Egypt counter-terror council expected to form national strategy quickly

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

Egypt's Al-Azhar Foundation will work with the newly formed Supreme Council to Combat Terrorism and Extremism. [Waleed Abu al-Khair/Al-Mashareq]

Egypt's Al-Azhar Foundation will work with the newly formed Supreme Council to Combat Terrorism and Extremism. [Waleed Abu al-Khair/Al-Mashareq]

Egypt's newly formed Supreme Council to Combat Terrorism and Extremism will move swiftly to tackle terrorism on multiple fronts, experts tell Al-Mashareq.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced he would form the new council on April 11th, after the deadly Palm Sunday attacks on Coptic churches in Alexandria and Tanta claimed by the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS).

The new body has been tasked with outlining a comprehensive national strategy to confront all forms of terrorism and extremism and ensure its implementation, the president's official spokesman Ambassador Alaa Youssef said.

The council will comprise government, security, judicial and religious leaders, he said, and will be given full authority to regulate the country’s legal, religious and media positions on terrorism and extremism.

It also will be responsible for suggesting new security and legal mechanisms and procedures and for following up on their implementation.

Permanent committees comprised of experts from a variety of fields will help the council study and analyse terrorist groups and monitor their activities, as well as co-ordinate support for the families of victims of terrorism.

Broad representation

Council members will come from diverse backgrounds, Al-Azhar University professor and political researcher Abdul Nabi Bakkar told Al-Mashareq.

"Council members will include representatives from the security and intelligence forces, who will put in place a detailed security strategy to capture terrorists and secure potential target areas," he said.

A new special force that reports to the council with a special mission to fight terrorism will likely be formed, he added.

"The council also will have representatives from the Ministry of Religious Endowments and al-Azhar Foundation," he said.

They will be tasked with moderating the country's religious discourse and ensuring that material that runs counter to national guidelines is expunged from religious curricula and textbooks.

The involvement of public figures, particularly experts in education, media and culture, is key to the council’s operation, Bakkar added.

This will enable the council to tackle extremist ideology from multiple sides and prevent it from spreading, he said.

Legal review under way

Legal proceedings are under way to implement the presidential directive to form the new council that will further define and regulate it, Ain Shams University constitutional law professor Jaafar al-Ammouri told Al-Mashareq.

The legal review is important to ensure the new council does not duplicate the efforts of other government agencies, he said.

"As soon as the draft law is completed, it will be raised to the House of Representatives for issuance and implementation and will be publicly released in the Official Gazette," al-Ammouri said.

The legal component of the council will include jurisprudence and constitutional law experts who will work on amending laws relating to terrorism, suggesting updates to existing laws, and forming new courts with an expedited process.

"This is because a large number of terrorist suspects spend a long time in court, sometimes years, before a decision is reached in their cases," he said.

The new council is distinguished by its direct link to the office of the president, Al-Sharq Centre for Regional and Strategic Studies researcher Sami Gheit told Al-Mashareq.

"This means that laws and proposals do not go through the standard administrative path of discussion and approval, but will be immediately debated, followed by a swift decision by the president himself, since he will be at the top of the council hierarchy," he said.

The new council is needed as the war on terrorism has to be waged on all fronts, Gheit said, adding that this includes "monitoring websites and social media in order to detect recruitment efforts or communication".

The media will be instrumental in the effort to wipe out terrorism, he said.

"What is required is consistent media messaging to confront terrorism and spread sound ideas from a religious, security and social perspective," he said.

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