Terrorism: What If the Hunted Become the Hunters

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April 26, 2006: Three bombs hit the Egyptian resort town of Dahab on April 23rd, leaving 23 dead and 83 wounded. This is the third time in three years that terrorists have bombed Egyptian resort areas. All the resorts were in the Sinai, a largely desert area occupied by only about 100,000 Bedouins. These people are semi-nomadic, religiously conservative and never got along with the government. The beach resorts are a major economic element in the Sinai, but few Bedouins work there, and most consider all those sun-loving foreigners and middle-class Egyptians sinful. After each of the bombings, thousands of the Bedouins were rounded up and interrogated. Most of them were Islamic conservatives, some were Islamic radicals, and because the Bedouin tribes are tight, there were few leads to the Islamic terrorists building and planting the bombs. There were also some connections to Islamic terrorists in the cities. There weren't a lot of terrorists involved. Just enough to get the deed done once a year.

Modern Islamic terrorism got its start in Egypt, via a combination of religious scholars and political activists. Socialism, communism and nationalism, in the last century, all failed to bring peace and prosperity to Egypt, and Arabs in general. So now religion is getting its chance. The problem is that most Arabs are tired of dictatorship, and the Islamic "solution" requires a religious dictatorship. That's already been tried in Afghanistan and Iran, where it has obviously not worked. The true believers believe, like die hard communists, that no one has done it the right way yet.

Egyptians want change, but are not united on which way to go. Islamic terrorism has been around for decades, and has been rejected by the general population several times. It doesn't take many Islamic terrorists, out of a population of 65 million, to set off a bomb from time to time. But since Egypt's economy depends so much on tourism, these bombs can have far reaching economic impact. Killing Egyptian women and children, fellow Moslems, adds to the general dislike for the Islamic terrorists. Thus the attacks on the Sinai resorts was thought to be a way around it. All three attacks in the past three years have been on national or Christian holidays. The Islamic terrorists really have it in for the ten percent of Egyptians who are still Christian (mostly the ancient Coptic church). The recent attack hit many Egyptians celebrating Coptic Easter (which, like most "Eastern" Christian churches, celebrates it a week later than the "Western" Catholics and Protestants.) This Easter celebration coincides with even more ancient (going back to the times of the Pharaohs) Spring time ceremonies. All of this is anathema to Islamic conservatives. Most of them preach, and sometimes crowd the streets to protest these "un-Islamic" celebrations. But a few will kill to make their point.

While Islamic terrorism is unpopular in Egypt, devout Moslems are not. Corruption, a problem everyone condemns, and everyone participates in, is seen as the main source of the endless dictatorship, poor government and economic stagnation. Egyptians would elect Islamic conservatives, if they had a chance. There have never been completely free elections in Egypt. And if there were, a lot of politicians would run on the "corruption-free" angle. Most of these would lean candidates would invoke religion to prove their credentials. And enough enthusiastically religious (mostly Moslem, but including Copts as well) candidates would get elected to Parliament, to assure a very religious government. Not all Egyptians agree that this would mean a religious dictatorship, and many Egyptians don't really care, as long as there is an honest vote, and honest candidates are elected.

The current government lives in fear of free elections, and losing their jobs to a bunch of religious fanatics. There could be corruption investigations and trials. Few senior government or business officials are free of the taint of corruption. A pro-religious, anti-corruption government could be very disruptive to a lot of comfortable lives. That's quite an incentive to keep things as they are, and keep hunting Islamic radicals, before the hunted turn, and become the hunters.

 

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