In the wake of Islamic State’s November 24 attack on a mosque in Sinai, which left 305 people dead and countless others wounded, some commentators have blamed the autocratic and often repressive government in Cairo for creating an environment that fosters terror. They will doubtless revive the same arguemtns in response to yesterday’s bombing of an Egyptian military vehicle, also in Sinai. Steven A. Cook believes they have it wrong:
The [reason for the attack] is straightforward: the perpetrators are adherents of a worldview that views violence as the principal means of purifying what they believe to be un-Islamic societies. It was not a coincidence that the attackers went after a mosque associated with Sufism—a mystical variant of traditional Islam that both violent and nonviolent fundamentalists consider apostasy. . . .
Wilayat Sinai, [the branch of Islamic State responsible for the attack], . . . was not radicalized because Sisi overthrew [the previous president], Mohammed Morsi, and engaged in a widespread crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, [of which Morsi was the leader]. Extremists need no such encouragement. . . .
[S]mart analysts have also assailed the Egyptian government for mass arrests, extrajudicial killings, and a scorched-earth policy aimed at pacifying the Sinai, claiming that it did not work in the 1990s when Egypt faced another terrorist threat and that it will not work now. As hard as it may be to acknowledge, these are largely inaccurate statements. The low-level insurgency that had buffeted Egypt beginning in the fall of 1992 came to an end in 1999. The tools then-President Hosni Mubarak used were police dragnets, state-sanctioned murder, military trials for civilians, and propaganda to diminish the draw of extremist ideologies. It is true that you cannot defeat ideas with bullets, bombs, and jail cells (which are often incubators of extremism), but between 1999 and 2011 Egypt did not confront a major terrorist threat.