The so-called Islamic State (IS) in The Netherlands; lessons from Egypt?

Sent On: 
Thu, 2022-02-10
Newsletter Number: 

It is not common in the Netherlands to draw lessons from Egypt. This is partly due to arrogance, the belief of many Dutch people that what they do, is better than what Egyptians do. True where it comes to economy the Dutch are doing better but they are also not confronted with the huge challenges Egyptian authorities are facing.


Most Dutch also believe that they have a better record in freedom of expression than in Egypt. No one in the Netherlands will fear for whatever he/she expresses about his religious thoughts while in Egypt, for example, in 2015 Islam al-Buhairy [Islām al-Buḥayrī] was sentenced to five years in prison for insulting well-known scholars of Islam who, in his view, made wrong fatwas. People, instead, should go directly to the Qur’an, he said. He was pardoned by president al-Sisi [ʿAbd al-Fattāḥ al-Sīsī] after one year.


How far should freedom of expression go? Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Muslim who turned atheist, defended in 2006 in a lecture in Berlin the right to offend others. I totally disagree with that extreme view on freedom of expression which has been one of the main reasons to establish Arab-West Report. Dialogue means expressing different views in respectful ways.


In 2014 supporters of the so-called Islamic state were allowed to demonstrate in a part of The Hague with a large Muslim population which created an outroar among Muslims who did not want to be associated to IS. The Municipal Council forbade any future IS demonstrations. The number of demonstrators was not large, but it showed that a number of Muslims in the Netherlands was attracted to their ideology.

Photo (1): Demonstrator in 2015 in The Hague who later committed an IS suicide attack in Iraq-photo NOS


Convicted Hofstad terrorist (with an ideology close to that of al-Qa’ida) Soumaya Sahla (b.1983) had become chairwoman of a committee within the leading People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) which created an outcry in The Netherlands in January 2022. Soumaya Sahla had been in prison between 2005 and 2008. Her group was intending to kill some noted Dutch critiques of Islam. Her husband, Nouriddin El Fahtni, was also involved, sentenced and in 2011 was expelled to Morocco as an undesired foreigner.


For Egyptians these sentences, no doubt, are seen as very light in comparison to sentences for similar involvements in a terrorist group in Egypt.


Soumaya Sahla started studying political science and says that she no longer adheres to her erstwhile extremist thought. How can we know this is true? Egypt has substantial experience with extremists hiding their real thoughts while growing in the ranks of the police, military and judiciary. Soumaya attended in 2011 a lecture of Frits Bolkestein (b. 1933), leader of the VVD party between 1990 and 1998 and European Commissioner between 1999 and 2004, and engaged with him in a discussion about Islam. Bolkestein became her mentor. He, however, is not an expert of Islam. Bolkestein repeatedly publicly criticized Islam and stated that Islam and Western liberalism are incompatible. I believe that such public statements made by an eminent politician do not help to counter extremism. Bolkestein introduced her to the highest circles in his political party, who also became convinced that Soumaya Sahla indeed now wanted to fight extremism.


How different would this have been in Egypt. The Egyptian police, military and legal system make careful background checks of people promoting to higher positions. People who have been active in an Islamist movement or who have family members with Islamist influences will not easily be promoted.

It is possible someone converts but this is usually a process of many years. I am not blaming Bolkestein for his engagement in talks with Soumaya Sahla but for the party to make her the chairwoman of the aforementioned committee is questionable.


Let me continue with a personal experience. One week ago, I was attacked by three, possibly four, young men in the Zuiderpark in The Hague. They were fully dressed in black and had black face covers and each one of them was armed with a large black knife. Their attire resembled IS. Were they members of IS? I refused to hand over what I had in my pockets and immediately was hit with a knife on my head. I ran in the direction of a busy road. My response must have taken them by surprise. They did not follow me.



photo (2): Similar size of knife each of the three attackers had-not stabbing but hitting me with the sharp blade on my head. Photo (3): In the hosptial


It is sadly not uncommon to hear among low-class migrants facing various social problems that it is halal (permitted) to rob non-Muslims. This is not Islamic teaching but serves as self-justification for petty crime. An imam in The Hague who has met with such youth thinks that many feared that their crimes could bring them to hell. They could still escape hell if they would become better Muslims. Could it be that recruiters for IS, al-Qa’ida and similar groups used the same arguments?


I have never experienced such violence in Egypt. There are more police on the streets in Cairo. The Netherlands, however, has cut on the costs of the neighbourhood police. I believe that to be very unwise.


In 2015 I took an Egyptian delegation to the Netherlands, speaking in Dutch Parliament, at the Hague Municipality, and institutions about combatting extremism. We then spoke about exchanging experiences between Egypt and the Netherlands. This, sadly, never materialized but it could be very useful for both countries. To read the full report please click here.



February 10, 2022


Cornelis Hulsman

Editor-in-Chief Arab-West Report