Yesterday I received the unexpected news that Ezzat al-Salamony died … back in August. He was a leader in al-Gama’a al-Islamiya (the Islamic Group), designated a terrorist entity by the United States. Over the past few years I was able to interview him a couple of times.
According to al-Shuruk, Salamony died in the Tora Prison hospital, from an intestinal blockage. He had been jailed as part of the ‘Alliance to Support Legitimacy’ case.
Here is a picture of Salamony demonstrating in support of former President Morsi, proudly wearing a Rabaa sign.
Originally from Sohag in Upper Egypt, Salamony studied at al-Azhar Univerisity, graduating with a BA in Commerce. He joined the Islamic Group in 1979, served on its Shura Council in Cairo, and preached in mosques throughout the city, unaffiliated with the Ministry of Endowments.
He was married with three daughters. I do not know his age, though his youngest daughter was in college at the time.
As Salamony recounted, his first arrest came at the hand of President Sadat in 1981, lasting for a year and a half. Jailed repeatedly thereafter for short periods of time, he spent fifteen years in prison under President Mubarak, finally released in January 2006.
Salamony stated he was never involved in violence, though he admitted members of the Islamic Group committed ‘mistakes’ throughout this period. But on the whole he defended their record, stating they were much maligned by the regime and that most violence was defensive.
Our conversations ranged over many topics, including the history of the Islamic Group, the practice of hisba (commanding right and forbidding wrong), Islamist figures Morsi released from prison, the Innocence of Muslims film, and the Blind Sheikh, Omar Abdel Rahman.
I always found Salamony to be friendly, engaging, and eager to give a correct impression about Islam and the Islamic Group. Given his appearance and reputation, I was surprised he always arranged our meetings in a popular and upscale Nile River meeting area administered by the Egyptian military. He appeared to be a member, and we drank tea together.
I do not know if he was involved in violence following the fall of Morsi, though he certainly opposed what he considered to be a coup. We lost contact after this period.
But I was somewhat surprised also to find him prior to Morsi’s fall at a Salafi-Jihadi demonstration outside the French Embassy. He took the microphone and shouted:
“We tell these grandchildren of the Crusaders, we are the grandchildren of Saladin.”
“It is not right for the fields of battle to be in our lands, we must carry the battle into theirs.”
“We have the duty of jihad.”
Among the many chants that day was this, adapting the January 25 revolutionary cry: Al-Shaab, Ureed, Khilafa min Jadeed
“The people want a new caliphate.”
It was difficult to reconcile the peaceful, friendly character I encountered in the cafe with this one angrily shouting before a crowd. I understood that whatever kind of preacher he was, whether he employed violence or not, both then and now he was certainly a threat to the state.
Even so, his explanations of jihad and hisba were always nuanced, though his commitment to the eventual worldwide application of sharia was clear. I cannot imagine he would be in support of the current claimant to the caliphate, but I cannot be sure.
And now he is dead, so I cannot know.
The three years from January 25 to the last throes of popular pro-Rabaa resistance against President Sisi were a very strange time in Egypt. All constraints were thrown off, and every activist element of society took full advantage of the freedom available.
So it is hard to look back and evaluate Ezzat al-Salamony. Was he a long misunderstood Islamist finally anticipating success? Was he a conman deceiving a naive American into sympathy?
God – and likely the Egyptian intelligence – only knows, and now he will judge. May Ezzat al-Salamony rest in peace.
This older interview, from August 2012, reflects a very different reality than the one Islamists experience in Egypt today. At the time they were in the ascendency; now, many of them scurry for cover. In preparation for a larger project on Islamist movements in general, however, Arab West Report only now is publishing this interview. Selected excerpts are below.
On his activity with the group in giving public lectures:
J: What is your history with the Jamā’ah al-Islāmīyah?
S: I joined the Jamā’ah al-Islāmīyah in 1979. I was at college during that time and thank God I worked with the Group and I used to preach on Fridays and give lessons. I was arrested in 1981. I am a member of the Guidance Council in Cairo, but regardless of my position, I serve as a Friday preacher and as a lecturer in conferences.
J: In a certain mosque?
S: Nowadays, I preach in many mosques. Of course before the revolution, we were totally prevented from preaching. There are two mosques here in al-Ma’ādi and another one in ‘Atabah, and on the fourth Friday of each month, I go to any mosque, for example in Helwan or sometimes outside Cairo, like in Suez or Alexandria, according to the desires of the people who want me to preach.
J: Are these mosques related to the Jamā’ah al-Islāmīyah? When you were prevented from preaching before the revolution, how could you have such relations with those mosques?
S: We have had relations for a very long time. I was prevented from preaching but not prevented from moving freely in society or from interacting with people. They would come to us to help them with their problems whether family issues or feuds between families and things like that. Instructions can be given to mosques not to let me preach in them, but I have great relations with society.
J: Are these mosques registered at the Endowments Ministry?
S: No, they are not. They are civil associations which house mosques. These associations resemble the Association of Religious Legitimacy [a longstanding Salafī non-governmental organization registered officially in Egypt and active since the early 20th Century].
J: Are they small, neighborhoodmosques?
S: No, they are large, but it depends on the civil association. There are many that have up to four mosques. They have permission from the Ministry of Social Affairs and they run their activities through associated mosques.
J: So they are legal?
S: Yes, but they are not supervised by the Endowments Ministry, which has no authority over them. The association and its administrative board supervises them and their expenses are submitted to the Ministry of Social Affairs.
Now, the government has reestablished (or, is reestablishing) its supervision and tight control of all mosques, allowing only approved speakers to appear. It is unlikely al-Gama’a al-Islamiya is finding official favor, though there is no campaign against them publicly as like with the Muslim Brotherhood.
But should their members wind up in jail, Salamony has been there before:
J: You said that you had been arrested for a while. When was that?
S: I have been arrested more than once. The first time was during Sādāt’s September decisions in 1981. It lasted a year and a half. Then there were other arrest periods that lasted between two months to a year up until 1990. In October 1990, I was arrested and stayed in prison for 15 years until January 2006, during Mubārak’s time.
J: What was the reason for that last long arrest?
