Rethinking Counterterrorism in the Age of ISIS: Lessons from Sinai

60 Pages Posted: 20 Feb 2016 Last revised: 19 Jan 2017

Date Written: February 18, 2016


Failing states are havens for terrorism. A toxic combination of social, economic, and political crises attract violent extremist groups to establish bases in these lawless areas. As the groups grow in strength, the violence spreads from the immediate vicinity to the nation, region, and sometimes even other continents. One need only look to the terrorist attacks in New York, London, Madrid, and Paris as proof that terrorists operating out of failing states eventually set their sights on attacking Western capitals. Although the underlying causes of terrorism are often local, the violence is no longer constrained within a particular country or region. Whether originating in Afghanistan, the Northwest Frontier of Pakistan, Somalia, Iraq or Syria, the rise of terrorist groups has become a worldwide problem that threatens the safety of citizens in both the Eastern and Western Hemispheres, albeit in differing degrees.

Yet, global counterterrorism strategies focus more on symptoms rather than the underlying social, political, and economic conditions that produce politically-motivated violence. In particular, counterterrorism policies are driven by military and security interests of authoritarian states whose state violence breeds more violence by non-state actors. Western nations often limit their counterterrorism practices to merely preventing violence on their soil. With the advancement of technology, fluidity of borders, and ubiquity of international travel, countries can no longer afford to ignore the deteriorating conditions in failing states where terrorists set up bases. Nor can they limit their interest in failed states to bombing terrorist training camps or pushing terrorists underground. Only when the underlying political, social, and economic local hardships that produce fertile grounds for terrorists to operate are addressed can security improve for all people. Simply put, citizens in the West can no longer wall themselves off from violence inflicted on citizens in the East.

Accordingly, this Article argues for a paradigm shift in the preventive goals of global counterterrorism policies that prioritizes human development based on the local needs of failing states. Furthermore, human development should go beyond meeting fundamental needs such as food, shelter, and water to address political reforms demanded by the local population. By failing to confront authoritarianism and its offspring of political repression, the international community misguidedly relies on counterproductive military and security-driven policies. With the rise of violent transnational actors and fluid borders, the international community loses more than it gains by supporting dictators under the auspices of preserving stability. To the contrary, dictatorships breed terrorism as they inculcate a culture of violence and instill fear, suspicion, and aggression among the citizens. In turn, violence becomes the only means to effectuate change in a zero-sum game, winner takes all political system.

Keywords: Terrorism, National Security, Counterterrorism, Failed States, International Development, Egypt, Sinai, Violent Extremists, Political Islam, Islam

Suggested Citation

Aziz, Sahar F., Rethinking Counterterrorism in the Age of ISIS: Lessons from Sinai (February 18, 2016). 95 Neb. L. Rev. 307 (2016) , Texas A&M University School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 16-41, Available at SSRN: or

Sahar F. Aziz (Contact Author)

Rutgers Law School ( email )

Newark, NJ
United States


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