In Combating the Ideology of Terror, Washington’s Allies Must Cease Repressing Civil Society

Last Thursday, the Trump administration publicized its new national strategy for counterterrorism, which emphasizes the need to go beyond military and law-enforcement measures to defeat jihadism. Indeed, writes Elliott Abrams appreciatively, the “view that terrorists have an ideology, and that we need to combat it, rightly permeates the document.” Abrams in particular praises a statement on the role civil society can play as a bulwark against radical Islam, but worries that the White House might be unwilling to follow through on its implications:

[S]ome of our putative allies in the struggle against terror view civil society not as a partner but as an enemy. They simply seek to crush it, in ways that can only assist people trying to sell terrorist ideology. The best (or, rather, worst) example is Egypt. The regime there has under way a broad effort to destroy civil society. This began in 2011 with the closing of several American nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including the International Republican Institute, National Democratic Institute, and Freedom House. Their offices and personnel were accused of receiving foreign money—and in fact, because Egypt is a very poor country, most NGOs depend on foreign money. Those now-infamous “NGO trials” continue to this day.

While U.S. officials often refer to Egypt as a close ally, the United States government has not yet succeeded in getting the government of Egypt to drop charges even against the American citizens who were working for those semi-official U.S. NGOs.

The repression of civil society goes much further. President Trump himself intervened in 2017 to get Egypt to release Aya Hegazy, an Egyptian-American who with her husband ran an NGO dedicated to helping street children. Most recently, Egypt jailed a woman who complained about sexual harassment in Egypt, for the crime of “spreading false news.” . . .

One more example: in Egypt today there are between 40,000 and 60,000 political prisoners. They languish in overcrowded prisons where they have years to contemplate the injustices done to them while jihadists offer ideologies that purport to explain why this happened and try to recruit them. Egypt’s prisons are jihadist factories. How does this fit with anyone’s counterterrorism strategy?

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Read more at Pressure Points

More about: Egypt, Politics & Current Affairs, Radical Islam, U.S. Foreign policy, War on Terror

Why the Recent Uptick of Israeli Activity in Syria?

Sept. 23 2022

On September 16 and 17, the IDF carried out airstrikes in the vicinity of Damascus, reportedly aimed at Iranian logistical centers there. These follow on an increase in the frequency of such attacks in recent weeks, which have included strikes on the Aleppo airport on August 31 and September 6. Jonathan Spyer comments:

The specific targeting of the Aleppo airport is almost certainly related to recent indications that Iran is relying increasingly on its “air bridge” to Syria and Lebanon, because of Israel’s successful and systematic targeting of efforts to move weaponry and equipment by land [via Iraq]. But the increased tempo of activity is not solely related to the specific issue of greater use of air transport by Teheran. Rather, it is part of a broader picture of increasing regional tension. There are a number of factors that contribute to this emergent picture.

Firstly, Russia appears to be pulling back in Syria. . . . There are no prospects for a complete Russian withdrawal. The air base at Khmeimim and the naval facilities at Tartus and Latakia are hard strategic assets which will be maintained. The maintenance of Assad’s rule is also a clear objective for Moscow. But beyond this, the Russians are busy now with a flailing, faltering military campaign in Ukraine. Moscow lacks the capacity for two close strategic engagements at once.

Secondly, assuming that some last-minute twist does not occur, it now looks like a return to the [2015 nuclear deal] is not imminent. In the absence of any diplomatic process related to the Iranian nuclear program, and given Israeli determination to roll back Iran’s regional ambitions, confrontation becomes more likely.

Lastly, it is important to note that the uptick in Israeli activity is clearly not related to Syria alone. Rather, it is part of a more general broadening and deepening by Israel in recent months of its assertive posture toward the full gamut of Iranian activity in the region. . . . The increasing scope and boldness of Israeli air activity in Syria reflects this changing of the season.

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Read more at Jonathan Spyer

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syria, War in Ukraine