S: There were many arrests during that time. I was arrested because I was a suspect in the case of the assassination of Rif’āt al-Mahjūb, the head of the parliament. But the judge gave amnesty to all the suspects and he said about me, “I have found one suspect in this case with no charges at all; that is ‘Izzat al-Salamunī,” and then I was set free.
We left the court to go back to prison with an arrest warrant. During that period my administrative arrest was open, which means that I could go to the court and present a grievance, and then receive amnesty. After that I would have to go to the state security, stay there for a night or two, only to be arrested again with a new arrest warrant.
At the prison in Damanhour there was a fountain in the center of the village, so the prison vehicle used to take the prisoners – who supposedly had be given amnesty – and go around the fountain once or twice, then send them back to prison.
But the main reason for that arrest concerned my preaching. I was preaching freely in mosques and conferences and criticizing the former regime, the tyranny and the injustice that have been unmasked since the January 25 Revolution.
Salamony says the campaigns against al-Gama’a al-Islamiya were all politically motivated, and that he personally was not involved in any illegal activity or assassination attempts. Instead, as above, he equates his group’s efforts to those of the January 25 Revolution, and the efforts of the state to prevent such an outbreak:
J: When it comes to preaching, did you call for the revolution or for any illegal movements?
S: No, I only preached about stopping injustice and corruption, and also about giving Egyptians all their rights so that no one would be enslaved or prevented from having a respectable life.
J: Did you use any means that you regret using, or perhaps you say they was suitable at that time but not nowadays?
S: No, the means I used did not go beyond words and preaching. We also called for demonstrating against any act of injustice, but all of our practices were peaceful. But starting a demonstration during that time worried the former regime, because people were submissive to oppression. If people who had influence went to the streets it was a very dangerous thing for them.
Once when I was arrested and blindfolded, in 1989, I asked one of the policemen, “Why are you doing all of this: torturing, arrests, breaking into mosques, and people get killed, why?”
He answered, “Honestly, if we let you carrying on all your social activities, and your Islamic preaching for one year, you will reach out to people and win them over to your side. Then you will overpower us and will strike us fatally, with no weapons at all. I will not give you the chance. When I arrest some of you, beat you up, and when you go on demonstrations against us, you only scratch us, which we can handle. But we cannot let you strike us.”
This has been their philosophy: to prevent anyone other than them from having influence over people, or to break the barriers of fear and terror that people had within themselves. That is why they thought that the Jamā’ah al-Islāmīyah was dangerous.
But it was not just political activism that al-Gama’a al-Islamiya was engaged in. It was social and moral activism as well:
J: What is Hisbah?
S: Hisbah, according to Islamic Law, is the promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice. The image of this concept has been distorted to many people. Islamic law states that promoting virtue can only happen through virtue, and preventing vice can never be through vice. Although it is a very beautiful image, people try to deform it. If it is applied correctly, its great fruits would be seen clearly in society.
We have to warn people that some of the things they do are wrong and harmful such as smoking and drinking alcohol. I tell them that these things are bad for their health. But some acts require intervention, like if I am walking around and see some guys trying to kidnap a girl. Here, religion tells me to protect her, and that is exactly the prevention of vice.
The Jamā’ah al-Islāmīyah practiced that guidance part within the limits of the Islamic law, and of course there were some mistakes as we are all human beings. Sometimes one may lose one’s temper, but we cannot blame our personal mistakes on the religious concepts.
He is keen to explain the ‘mistakes’. Elsewhere in the interview he describes how many occurred when the political leadership was in prison and could neither guide nor contain their youth. Escalation of attacks between the group and the police also contributed, he said.
J: What were your mistakes? You said you are just human beings who make mistakes.
S: Some of the youth misunderstood the concept of Hisbah and exceeded the limits. For example, if I saw someone committing a vice, I would go to that person and ask him politely to stop. But if I yelled at that person, I have committed vice. Religion only allows me to do what it takes to remove that vice.
J: To give an advice, for example.
S: Yes. I may only grab that person’s hand if it will remove the vice, but I am not allowed to slap that person on the face. So there are rules. Some youth would simply hit the person without giving him advice at all, which is religiously wrong. We have always warned our youth in mosques not to do such things. We have to confess these violations as we cannot prevent others from doing vice while we ourselves do it.
J: So now you know those mistakes, but during the 1970s and before your non-violent initiative, was Hisbah applied with few restrictions?
S: As leaders in the Jamā’ah al-Islāmīyah, we tried to put limits, but we could not following each and every member working here or there. But whenever we knew that a member of the Jamā’ah al-Islāmīyah did something wrong, we told him that was wrong, from the beginning.
But as I said before they were young, and youth were the majority of our members. With all of their excitement and with their little knowledge about religion, some incidents happened frequently. But as soon as we knew about them, we always acted and stated what was wrong. If a member hit someone, which is religiously wrong, we would go to that person and apologize to him and even give him the right to avenge himself by hitting that person if he wanted to do so.
J: I have read that in public gatherings, some youth used chains to disband meetings of mixed genders. These things really happened, but you see them as violations?
S: Those violations happened indeed, but some of them were done by people who do not belong to the Jamā’ah al-Islāmīyah, but their mistakes were blamed on us. Others were done by us and we stated that, before the initiative, but we were trying to settle things down. Now, thanks to age, experience, and increased religious knowledge, there are almost no violations among our members.
J: I have also read about attacks on liquor stores owned by Copts.
S: It happened once or twice.
But this was not a policy, nor was it permitted, Salamony said. But note how in his explanation he includes terminology that is very offensive to Copts, yet still has a sense of toleration about it:
J: The author quoted from Shaykh ‘Umar ‘Abd al-Rahmān stating that it is permitted to loot the Copt’s money. He issued a fatwa about that. Do you know anything about that?
S: This is totally untrue, and I heard Dr. ‘Umar ‘Abd al-Rahmān with my own ears once – as I accompanied him in many of his tours and lectures, and been with him around the whole country – saying that Christians’ and Dhimmis’ blood is prohibited to be shed, and that our religious laws state that their money is forbidden to be looted.
