Intelligence chiefs from almost all the Arab states gathered in the Egyptian capital of Cairo on February 22 and 23 to discuss growing threats to the security of Arab states and to formulate improved mechanisms for cooperation and intelligence sharing.
The meeting, the first of a kind, came at a time of unprecedented challenges for the security of Arab states, ones posed by the emergence of terrorism as a threat to nation states. Called the “Arab Intelligence Forum”, the two-day event focused on the formulation of security policies and mechanisms in the face of terrorist groups, some of which threaten to wipe some Arab states off the map.
Deep Concerns in Arab World
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met the intelligence chiefs and top intelligence officers attending the forum at the presidential palace in eastern Cairo on February 22. Following the meeting, Sisi underscored the importance of cooperation between intelligence agencies in Arab states with the aim of eradicating threats to Arab security. The forum — analysts said — reflects Egypt’s growing concern over the security situation in its vicinity and in the Arab region in general.
Egypt’s Alarming Security Situation
Egypt is at the heart of a changing world and the populous Arab country has to act to protect itself against rampant unrest around it. The situation in neighboring Libya is especially worrying to Egypt, with the North African state turning into a hotspot of terrorism and militancy. Egypt shares an extended border with Libya, one whose protection requires the utilization of huge financial and military resources.
Turkish interference in Libya is especially worrying to Cairo, particularly with Turkey sending Syrian mercenaries to Libya to help the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord stop the advance of the National Libyan Army towards Tripoli.
Egypt’s Significant Internal Dangers
Egypt has an ongoing fight against a branch of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Sinai. The local ISIS branch is mainly active in small parts of North Sinai, but Egyptian authorities are afraid that the ISIS militants could push further into more parts of Sinai, which would threaten the security of the Suez Canal and Cairo.
Ongoing operations by the Egyptian army have succeeded in reducing the capabilities of the ISIS terrorists to almost nothing. Nevertheless, the terrorists are still capable of staging attacks, including on police and army outposts in North and Central Sinai. Some of the fighters within ISIS ranks come from other countries, especially from Syria. Some of the fighters also come from the Palestinian Gaza Strip.
This is where Egypt needs cooperation with other regional intelligence agencies, analysts said. Cairo wants to cooperate with these agencies in stopping the flow of foreign fighters into it, they added.
Terrorist Influx into the Sahel and North Africa After the Defeat of ISIS in Syria
Tens of thousands of terrorists are on the run in the region, after the collapse of the ISIS caliphate in Syria and Iraq. Most of the terrorists are arriving in North Africa. They are also arriving in the Sahel and Sahara region.
Egypt has been trying to militarily empower the countries of the region, having hosted a number of training programs for regional troops in it. It also established a new counterterrorism command center for the region in its new administrative capital on the outskirts of Cairo.
Egypt’s fear is that terrorist groups active in the region and in some parts of west and east Africa will team up with others who are active in North Africa. This will threaten Egyptian security, the security of the Mediterranean and Europe’s security as well.
“This makes intelligence-sharing among regional intelligence agencies a matter of extreme importance,” said Hussein Abu Atta, the head of the liberal Egyptians’ Party. “Egypt has to watch security developments around it very closely and cautiously.”