Egypt strikes back

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:31 pm IST

Published - February 18, 2015 12:17 am IST

Egypt seems to have set its foot deep into the Islamic State (IS) quicksand. Since Monday, the Egyptian military has been carrying out raids on IS camps and weapon storage areas in northeast Libya. These attacks were in response to the brutal beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians kidnapped by militants claiming allegiance to IS. The tragic fact, by now obvious, is that Egypt’s military strikes are only a very partial solution to a continuously expanding IS threat. To make matters worse, these air strikes on Libyan soil would be seen as an assault on Libya’s sovereignty. About seven civilians, including four children, have been killed in these air strikes, which have damaged several residential areas in the city of Derna. Having a relatively stable base in Syria and Iraq, IS is now gradually carving out its presence in Libya. Libya has been in a political vacuum since the 2011 uprising which led to the overthrow of Muammar Qadhafi. The revolution has since been undermined by political factions and rebels struggling for power. Egypt’s attack on Libyan soil will only add to the existing lawlessness of that state, giving IS a better opportunity to dig in and strengthen its presence there.

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has been leading an internal battle against political-religious groups, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, his largest opposition. But Mr. Sisi’s error lies in declaring the Brotherhood a terrorist group and equating it with more violent ones such as IS and al-Qaeda. His crackdown may even lead some local groups to pledge allegiance to the IS in order to resist Mr. Sisi. This is in fact a strategy that IS has been deploying to destabilise other states as well. Jordan, for instance, was similarly provoked recently into a military strike following hostage beheadings, magnified by IS’s use of carefully crafted visuals in the media. But King Abdullah’s commitment to “fight back” against IS was not echoed by Jordanian public opinion. To be clear, IS ultimately aims for greater territorial sovereignty and a Caliphate, maintaining a top-down model of power. But it is still through affiliations and decentralised networks with local groups, spread from Yemen to Libya and parts of Africa, that IS is attempting to gain political legitimacy. The recent “lone wolf” terror attacks in Sydney, Paris, Copenhagen and so on are also instances of groups having ideological affiliations to the IS brand. It is this decentralised and spectral nature of the enemy that may frustrate Egypt’s military strikes as well. But the crucial difference between IS and all the previous Jihadist groups is that IS will hope to exploit these decentralised networks to eventually strengthen its territorial, sovereign political order.

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