Even if I think that someone is infidel, not a Muslim, this does not give me the right to loot his money or shed his blood. Doctrines should be totally separated from practical life. For example, some Christians think of others as non-believers and infidels, like the Orthodox who believe that if someone does not take communion in their church, then he is a non-believer. To them I am a non-believer.
Belief issues have to do with people’s hearts. When it comes to the practical side, in the Qur’ān, God says: “God does not forbid you from those who fight you not for religion nor drove your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them.”
From that we get that belief is one thing and how to treat people is something else. The money or blood of any human being living in the same country with me, or anywhere else in the world, is prohibited to looted or shed, as long as that person did not attack me or my religion.
in the late 1990s and early 2000s, al-Gama’a al-Islamiya began a non-violent initiative and published their change in policy along theological lines in The Revisions. This allowed many, but not all leaders to leave prison. Since then they have not called for violence, though some return to their social activism has been evidenced. But having assassinated President Sadat in 1981, and with several attempts on President Mubarak, the absolute nature of the rejection of violence is not clear:
J: I understand what you say and I sympathize with that explanation, but a couple of days ago I read that Tāriq al-Zumur commented on Sādāt’s assassin and said that he is a martyr. But how can he be a martyr, especially after your peaceful initiative and declaring that assassination is unacceptable?
S: Here, we have more than one side of the story. As I told you, to judge an issue, I have to consider its surrounding circumstances. Sādāt arrested people and criticized religious leaders like Hāfiz Salāmah that he was Suez’s lunatic. Sādāt said politics and religion should not be combined. The treaty of Camp David was also signed at that time. The general evaluation of the situation was that Sādāt was an enemy of religion and of Egypt.
That atmosphere pushed people like Khālid al-Islāmbulī and his followers to take an action. When I regard that issue now, it is not like when I regarded it at the time it happened. They were motivated by patriotism and religion with good intuition.
So when Tāriq al-Zumur said he was a martyr, he judged them according to their circumstances, which are different from ours. All the circumstances at that time showed that Sādāt was an enemy of religion. In order not to falsely accuse al-Islāmbulī, I must evaluate his situation according to the circumstances which led him to do so.
J: Why do you not just praise him and explain what he did without calling him a martyr as if it is a kind of justification?
S: In Islam, no one has the right to call someone a martyr or not, because only God knows who is a martyr and who is not. What we say is that we consider him to be a martyr, or pray for him to be one of the martyrs, according to his good intention. We pray for our brothers who have been murdered so that God would accept them as martyrs. But we cannot insure that a certain person is a martyr, because God is the only one who decides that.
Interesting to recall is that al-Gama’a al-Islamiya did not initially favor Mohamed Morsi for the presidency. After describing similarities and differences among the Islamist groups, he explained why:
J: I understand that there is a unity among you and that there is no competition among you as you have the same purpose. But the Jamā’ah al-Islāmīyah supported Abu al-Futuh during the presidential elections instead of supporting al-Shater and Muhammad Mursī, especially Mursī. Why was this?
S: It was the result of a certain view of reality. The leadership of the Jamā’ah al-Islāmīyah at that time formed a general assembly to gather our 300 members, and over the course of the day we listened to the programs of Dr. Mursī, Dr. Al Awa, and Dr. ‘Abd al-Mun’im Abū al-Futūh. The discussion lasted for nearly 15 hours and the majority supported Dr. Abū al-Futūh’s program in the first round in a democratic way, though some supported others.
J: What were the most important points that made the majority choose Abū al-Futūh rather than Mursī?
S: The majority chose Abū al-Futūh because he was independent and was a part of the Jamā’ah al-Islāmīyah in the past. He was thought to be friends with the liberals, unlike the Brotherhood as some people dislike them. We though he could gather the people around him better than any other candidate. The main point was to have unity within society. But in the second round, the Jamā’ah al-Islāmīyah chose Muhammad Mursī because at that time, the people categorized the candidates as representing the previous regime or the revolution. So the whole group chose Dr. Muhammad Mursī and their choice was based on a realistic study of the current situation at that time.
Even at the time of Islamist success, Salamony expressed doubts about the democratic outcome. But he was certain the people would not rise against them. Looking backwards his comments are poignant:
J: As a Muslim, you will do your best to deepen the roots of Islamic law in Egypt, but my question is what if the society is against you, you will continue your struggle against the people’s will?
S: That controversial assumption has no place in Egypt because the society has a religious nature, whether Muslim or Christian. If someone wants to change the identity or the nature of that society, we will face that change in a democratic way. Unfortunately, the Islamists are being judged in an unfair way.
They are accused of not accepting the other, which is not true. We accept the other but there is a difference between accepting the other and the other forcing himself upon us and that we must follow him or totally agree with him. I accept you when you stick to your opinion and I stick to mine. We can argue together and express our opinions to society. But what happens with Islamists is that they are being prevented from expressing themselves and even from speaking.
Now, when they have recently gained control, restrictions that are not forced upon anyone else are being forced upon them. So in that case, the democracy is not complete. They are talking about democracy but when it comes to us, it is being prohibited.
Please click here to read the full interview at Arab West Report.
As violence continues in Cairo and cities throughout Egypt today, the Anglican Bishop Mouneer Hanna Anis has issued a statement urging people to pray. Here is his description of events:
Greetings in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ!
As I write these words, our St. Saviour’s Anglican Church in Suez is under heavy attack from those who support former President Mursi. They are throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at the church and have destroyed the car of Rev. Ehab Ayoub, the priest-in-charge of St. Saviour’s Church. I am also aware that there are attacks on other Orthodox churches in Menyia and Suhag in Upper Egypt (see attached photo), as well as a Catholic church in Suez. Some police stations are also under attack in different parts of Egypt. Please pray and ask others to pray for this inflammable situation in Egypt.
Early this morning, the police supported by the army, encouraged protestors in two different locations in Cairo, to leave safely and go home. It is worth mentioning that these protestors have been protesting for 6 weeks, blocking the roads. The people in these neighborhoods have been suffering a great deal—not only these people, but those commuting through, especially those who are going to the airport. The police created very safe passages for everyone to leave. Many protestors left and went home, however, others resisted to leave and started to attack the police. The police and army were very professional in responding to the attacks, and they used tear gas only when it was necessary. The police then discovered caches of weapons and ammunition in these sites. One area near Giza is now calm, but there is still some resistance at other sites. There are even some snipers trying to attack the police and the army. There are even some rumors that Muslim Brotherhood leaders asked the protestors in different cities to attack police stations, take weapons, and attack shops and churches.
