute at the University of Exeter, says Yes

President Sisi will be able to contain extremist groups in Egypt, but he won’t defeat them. Despite its economic woes, Egypt is not a failing state. There are no swathes of ungoverned territory, nor are significant parts of the population sufficiently alienated to throw in their lot with groups such as the Islamic State (IS) affiliate in Sinai.

This means that Egyptian jihadists won’t be able to emulate their brethren in Iraq and Syria by taking and holding towns, or conducting the kinds of frequent and spectacular attacks that have ravaged Baghdad. However, Sisi’s strategy to defeat the extremists is not working.

His military has pounded insurgents in Sinai for years, thousands of supposed terrorists have been locked up; and yet attacks continue.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s economically vital tourism industry is being destroyed. Unless Sisi adopts a more sophisticated counter-insurgency approach that doesn’t just rely on hard power, but provides economic, social and political opportunities for all Egyptians, this will not change.

Tom Wilson, associate fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, says No

As the Egyptian government has sought to combat Islamist militants across the Sinai, the confidence of these groups appears to have only increased.

Even while President Sisi has tipped the balance between liberty and security firmly in favour of the latter, these jihadist groups have proliferated, stepping up their ability to kill Egyptian soldiers, carry out attacks in major cities, destroy national infrastructure, and kidnap foreign nationals.

While in the longer term, Egypt’s military may eventually be able to gain the upper hand in defeating these groups, containing them entirely and countering their influence may be another matter.

Even as the Egyptian state seeks to assert its authority over the lawless parts of the Sinai such as the north, where factions such as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis are particularly strong, it will remain difficult to prevent them from being bolstered by Salafist allies in Gaza, or from continuing to be strengthened by the extensive weapons smuggling networks that still operate.