We hear lots about the Obama administration building a coalition to confront ISIS – but we have yet to hear who and their contributions. There’s a priority to develop an Arab coalition to fight this scourge, and of course the first country we are turning to for that is Saudi Arabia. However, there is another country, which has been a stalwart ally of America in the Middle East and is fighting against Islamic jihadists right now — Egypt.
Egyptian leaders — unlike our own – seem to “get” the strategic perspective on combating Islamic terrorism and jihadism. As reported by CNS News, “During Secretary of State John Kerry’s weekend visit to Cairo, his Egyptian counterpart pushed for the new international focus on countering terrorism to go beyond Syria and Iraq, arguing that the same ideology espoused by the jihadists there is driving other Islamist extremists, including those in Egypt’s neighboring territories. A spokesman for President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi said that in talks with Kerry the president had “stressed that any international coalition against terrorism must be a comprehensive alliance that is not limited to confront a certain organization or to curb a single terrorist hotbed but must expand to include all the terrorist hotbeds across the Middle East and Africa.”
I have a one-word response: Amen!
Why haven’t we heard one single Western leader state the exact same thing and understand this is a strategic conflagration of global consequences? Instead we have more equivocating and deliberating by Western leaders to come up with “nuanced” language that fits into some PC box so as to not offend.
Egypt along with another Arab nation, the United Arab Emirates, has engaged in air strikes against Islamist militias in neighboring Libya. We also know the al-Sisi government in Egypt ousted the Muslim Brotherhood government to the chagrin of the Obama administration. And it is Egypt who has taken a hard line stance against the Islamic terrorist group, Hamas. So why aren’t we getting commitments from Egypt and UAE to combat the Islamo-fascist ideology and to first defeat ISIS? Perhaps there is a trust factor?
In a most revealing statement, during a joint press appearance with Kerry, Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri underlined the point, calling for a fight against Islamist terrorists “wherever they may be.” “I support the international efforts to fight terrorism and work on supporting these efforts, and support the necessary measures to put an end to this phenomenon, whether in Iraq, Libya, any part of the Arab world, or in Africa,” he said. CNS says, “in reply to a question about possible links between ISIS and Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, a terrorist group based in the Sinai peninsula, he said the two organizations were linked through a common ideologically and vision, even if they portray themselves differently.”
Wow! Now compare that to Kerry’s statement about, “a very significant counter-terrorism operation that has many moving parts which will be conducted over time.” Gee, is there any possibility we could trade our Secretary of State for the Egyptian Foreign Minister? Mr. Shukri understands that at a strategic level we must defeat the ideology and the global Islamist movement – it’s not about just a group here or there. That’s what a dedicated campaign plan should entail, not what Obama presented last week Wednesday.
And in what has to be the most clarity I’ve seen, Foreign Minister Shukri stated per CNS, “We believe that this extremist, exclusionary ideology is common among all terrorist organizations,” adding that Egypt monitors cooperation between such groups and recognizes that they pose threats across borders between national states. “They want to eliminate these states so that this extremist ideology will prevail.” Shukri said Egypt believed defeating terrorism was “a collective responsibility.” “There should be agreement between members of the international community to eliminate these phenomena wherever they may be.”
Now that is a definitive statement of the intent of the global Islamist movement.
The rift between the U.S. and Egypt — actually between Obama and Egypt — is a result of a differing view of the Muslim Brotherhood, a veteran Islamist organization which Obama views as a legitimate political force and Egypt sees as a terrorist group. CNS reports that “Sisi, in his then capacity as military chief, toppled the Islamist organization’s ruling administration in July 2013 and cracked down on its leaders, from former President Mohamed Morsi down.” Of course we all know it was Obama who invited the Muslim Brotherhood to his University of Cairo speech in 2009, placing their members front and center.
I always take what the Saudis say with a grain of salt, however this I can agree with. Last week Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal stated, after meeting with Kerry and representatives from 10 Arab countries pledged to tackle ISIS, about the need for a “comprehensive” approach to the problem that “extends to deal with this terrorism that strikes Libya, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.” He said those countries had become safe havens for “these organizations and their networks, in particular with regard to the transfer of weapons and ammunition to them and among them.” And by the way, Saudi Arabia is a close ally of Sisi’s Egypt and is strongly opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The fault lines are drawn between Islamist supporting states (Qatar, Turkey, Kuwait, Iran) and non-Islamist supporting states (Egypt, UAE, and perhaps Saudi Arabia). Unfortunately we have seen with whom Obama is willing to meet and negotiate, that message is clear in the region. There is a potential coalition but they want to see commitment and leadership.