A few hours later, violent demonstrations from Mursi supporters broke out in different cities and towns throughout Egypt. The police and army are trying to maintain safety for all people and to disperse the protestors peacefully. However, the supporters of former President Mursi have threatened that if they are dispersed from the current sites, they will move to other sites and continue to protest. They also threatened to use violence. There have been a number of fatalities and casualties from among the police as well as the protestors, but it seems that the numbers are not as high as expected for such violence. However, the supporters of former President Mursi claim that there are very high numbers of casualties. The real numbers will be known later on.
Please pray that the situation will calm down, for wisdom and tact for the police and the army, for the safety of all churches and congregations, and that all in Egypt would be safe.
May the Lord bless you!
In my quick reading of events, it seems clear that live gunfire is being exchanged on both sides. Either infiltrators were very quick to penetrate the protests and fire on police, or the lie is given that these demonstrations were completely peaceful. Reports the past few weeks indicated the protest organizers were keen to check the IDs and pat down everyone who entered the sit-in. Many, probably the great majority, of those present were unarmed. But apparently, reports which indicated weapons were present were also true.
As Bishop Mouneer stated, churches across the country are also being targeted. Interesting to note is this report:
The al-Gamaa al-Islamiya ultra-conservative movement called on supporters of toppled president Morsi to take to the streets to condemn what it termed “coup crimes.”
The statement by the hardline Islamist group – a close ally of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood – also urged its loyalists “enraged by police attacks on the Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins,” not to assault “Christians or their religious buildings.”
So at this point they read these attacks as actions of the pro-Morsi crowds, rather than a black flag of the security forces, which they warned about weeks earlier. The speculation would be if this is their public face covering over their own private rage and instruction. Anti-Christian rhetoric has been employed by several Islamist figures ever since the original protest movement against Morsi in December 2012 when he issued a constitutional declaration granting himself absolute power (later rescinded, but protecting of actions taken during that time).
But in this current climate, it is difficult to make sense of the situation. Patience is needed, for there will soon be a flood of propaganda.
For Part One of this conversation, discussing Hani Nour Eddin’s background, please click here. For the full interview on Middle East Institute, please click here. Part Two explores Nour Eddin’s views on violence, and here is an excerpt from the published interview:
Al-Gama`a al-Islamiya is committed to nonviolence and has apologized for its past. In fact, you organized a demonstration recently to condemn political violence.
We saw that others had taken over the streets and were now using them to express their views. People might thinkthat they are the voice of Egypt. We wanted to say that the Egyptian street is not about violence and sexual harassment. Unfortunately, beautiful Tahrir Square has lost its symbolism. So we [demonstrated in] another place to avoid any contact with them. Our demonstration invited all to come and express their opinions, whether for or against the Islamist project, but with a commitment to nonviolence.
I noticed many of the speeches and chants were very Islamic, and quite severe. Instead of “no to violence,” the demonstration became about “yes to political Islam.”
Our demonstrations often take the color of the people who attend. Maybe this is because of our weakness in usingthe media; we use a strident voice to make our point and show we are strong. We are Islamists, and we do not accept separating religion from anything else, and the street welcomes this. And so they chant, “Egypt will remain Islamic!”
The protest also honored Khaled al-Islambouli [Sadat’s assassin].
Islambouli is considered one of the symbols of al-Gama`a al-Islamiya when it was in a period of resistance to the regime. We all saw Sadat as a dictator, especially in his last years when he used oppression and closed mosques. Islambouli has an honored place among us.
Even if you now confess that what he did was wrong.
If we could go back in history and reevaluate, perhaps we would not have chosen the path of violence. But what happened was necessary due to the situation. Unfortunately, the circumstances demanded it.
But this is the test of your principles. If nonviolence is a principle—not a means, not a strategy—you must commit to it.
Yes, this is right. It is a principle.
Unfortunately, for space issues Middle East Institute had to cut the conclusion, which seeks to test their commitment to non-violence through recent domestic and international examples. This part is posted here:
A few weeks earlier than your ‘No to Political Violence’ protest, Mohamed al-Zawahiri demonstrated at the French Embassy in Cairo against their military intervention in Mali. There, Ezzet al-Salamony, a leader in GI, spoke saying, “Why are they fighting us in our lands? It is we who should be fighting them in our lands!”
There are two issues here: One, Islamist support for the rebels in Mali, and two, the statement of Salamony itself. Do these violate your non-violent commitment?
I see what you’re saying. From what I know GI has abandoned violence and we will not return to it. We also agree we will not interfere in the politics of other nations. But as for that statement, he is the one responsible for it, and must justify himself.
Ok, but tell us about Mali, especially before the French intervention. Do you support the rebels from the north?
To a degree, but we do not have complete information about the nature of the Mali jihadists. Their primary slogan is the application of sharia law and building an Islamic state on the basis of it. Their situation is different; to what extent is there democracy or other means of change? We don’t know.
But we support the idea of an Islamic entity if it is true they are committed to Islam. At times some people will raise the banner of Islam but transgress it in how they behave. But yes, if they live as Muslims and seek to apply the sharia, yes, we support them.
But for the real situation between them and the Malian government, we don’t know.
But should you not condemn their jihad, as it is violent? Even if it is true the political system has not opened up the way it has in Egypt?
Again, we can’t evaluate their experience in jihad because we don’t know enough.
But you don’t know? It is clear to the world their rebellion is armed. They were marching on the Malian capital.
In the beginning it was not like this. They were a number of jihadi groups that gathered together and the government confronted them, but they began expanding their territory and announced themselves as a political entity.
But even this, expanding their territory in the north was at the expense of the legitimacy of the government. What gave them the right to seek autonomy or declare independence?
Yes, but their situation is different from that of Egypt.
But this is the point, we’re talking about a principle. In Egypt there is no necessity for violence – you have won by votes. But there the Islamist is in a position of weakness. Perhaps he is even suffering pressure. Is he allowed to resist violently?
(Laughing) I cannot condemn them before I know the circumstances which drove them to violence. Maybe it is violence in response to a greater violence upon them. What if my life or existence is threatened and there is no other way? But rebelling against a leader by forming militias? No, we must expend all peaceful and preaching means first, before resorting to violence.
Before? But your ‘Revisions’ were a complete condemnation.
The issue of jihad in Islam is legitimate, but it is not something to begin with. In our ‘Revisions’ we defined that jihad has stipulations that prevent it from resulting in even greater harm upon the people, the sharia, and the country. The jurisprudence in measuring jihad in Mali is different than the measure in Egypt.
But how can their situation be seen as worse than what you experienced here? There was a tyrant in Egypt, he oppressed you, he put you in prison, he killed you. He distorted the sharia and laughed about it. And even under all this pressure you condemned your own violent confrontation.
Because it did not result in any fruit.
So forgive me if this isn’t the right word, but does this show your condemnation of violence was opportunistic? You made a deduction violence is not working, so you give it up. You still believe in violence as a possible means of change.
No, in the reality in which we live it is not a means of change.
But maybe it is in Mali?
It depends on their circumstances; we cannot judge them.
So your commitment to violence…
We commit ourselves. We cannot compel others to be so committed.
So it is not a general interpretation of Islam. It is just your situation?
Jihad is legitimate in Islam; no one can deny this. The question is if you are engaged in it legitimately according to its stipulations.
So what are the domestic stipulations for jihad? The one in Mali is against the ruler.
Will our scholars permit their action? I don’t know. It depends on the type of ruler; it depends on the struggle between him and the various Islamic groups. I don’t have enough information to say.
Our party sent a delegation to Sudan shortly after it was created, to establish relations. We consider Sudan to be deeply important to Egypt, economically, socially.
What about the status of President Bashir as an international criminal?
No, there are other factors at play in these accusations. We don’t believe the government is complicated in any criminality.
So in a sentence, how do you understand what is happening in Darfur?
It began as a local tribal conflict, and then the government intervened. After that it became somewhat of a separatist movement. It was necessary for the state to preserve its authority.
As in Mali?
(Laughing) For example.
Please click here to read the whole article at Middle East Institute.
A few months ago, before President Morsi was deposed, I had the chance to interview Hani Nour el-Din, a member of al-Gama’a al-Islamiya who was elected to the most recent parliament. His group is still considered a terrorist organization by the United States, but they formally gave up violence as a doctrinal strategy in the early 2000s.
This fact – indeed question – is very important now that Islamists find themselves outside the political spectrum. They gave up violence at a time when there was still no means to enter Egyptian politics. The revolution opened up political space, but now it appears closed. Will the group decide they made a mistake – that the only way to transform Egypt into a political state is through a violent seizing of power?
This is a very necessary question to put to al-Gama’a al-Islamiya now. But in the meanwhile, here is a window into the group’s thinking while they were on the winning side.
The interview was reduced and published by the Middle East Institute. Please click here to read the article.
But here on the blog I will post parts of the interview that had to be trimmed for space. Part One here will concern Nour Eddin’s personal history before his group gave up violence. Part Two, in a few days, will concern his views on violence, whether or not the party truly has abandoned the principle. Please enjoy.
Please introduce yourself to us:
My name is Hany Nour Eddin and I represent the Building and Development Party and serve on its high council, and was a member of parliament in 2011 before it was dissolved. I got to know IG in university, when I joined it and engaged in a number of student activities and preaching campaigns. After university I was arrested and spent many years in prison. This is where I became better acquainted with the group’s leadership.
I have read about this experience, and you maintain your innocence. What happened during this clash with police?
Here in Suez we were giving lectures in opposition to Hosni Mubarak and his remaining in the presidency. It was around 1993 and the GI organized a campaign called ‘No to Mubarak’. The state line was to forbid any opposition to the renewal of his presidency. We organized a large exhibition against him and spoke about the damage he was doing to the country, whether politically, economically, or otherwise. So he gave the order to security to stop the campaign, and to do so forcefully.
A large number of police arrived and we understood we needed to withdraw, but were surprised at the gunfire that began as we were doing so. One the bullets struck an officer accidentally, and a campaign was launched against us accusing us of killing him.
Who did kill him?
Someone from security, as the bullet hit him from behind. Part of their tactic was to disperse the crowd with gunfire, but he was hit from close range. Afterwards we all started getting arrested.
What was your role in GI at this time? Did you organize the exhibition?
Yes, I supervised it, collecting pictures and articles to help educate the people. The level of arrests practically stopped the work of GI in Suez, except for taking care of the families of those incarcerated.
So if you were imprisoned unjustly, why were you released later on?
When we were arrested they wanted to dissolve the Islamist movements, and especially our operations, targeting even our preachers. A violent clash took place between us and the police which became an armed struggle, targeting leaders on both sides, including Mubarak himself on many occasions.
By 1974 we realized the struggle was shedding the blood of the nation in general, and not just of the GI. We wanted to overthrow the state, but our violence was met by greater violence by the regime. We considered that we were defending ourselves, but it resulted in oppression and hostility, which reached even our families and relatives. It was not good.
So we undertook a campaign in the prisons, suggesting a unilateral cease-fire, stopping all violence against the regime, both inside and outside Egypt. It is important to note the whole time, even from outside, we targeted only Egypt and were working on its behalf alone. This is opposed to al-Qaeda, for example; we specified our conflict and goals were only against the regime. By 1979 we launched the non-violent initiative officially, opposing all violence against the regime, whether in the media or with weapons.
For a period of time we tried to send this message to GI members internationally, while we waited for a response from the government. Unfortunately the regime did many things to undermine our credibility, representing us falsely. But by 2000-01 they accepted the initiative. We published our ‘Revisions’, publicizing them first in the prisons and then internationally. They began releasing us from the prisons, and I got out in 2005.
So you found normal work to do?
