The state is causing polarization by defining its supporters as true Egyptians and according lower statuses to all other citizens. It labels its opponents as evil, and is trying to withdraw Egyptian nationality from suspected terrorists. In parallel with these developments, terrorism is on the rise in Egypt.
“They are not Egyptians,” is how the state defines political Islamists, who a few years ago won almost three-quarters of seats in Parliament, as well as the presidency. Those who claim that political Islamists are no longer popular in Egypt are hiding their heads in the sand.
Furthermore, excessive aggression toward people who are mentally disturbed pushes them into a position where they have nothing to lose, and they target the state as their principal enemy. Political Islamists are a reprehensible part of Egyptian society that we must reform, not alienate. They constitute a complicated challenge that we are, sadly, not on the right track to tackle.
They draw strength from presenting themselves as victims, so the more the state represses them, the more united they become, and the more prone they are to exact revenge via terrorist attacks, while presenting their actions under the label of Islam (which they certainly misinterpret). Political Islamists work to radicalize Egypt, and the state is simply — and probably unintentionally — advancing their mission, giving rise to more extremism and terrorism.
The state often adopts impractical and short-sighted means to resolve its challenges, tending to cut out everyone who does not agree with its policies. We will not solve problems that originate in Egypt by trying to export our challenges to other nations or blame them for our faults.
We cannot only work on digesting the “good apples” and disposing of the “bad” ones, especially when we are planting unhealthy seeds that will certainly yield rotten crops, which could end up occupying most of the dining table.
Nationality should not be subject to incentives or penalties. It is the only privilege that citizens are granted at birth, and it should not be used as a tool to strengthen national identity.
Egypt is going through a fundamental dilemma of defending its identity, in the process backing into a corner all political forces that do not support the ruling regime. The prospect of losing their nationality does not threaten Egyptians who are committed to murdering innocent citizens, and who know full well that they will be prosecuted eventually.
Regrettably, political Islamists believe they owe allegiance not to Egypt, but to a “Muslim nation” that they are fighting to establish. So the threat of withdrawing Egyptian nationality is of absolutely no consequence to them. Nationality should not be subject to incentives or penalties. It is the only privilege that citizens are granted at birth, and it should not be used as a tool to strengthen national identity.
We need to expend more effort on highlighting the core values of Islam (peace, tolerance and forgiveness), and to be more tolerant in dealing with these misguided citizens in order to turn them into peaceful ones. Any citizen convicted of a crime must be penalized, but without being stripped of nationality.
Egypt needs to apply a clear policy of punishing all citizens who engage in illegal activities, from simple misdemeanors to terrorism (by far the most grievous crime that can be committed). Proportional punishment is therefore imperative.
We must reconcile potential suspects and misguided citizens with the concept of true citizenship and the obligations attached to it. The withdrawal of nationality sends a message that anyone who commits, or is suspected of committing, a crime no longer belongs to our nation. This would simply serve to enhance terrorism.
• Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom.