As we were about to head out on an annual Xmas and New Year trip to Al Sayadeen, a three-star but inviting village-like resort in the proximity of Taba along the Red Sea, I, worried slightly, asked a friend if it was safe enough to venture way close to North Sinai this year. Her response was, “And where is it safe today in Egypt or around the world for that matter?” I contemplated her response, then agreed. An element of risk exists everywhere, so we exited our comfort zone, not that there is a comfort one, and headed on our trip anyways.
In reality, there is no safe haven, absolutely none. Terrorists hit beaches, stadiums, nightclubs, theatres, markets, mosques, and anywhere haphazardly deemed a target. That is around the world, while in Egypt their choices are more exclusive ambushing dignitaries in their personal cars, conscripts and officers in armed vehicles, and churches packed with church goers, while incidentally maiming and killing passersby. That is in addition to deliberate arson, vandalism, and power line blasts.
Walking next to the neighbouring police station, I wonder if it is today that this particular locale will be earmarked for an attack. As I stroll next to the church close by, the same feeling engulfs me. Even when I’m merely on a busy street, I am wary; as a result, I have become more vigilant. And here is the key: becoming vigilant.
Approximately 3000 churches and 83,000 mosques adorn Egypt. Thousands of offices, schools, and hospitals are also there to serve the public. More than that, congestion and traffic snarls dominate the street scene. Let’s call a spade a spade: all this leaves terrorists with a wide range of choices to choose from. Can the police force secure all these establishments and the millions of visitors accessing these establishments day in and day out?
As I watch barriers, curb retainers, and barbed wires go up around official buildings, churches, and police stations, I wonder how much more can the security apparatus do to protect us and wonder again if it is at all possible to indeed do just that.
I’m also skeptic of the ability of on-guard conscripts to thwart a suicide bomber or a terrorist who is adamant on harming point blank. Tired and bored, security guards are looking at their phones or dozing off at their spots. They are neither well-equipped to handle dangerous offenders nor trained to tackle such hazardous incidents. They are also the first in the line of danger as a terrorist rams through an area.
I watched footage of a drunken driver try to evade the Russian police by driving his car through a Russian airport terminal. He plunges though the entrance and races around, as people dodge the car and the police try desperately to stop it. If this fellow wasn’t merely inebriated but indeed a terrorist willing to inflict harm, he would’ve easily massacred hundreds, and no one would’ve been able to do much about it. Thankfully, he wasn’t.So, in Egypt, what have we learned from previous attacks on churches filled with worshippers and buses loaded with conscripts? How do we innocent laypersons protect ourselves?
First, we need to realize that under no circumstances should we stop living. This is definitely not my intention, for, as Naguib Mahfouz once said, “Fear doesn't prevent death. It prevents life.” Churches must remain joyous with churchgoers especially during festive seasons, and other facilities must remain alive with visitors. Still, we need to become more vigilant so as to live longer in the hopes of enjoying life even further.
We protect ourselves by not depending solely on security forces because no matter how diligent they try to protect us, terrorists, by changing techniques and fielding new targets, will defy the efforts.
Let’s start with houses of worship. Monitoring and screening incoming worshippers must be mandatory with surveillance cameras and security frames plugged in, maintained, and in tip top shape. Vigilant surveillance of all incoming worshippers is not a routine spot check but actual inspection of every bag, person, and personal belongings of those entering the church.
This responsibility lies within the bounds of the church itself. And in no way should church authorities, once the initial shock of one crisis subsides, become lax in their vigilance.
The same goes for mosques, for they aren’t excluded from the terrorists’ list of targets. Didn’t 27 Muslim worshippers die when the mosque in Kuwait got bombed in 2015? The same rituals should be applied to mosques.
Apartment buildings, social and sporting clubs, malls, banks, and entrances to all buildings must be secured. The security guard at the bank is not there to greet you, but to look at you observantly until you are cleared.
Also a doorman, bawab, is not an errand goer but a vigilant watchful eye. Adding apartment security systems will lessen if not eliminate access and possible attacks.
Most security guards and conscripts don’t carry arms, so a terrorist can easily plough through. This is why barriers should be made to hold firmly against armed attacks. If they don't seem firm enough, complain, but don't complain if your car is considered a threat until it passes inspection as you drive into a parkade.
Metro and train stations are an easy target, so passengers should be watchful for bags and parcels left unattended and bulging waistline on forlorn passengers.
More important, if you are checked over at an airport gate before flying, be happy. If told to remove your shoes, do it gladly; if you are questioned as you enter a bank, realize it is for your benefit; and if a doorman asks you which apartment you are heading to, don't disregard him.
And most important, if someone at any of these posts is not doing his or her job, then it is your duty to take it up with his superior. If you are expected to remove your shoes, empty your pockets, and pull out your computer, only to have the security person at the screen chatting with the fellow sitting next to him, complain. As much as it is his duty to perform efficiently, it is your duty to insist on this efficiency.
And, don’t grumble or complain needlessly; it is the new norm.
In today’s troubling times, remaining vigilant is the name of the game.