Yes, after the necessary legal procedures, I returned to my job in the Suez Canal Company. I have a BA in Agriculture but my work with them is administrative.
But you have the time to take off work and talk to me today?
(Laughing) Yes, it’s normal, it’s ok.
So from 2005 until the revolution, what were you doing for GI?
We chose to work in preaching, rather than in organization. We would meet in mosques, talk to the people, and engage in social work – helping the poor, the orphans.
Were you a preacher in the mosque?
Sometimes, but not much. I served on the Shura Council of the GI in our governorate.
Served? But not any more?
Since we started the political party it has taken my priority and I left the Shura Council. Politics is different than preaching and social work. But we agreed to keep the party as the political arm of the GI for about two years until its administration is complete and mature. Then it will become independent, and when the appropriate laws are passed the GI will register legally also.
Please click here to continue reading the interview at Middle East Institute.
Among the difficulties in assessing the news of Egypt is the Cairo-centrism of journalism. A problem plaguing the nation in general, all major newspapers operate from the capital attracting the best talent away from other regions in search of promotions and a better life. Quality of information suffers; many newspapers simply investigate local developments through phone calls.
Finding a well-connected regional Egyptian journalist, therefore, is a contact to be treasured. On a recent visit to Upper Egypt Arab West Report met Mamduh Sarur, who appears to fit the bill.
Our conversation centered on the presence and nature of Islamic movements in the region:
Sarur confirms the existence of organized, trained groups of young men connected to the Islamist movements, especially al-Jama’ah al-Islamiya. In the opposition media these are often labeled ‘militias’, which Islamist consistently deny having. Al-Jama’ah al-Islamiya prefers to call them ‘popular committees’ using the terminology applied to each neighborhood in Egypt when they self-organized after the police vanished from the streets on January 28, 2011, during the revolution.
With his own eyes Sarur states to have seen these groups brandishing swords as they paraded through the streets. But he insists the Islamist leadership is practical and often floats test balloons before enacting their agenda. This is one of them, and reflects coordination between different Islamist organs.
Here is an example:
The talk of coordination between Islamist groups, therefore, requires nuance to see the divisions within that are either exploited by the Brotherhood or else a result of their charade. Al-Jama’ah al-Islamiya, for example, ran against the Brotherhood in alliance with the Nour Party during parliamentary elections. But Sarur asked, who funded al-Jama’ah al-Islamiya’s political arm – the Building and Development Party – in their campaign? Unlike the relatively wealthy Brotherhood, al-Jama’ah al-Islamiya leadership spent their years in prison, and upon release were continually harassed by security. The answer, he stated, was simple: Funding came from Brotherhood sources.
The mastermind is Brotherhood deputy guide and chief financier Khairat al-Shater. He plays the Islamist movements like chess pieces, moving different agents about in order to keep his organization above the fray. Hazim Abu Isma’il, for example, ostensibly operated independently as he led efforts to besiege Media Production City in protest of the opposition media. In reality they work closely together, and Abu Isma’il’s father was a Muslim Brotherhood stalwart. Al-Jama’ah al-Islamiya, meanwhile, took the lead in protesting against judges, and in particular the High Constitutional Court. As this activity damaged the reputation of their political arm, Asem Abd al-Majed recently resigned from the Building and Development Party in order to operate ‘independently’ against the counter-revolution. Sarur fully expects him to be appointed by Mursi to some government position in due time.
And here is what appears to be a more sinister example:
But one of the darker sides of Islamist symbiosis, if not coordination, concerns the economic pressures placed on the Copts. Many of the criminal, thug, and arms dealing elements in Upper Egypt come from the now-settled Bedouins as opposed to the traditional agricultural Egyptians of the Nile, Sarur explained. But al-Jama’ah al-Islamiya has a relationship with them. When a thug comes and illegally appropriates Coptic land, the owner will go to al-Jama’ah al-Islamiya because he knows they can solve the issue – as opposed to going to the police or the courts, which will take forever with uncertain outcome. Al-Jama’ah al-Islamiya takes a percentage of the land or a sum of money for their ‘mediation’, but there is not much else the set upon Copt can do.
Please click here to read the whole article at Arab West Report.
From the AP, providing an excellent and balanced account of reported Christian kidnappings in Upper Egypt. Following the Fox News story I highlighted two days ago, this is the type of investigation the issue deserves. I’m both jealous and proud, and quite concerned over the content:
Crime has risen in general across Egypt, hitting Muslims as well. But the wave of kidnappings in Minya has specifically targeted Christians, and victims, church leaders and rights activists ultimately blame the atmosphere created by the rising power of hard-line Islamists.
They contend criminals are influenced by the rhetoric of radical clerics depicting Egypt’s Christian minority as second-class citizens and see Christians as fair game, with authorities less likely to investigate crimes against the community.
Over the past two years, there have been more than 150 reported kidnappings in the province — all of them targeting Christians, according to a top official at the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the police.
Of course, I wish this official’s name was provided. Egypt is a nation of rumors, and much reporting is based on ‘sources’ obtained from the military, police, judiciary, Muslim Brotherhood, whoever – and it often seems the purpose is to steer the media discourse without owning responsibility for the accusation. But here is an official who provides his name:
Responding to the allegations that authorities do not aggressively investigate crimes against Christians, Minya’s security chief Ahmed Suleiman said it is because victims’ families negotiate with kidnappers rather than report the abductions.
“We cannot be held responsible for kidnappings that are not reported to us,” he said, blaming hardened criminals for the kidnappings.
Christians say they don’t bother to report because they have no confidence in the police.
And here is the Islamist denial of responsibility along with a highly controversial and politically expedient remedy:
Essam Khairy, a spokesman for the hard-line Islamist group Gamaa Islamiya in Minya, said “there is not a single case of Christian kidnapping that has a sectarian motive or linked to the Islamist groups.”
He blamed the “security chaos” in Egypt and said the way to stop kidnappings is to create popular committees — vigilante groups that the Gamaa Islamiya has been promoting since a spate of strikes in the police last month.
The governor the region is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the article highlights holds continual meetings with local Christian leaders. But members of the party do not necessary believe in equality:
The Brotherhood and its political party frequently underline their respect for Christian rights. But at times members reveal an attitude suggesting a second-class status for the community.
