Egypt Shocked by Deadly Mosque Terror Attack

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region

December 6, 2017

On Friday, November 24 Egypt was rocked by terrorist attacks targeting worshipers gathered at the Al Rawda mosque, a Sufi mosque in the Sinai. The attack killed several hundred.  For many observers in the region, familiar  with terror attacks against Christian houses of worship, the attack on the mosque signaled a desperation on the part of the attackers to ramp up the fight against the Egyptian government. However, judging from regional commentary, there is little agreement on how to deal with the threat.

The National’s Maged Atef notes that the target of the terror attack was not random, reflecting a continuing obsession of Salafists with Sufi Muslims: “The mosque is located in the village of Rawda, known for its affiliation with the Sufi sect of Islam, and as the birthplace of Sheikh Eid Al Jariri, the founder of the Sufi line of Jarirism. Sufism is an Islamic approach based on asceticism and love of the divine and love of beauty. Sufis have many practices considered by Islamic hardliners as a kind of polytheism. Clashes between Salafism and Sufism go back a long way, but reached a peak during the brief reign of former president Mohammed Morsi when many mausoleums and shrines visited by the Sufis were destroyed.”

On the other hand, some have suggested that the ever-increasing list of targets points to a terrorist organization that is keen to sow instability and violence wherever it can: “While attacks on government and Christian entities are almost expected by cynical observers, attacks on mosques ironically symbolize a reality that we fail to fathom often enough. That is that the terrorists don’t truly distinguish between Muslims and non-Muslims in their campaign to cause instability…. In a month in which the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed is celebrated more than any other time of the year, a mosque was attacked as worshippers prayed. As they fled the carnage, more worshippers were attacked. And as people rushed to the mosque to help the injured, they, too, were attacked. The message cannot be clearer: groups such as these will target anyone who they deem to be an obstacle to their objectives.”

Given the death toll resulting from the terror attacks, many were surprised by Al Azhar’s decision not to declare those involved in the attacks as ‘infidels’. However, as Farah Tawfeek notes on the pages of Egypt Independent, Al Azhar officials are rethinking their position: “On Saturday, a series of Al-Azhar scholars together with a host of political and social movements, urged the religious institution to issue a declaration against the attackers to brand them as infidels…. Meanwhile, religious groups, including Sufi orders, have announced the launch of a religious campaign, demanding the Islamic State to be declared as infidels…. In response to the critics, Al- Azhar called for an urgent meeting with the country’s prominent Islamic leaders to discuss whether or not to issue a ‘fatwa’ declaring Daesh as infidels. A number of Al-Azhar scholars have supported the initiative, despite Al-Azhar’s official stance.”

Gulf News’ Linda Heard is equally critical of the international community, which in her view needs to move beyond words to tackle the terror threat in Egypt: “World leaders were quick to send sympathetic messages to the Egypt’s government and people following the monstrous terror attack on worshippers in the northern town of Al Arish, eliciting the greatest single death toll in the country’s modern history…. As a first step, countries pledging to stand shoulder to shoulder with Cairo to eradicate terrorism should show their seriousness by branding the Brotherhood terrorist just as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain have done. The second step should consist of sharing intelligence, satellite surveillance and anything else that can help the Egyptian government eliminate the terrorist threat once and for all before it metastasises and heads to their own shores.”

Meanwhile, a Saudi Gazette’s editorial urges the Egyptian president not to act out of “vengeance” but to consider the need for actions that go beyond the usual response: “While vengeance is rightly sought, President El-Sisi himself knows this is not the entire solution. Time and again he has asserted that reducing terrorism solutions in Sinai and Egypt in general to only military and security components, as vital and necessary as these are, falls short of a more holistic approach to the crisis. Any viable and lasting solution necessitates efforts to improve people’s standard of living and the quality of their lives as well as safeguard their well-being. Brute force is the short-term solution. To fight a terrorist group or a branch here and there without addressing the roots of the problem is like trying to remedy the symptoms of an illness rather than treat the disease itself.”

The question of how to deal with the terrorist threat in Egypt (and more broadly in the region) is also addressed in an op-ed by Asharq Alawsat’s Ghasan Charbel, who asserts that eradicating the threat may be a “prerequisite” for addressing other important economic and social needs: “The Islamic world is the first target of terrorism and the great loser of terrorists’ wars…. We do not intend to say that terrorism is the only problem facing the Muslim world. There are many old and new problems at the political, economic and social levels. What we mean is that fighting terrorism and extremism is a prerequisite for dealing with other problems…. Fear of terrorists and extremists has consumed the energies of Islamic countries and deprived them of stability, investment and prosperity. That is why the current battle looks like the battle of the future of the Islamic world.”

Amina Khairy, writing for the Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram approaches the question of how to deal with the threat of terrorism from another angle, questioning the relationship between economic well-being and terrorism altogether: “Bringing greater democracy to the Middle East has been an ongoing dilemma for decades, where authoritarian regimes pretend to be democratic, people pretend to dream of democracy, and the developed world playacts the role of calling for democracy. However, with the long-awaited materialisation of democracy in the Arab Spring uprisings in 2011 and the years that followed came conflict, instability, civil war and terrorism…. [D]emocracy for the Islamists is not an end, but a means to reach power and establish their rule. In much the same way, terrorism in Egypt and in the other countries of the Arab Spring is not necessarily a reaction by the oppressed, poor, or inadequately educated. It is a mixture of elements whose definitions are not necessarily listed in Western books of political science and whose development does not necessarily take a linear route.”


  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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