For too long, Europeans thought the waters of the Mediterranean would be sufficient to isolate them from the terrorism coming from the south and east, even though they received innumerable warnings throughout the last three decades of the 20th century. They did not realize the danger until the barbarism was upon them, and now it is too late: there were many reactions to the most recent terrorist attack in Barcelona, in which 14 people died, but surprise was not among them.
After every terrorist attack in Europe, the world is appalled. The streets are filled with rescue teams, emergency responders and security forces. After each attack, eyewitnesses give their accounts about what they have seen and some talk of their narrow escape from death. Others campaign to help victims, to try to find the missing and to comfort their loved ones.
After every such incident, I wonder why the world, especially Europe, has taken so long to see what was coming. Egypt’s former president, Hosni Mubarak, certainly did.
Not long after the September 11 attack on the US in 2001, Charles Lambroskin, editor-in-chief of the French newspaper Le Figaro, asked Mubarak for his thoughts on combating terrorism. Mubarak replied: “The solution is to convene an international conference under the auspices of the United Nations to draft a convention criminalizing terrorism, in which the signatory states pledge not to receive terrorists on their territory and not to allow them to open training camps on their national soil and to prevent them from passing from one country to another.
“There would be an international boycott of governments that refuse to implement this agreement. I first presented this draft to the Strasbourg Parliament in 1986, how much time we have wasted since then.”
Mubarak also predicted the American response to the attack on its soil, and advised the US not to play the same game as its enemies: “They are waiting for your repressive measures to start, and from the blood and the debris will come a new generation of them demanding revenge on America.” His opinion, in other words, was that the medication should not be the same as the disease.
“When the fundamentalists tried to assassinate me in 1995 in Addis Ababa, my first reaction was anger,” Mubarak recalled. “The reaction expected from me as a military man was to respond with force, but I soon realized that killing innocent people was the worst solution. Instead I preferred to conduct an investigation led by the Egyptian intelligence services, which ultimately resulted in the identification of the perpetrators.”
Europe grieves for the victims of another terror attack, but 16 years ago the former Egyptian president saw what was coming and how to stop it.
On the right to asylum, he said: “The right to asylum is guaranteed by democratic principles, but it is unacceptable for a democratic state to grant political asylum to criminals. The murderer has no right to claim human rights. If someone commits a crime in France, don’t think he will be able to go to Egypt. I will hand him over to France immediately.”
For a long time, the Egyptian vision of the threat of terrorism and the way to fight it was clear, but many countries in the world, especially the West, could not understand it until they were faced with terrorism themselves. Only then did this lead to the start of talks about the “war on terror.”
The concept of war needs to be redefined. In its traditional sense it has become an outdated and obsolete concept, and the danger of terrorism is far more sophisticated. The world must realize that it is about to embark on a long battle on several fronts. Many networks must be penetrated before we can stop all terrorists. “We have to use intelligence before we put our hands on the organizers, monitor the remittances across the world and follow up on the Internet,” Mubarak said. “All that is required is patience and the use of police and intelligence. If a plane fires a rocket at a mountain in Afghanistan, this will not help anything. With intelligence, however, you can hit the right mountain containing a cave hiding a terrorist leader.”
Where would the world be now if it had listened to him?
• Abdellatif El-Menawy is a critically acclaimed multimedia journalist, writer and columnist who has covered war zones and conflicts worldwide. He can be reached on Twitter @ALMenawy