On Wednesday, Yasser Hamza, an official in the Brotherhood’s party, argued in a TV interview that while the campaign slogan “Islam is the solution” is permissible, the slogan “Christianity is the solution” would not be. He was addressing specific election rules, but then broadly declared, “This is an Islamic nation with an overwhelming Muslim majority … The minority doesn’t have absolute rights, it has relative rights.”
But perhaps the reason behind these attacks is as old as it is simple:
The Interior Ministry official acknowledged that Christians are seen as less defended.
“Kidnapping Christians is an easy way to make money,” he said. They “don’t have the tribal or clan backup that will deter kidnappers and they are happy to pay the ransom to gain the freedom of their loved ones.”
Wouldn’t you? Goodness, such a horrible situation. Solving it only makes it worse. Please click here to read the rest of the article at AP.
Update on the Fox News post: My wife suggested the presenter in the video may have been referring to ‘Garbage City’ as the Christian quarter and slum. If so, he is right, it is a slum, where a nearly 100% Christian population sorts and recycles the nation’s trash, living in the middle of it.
This area is very close to suburban Muqattam where the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters is. But the suburban development came long after Christian migrants from Upper Egypt settled off in their isolated mountain community. The reason has nothing to do with discrimination or lack of political rights: Garbage collection involved raising pigs, and pigs were the province of Christians alone.
The pigs have since been killed, in what appeared to be a very discriminatory act ostensibly taken several years ago now to prevent the spread of swine flu. But the Christians of Garbage City labor on, though some of their livelihood has been further removed as trash collection is outsourced to foreign based companies – who do not recycle nearly as well.
For anyone who would like more information about this community, check out the documentary ‘Garbage Dreams’. It’s quite good.
Cynics throughout Egypt could only smirk. Thousands of Islamists protested against the recent wave of political violence, answering the call of one of its most notorious perpetrators, the Jama’a Islamiya. Throughout the 1990s they led an armed campaign against the Mubarak regime, as well as targeting tourists in a bid to discredit the state.
In the early 2000s, beaten and discredited themselves, the Jama’a Islamiya issued its famous ‘Revisions’. Jailed leaders reconsidered their violent philosophy, publishing tomes on the errors of their way. They also reconciled with the government, securing release from prison for many. Since then the group has largely laid low, at least until the revolution.
Like others in the formerly forbidden Islamist trend, the Jama’a Islamiya took advantage of new political freedom to form a party, Building and Development. They allied with the Salafi Nour Party but played second fiddle, offering their popular support especially in Upper Egypt in exchange for a handful of parliamentary seats. But as Egypt descended into a morass of political chaos and violence, it was the Jama’a Islamiya which took the lead in condemnation. The question is, why?
Cynical reasons abound.
The article then seeks to expose some of these cynical reasons through the testimony of protestors:
“When the Jama’a Islamiya says ‘no’ to violence, we have more credibility than anyone else,” said Sharaf al-Din al-Gibali, a party leader in Fayoum. “Why? We engaged in an armed struggle with the regime for over ten years. We finally realized violence is not a suitable path to power, under any circumstances.”
In fact, it is concern for the opposition that is a large part of their motivation. “We have tried this path already,” he continued, “so for those who are trying it now we are worried for them.”
But then other testimony reinforces the cynical:
“What is happening now is the empowerment of Islamists and if God wills he will help us soon to rise against Israel,” said Mohamed Ahmed, an unaffiliated clothes merchant who leans in support of the Jama’a Islamiya. “We are against violence among ourselves; God has forbidden a Muslim to shed the blood of another.”
By ‘among ourselves’ Ahmed meant all Egyptians, even though he labeled the opposition as troublemakers. He believed Mahmoud Shaaban’s recent fatwa authorizing their death was near-appropriate.
“ElBaradei and the others spread corruption in the land and call for rebellion against the authorized leader,” using a traditional phrase from Sunni Muslim jurisprudence. “Sheikh Shaaban simply mentioned the hadith that says such as these deserve death, but those with him on the program convinced him this issue must go to the Azhar.”
Ahmed has a distaste for politics in general, but the times are changing. “There is a jurisprudence of reality; if the people now want ballot boxes, we will use them,” he said.
“We entered into political parties to be able to reach the ability to govern, and not just preach. If you only preach they can shut you down.”
Please click here to read the whole article at EgyptSource.
There are several strands of Salafism in Egypt, and the differences are not easy to understand. The group which is called Salafi-Jihadi – they do not necessarily call themselves this – is differentiated easily by the second part of their moniker. While many Salafis have joined the political, democratic process in Egypt, these reject it outright. Instead, they favor the continuation of a violent struggle against the Egyptian regime, of which they see the Muslim Brotherhood and other Salafis as selling out to the world anti-Islamic system.
This group held a protest on January 18 against the French military intervention in Mali. In Mali criminal-cum-jihadists have piggybacked onto a tribal Tuareg rebellion in the north. The central government, along with many surrounding Arab and African nations, has sanctioned France’s effort to resist them through force of arms. Salafi-Jihadists, however, support them due to their desire to implement sharia law.
I hope to write more about Salafi-Jihadis soon, but for now, please enjoy the protest through these pictures and video.
Click here for the first video. It is only two minutes long because it represents the length of time necessary for their full march to approach the site. There were only a couple hundred protestors in total.
Click here for the second video. It also is only two minutes because this was about the length of time the protestors jostled with police who had set up a barricade preventing them from reaching the embassy. After that they accepted their place about 100 yards further down the street.
On Thursday, July 26, the family of Omar Abdel Rahman ratcheted up their rhetoric in their awareness campaign to free their father. The family issued five demands to President Morsy and invited speakers to comment, some of whom threatened America harshly.
Otherwise known as the ‘Blind Sheikh’, Abdel Rahman is imprisoned in America for involvement in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. His family claims Abdel Rahman’s arrest was political, as the US yielded to Egyptian demands to silence him from criticizing Mubarak. The family has conducted an open-ended sit-in protest outside the American Embassy in Cairo since August of last year.
Abdullah Omar Abdel Rahman, one of the Blind Sheikh’s sons, called for a press conference and invited political leaders to speak on his father’s behalf. He desired to put pressure on President Morsy to intercede in the case, to fulfill his promise made during his inaugural address from Tahrir Square. Morsy identified Abdel Rahman as a ‘political prisoner’ and vowed to work for his release, along with hundreds of other prisoners in Egyptian jails, who were jailed for their revolutionary activity.
Morsy pardoned or otherwise freed over 500 Egyptian prisoners on the eve of Ramadan. He has backtracked, however, on promises to secure Abdel Rahman’s release.
Abdullah issued five primary demands:
For President Morsy to form an urgent committee to visit Abdel Rahman in his American prison and check on his health and the state of his confinement
For President Morsy to immediately authorize legal advisors to challenge the Justice Department’s use of an antiquated law to keep Abdel Rahman in solitary confinement for 19 years
For President Morsy to give the green light to the Foreign Ministry to begin diplomatic efforts to return Abdel Rahman to his country
To apply the principle of reciprocity on every American prisoner in Egypt and subject them to solitary confinement as is done to Egyptian prisoners in the US
For the presidency to allow some of Abdel Rahman’s family members continual visitation rights in America until he returns to his country
Political leaders in attendance were mostly from al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Abdel Rahman’s original group which is designated a terrorist organization in the United States. In the 1990s al-Gama’a formally forswore violent methods. Following the Egyptian revolution it has created a political party, called Building and Development, which cooperated with Salafi parties during the recent parliamentary elections.
Abbud al-Zumor was the keynote speaker. A leader in al-Gama’a, he is unapologetic for his role in assassinating President Sadat in 1979.
‘Abdel Rahman was among the strongest to call against Mubarak and it resulted in his being exiled from Egypt,’ he said. ‘Eventually he went to America where he found no human rights, let alone the rights of a domesticated animal.
‘The matter is now in Morsy’s hands and he must move quickly to return Abdel Rahman safely to his family, as he is very sick.’
Mohamed Shawki al-Islamboly is also a leader in al-Gama’a, whose brother was the actual assassin of Sadat. He recently returned to Egypt after spending many years abroad in Iran as a political refugee.
‘Abdel Rahman exposed the Egyptian regime so it pressed the US to arrest him in violation of its proclaimed human rights,’ he said. ‘This is a shame upon America.
‘We say to Morsy it is your responsibility to seek the freedom of every Egyptian who opposed Mubarak, whether inside or outside Egypt.’
The most incendiary comments, however, were issued by Nasr Abdel Salam, president of al-Gama’a’s Building and Development Party.
‘Americans spend millions of dollars every year to improve their image in the Muslim world, but it has only gotten worse,’ he said.
‘If anything happens to Abdel Rahman, America and its people will pay the price. The criminals in the administration and the embassies will pay the price.
‘Abdel Rahman’s dignity is the dignity of every Egyptian.’
The final al-Gama’a speaker was Ezzat al-Salamony. He spoke of the need to ‘lay siege’ to the American Embassy, but Abdullah, the Blind Sheikh’s son, clarified these remarks afterwards.
Next Thursday, Abdullah said, there will be an open Ramadan fast-breaking meeting at the sit-in at the US Embassy. At that time he said they would announce the date for a massive demonstration at the complex, but there were no intentions to permanently close the embassy.
Salamony, meanwhile, clarified Abdel Salam’s remarks about ‘paying the price’. Speaking with him afterwards, he stated there were all sorts of means to pressure the American administration. Specifically he mentioned an economic boycott and sending fighters to Afghanistan to oppose the US military there. The objective would be to do to the US what was done to Russia, resulting in America’s loss of dignity in the world. This is the ‘price’ the American people would pay.
Salamony emphasized nothing would be done to American civilians, as this was against sharia law.
Other speakers outside al-Gama’a included Hanny Hanna, a Copt known as the ‘preacher of the revolution’ for leading Christian prayers from Tahrir Square.
‘The only way for Abdel Rahman to return to his children and grandchildren is to establish Egypt as a national regime,’ he said. ‘We must strive to return all Egyptians from foreign prisons as a humanistic demand.
‘As I love the Messiah I must also love the prisoner.
‘President Morsy has not dealt with his situation in wisdom. When he mentioned it at Tahrir he made the US think it was at the top of his agenda, and he made them aware of the importance of this issue. If he had been quiet and waited two years and asked then it would have been much simpler to secure his release quietly.’
Kamal al-Helbawi is a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood who resigned when the group nominated a candidate for president, believing they had betrayed the revolution.
‘We as Muslims must defend the right in every place, whether it is for a Muslim or a non-Muslim,’ he said. ‘I helped defend Nelson Mandela in South Africa, so how can I not defend our sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman?
‘We must mobilize Muslims and non-Muslims, Islamists and seculars, so as to make Abdel Rahman a national cause.
‘America is not a democratic nation; it is a nation of criminals. What they are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan was not even done by the Mongols or the Tartars. But we do not fear America, we fear God.’
Finally, Yahya Ismail is a religious scholar from the Azhar university.
‘We must support Abdel Rahman from every mosque, every institution, every political party, and even the Azhar itself,’ he said. ‘We must put his picture everywhere and host seminars and raise awareness. What have we done for him so far? He is being persecuted by the Zionists and Crusaders.
‘God has permitted war in the case of aggressing against religious scholars. A nation’s peace rests in the peace of its religion, and the peace of its religion rests in the peace of its religious scholars.’
Chants issued during the press conference included:
Oh al-Gama’a, oh al-Gama’a, we want a million-man demonstration!
Oh America, collect your dogs, we are tired of your terrorism!
But the microphone for the chant leader malfunctioned shortly afterwards and chants were abandoned.
Following the conference I spoke with Safwat Kamal, an unaffiliated Islamist from the neighborhood of Imbaba, Cairo. With Abdullah Omar Abdel Rahman standing beside, he spoke of the need to escalate the cause.
‘It has been a year now, and the people are getting angry,’ he said. ‘I have told Abdullah many times already, we must storm the embassy or kidnap a few Americans. But every time he says no.’