4 Al-Jamaa al-Islamiyya: The Burden of History on Internal Transition (Jayson Casper) in:

Cornelis Hulsman (Ed.)

From Ruling to Opposition, page 113 - 132

Islamist Movements and Non-Islamist Groups in Egypt 2011-2013

1. Edition 2017, ISBN print: 978-3-8288-3837-6, ISBN online: 978-3-8288-6739-0,

Series: Anwendungsorientierte Religionswissenschaft, vol. 9

Tectum, Baden-Baden
Bibliographic information
4 Al-Jamaa al-Islamiyya: The Burden of History on Internal Transition (Jayson Casper) 4.1 Introduction Among the post-revolutionary Islamist actors in Egypt, the significance of al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya (Islamic Group) rests mostly in its history. The success of the Muslim Brotherhood, older as an organization, is attributed to their extended experience in oppositional protest politics. The Salafis, playing politics for the first time after a long non-political and quitestist experience, have reaped the rewards of decades of social work. But both, compared to al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya, are odd recipients of revolutionary reward. Al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya is Egypt's original revolutionary movement. The his tory of this movement is contested due to its association with violence, as will be explored. Nevertheless, they were one of the few to call for and actively work towards the downfall of President Mubarak during the 1980s and 90s. A two decade-long war of attrition resulted in the deaths of many partisans and the imprisonment of most leaders. As an organization they were all but completely incapacitated, earning a degree of freedom of operation only after the publication of an equally contested revision of their practical theology concerning violence. But when the youth-led Revolution of January 25 erupted, they had no youth to join. The moment passed them by. But it did not pass by completely. As the Revolution morphed into a politi cal transition they participated wholeheartedly. Their Islamist rivals cum allies were better equipped to succeed, al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya lent support, especially from their base of strength in Upper Egypt, particularly in Asyüt. They gained few seats in the new parliament, but their reward was a return to prominence. Leaders, long imprisoned, now spoke forcefully in the pub lic square. The situation can be seen as ironic. Egypt's Islamic revolutionaries i.e. al- Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya missed the Revolution. In the aftermath of the Revolu tion, they preached democracy. But the greatest legitimacy of their voice was due to their use of violence in the past, now forsworn, amid great societal doubt. Their ongoing calls for greater 'Islamization' of the political order brought back their revolutionary overtones. But their relative political weakness was contrasted with a feared resurrection of their social burden to enforce Islamic morality. This, they constantly denied, though such de fensive posture hardly seemed worthy of their revolutionary heritage. 113 Neither popular nor organized enough to be fully relevant, they appeared as a relic of a former age struggling to adapt to a new reality they long have called for. They appeared comfortable letting others have the stage, placing importance in the success of Islam rather than the success of al-Jamä 'a al- Islämiyya specifically. Though genuine in appearance, it also begs the question of a necessary contentment with their lot. This chapter reflects perspective on al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya gained from several sources. These include the chapter of Roel Meijer in the book Global Salafism, focusing on their history and practice in promoting virtue and preventing vice. It also relies upon the field-work, reports, and an interview with Jerome Drevon, a French researcher who has spent considerable time in al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya networks, and the testimony of Mamdüh Sarür, an Upper Egyptian Journalist critical of al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya. Finally, it consists of personal interviews conducted with ‘Ala’Abü Näsir, General Secretary of al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya's Building and Development Party (Hizb al- B inä' wa-l-Tanmiyya), ‘Izzat al-Salamüni, member of al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya's guidance council in Cairo, Muhammad ‘Umar ‘Abd al-Rahman, son of the organization's former Mufti ‘Umar ‘Abd al-Rahman, often called "the blind shaykh,” now imprisoned in the United States for his role in the World Trade Center bombing of 1993, and draws also from other conversations with less influential group members over the past few years. 4.2 History Mentioning "the blind shaykh" is a useful starting point to describe al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya. He was invited by youthful Islamist students from universities in Asyüt, al-Minyä, and Sühäj in the 1970s and served officially as their spi ritual leader when al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya became a formal organization. Islamism at this time was reemergingfrom a time of suppression as President Anwar al-Sädät encouraged student religiosity in order to weaken the leftist networks nurtured by his predecessor, Jamäl ‘Abd al-Näsir. By 1977 these disparate groups established control on campus by winning student union elections.399 Students were motivated by a basic Salafi ideology which meant to return society to the practices of the first generations of Islam. Salafism as an ideol ogy is multifaceted, applied differently according to the interpretations of individual shaykhs or movements as explained in chapter 3. The Muslim Brotherhood was influenced by Salafi ideas but chose the path of political participation as an organizational vanguard. Al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya rebelled 399 Meijer 2009,195. 114 against this idea and combined Salafi scholarship with a revolutionary so cial agenda. 4.2.1 Hisba Specifically this included the concept of hisba, which was the duty of the community to promote virtue and prohibit vice (al- 'amr bi-l-ma 'rufwa-l-nahy 'an al-munkar). Despite the opening given to al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya by Anwar al-Sädät, the organization increasingly came to see him as negligent in his duties as a Muslim leader, especially concerning hisba. Zealous students therefore took this upon themselves. Group members would forcefully break up social gatherings where men and women comingled. Attacks would be made on alcohol shops. But above all, leaders, such as Muhammad ‘Umar ‘Abd al-Rahman, would preach vehemently against the president. Naturally, these activities attracted the attention of the security services.400 4.2.2 State Response This is where the narrative gets murky. Al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya leaders admitted 'excesses' on the part of their members. Muhammad ‘Umar ‘Abd al- Rahman maintained the oppressive al-Sädät government provoked and escalated violence. Police would storm a mosque hosting an anti-al-Sädät preacher; those inside would resist, resulting in deaths on both sides. Furthermore, successive ministers of the interior pursued a policy of assassinating al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya leaders; over 100 were killed, he said. This drove retaliatory strikes against police, and culminated in al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya's most damning blow. In an effort to assassinate the minister of the interior in 1990, al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya killed the head of parliament instead.401 Al-Jamä'a al-Islämiyya leadership was rounded up in prison, and their youthful devotees, devoid of guidance, engaged in ever more 'excesses'. The group's goal was to lead a popular - not violent - revolution to establish a true Islamic state. The police state made this impossible, while others who tried to reform the system, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, only validated the secular legitimacy of parliamentary democracy.402 400 Ibid. 401 Casper 2013 (c). 402 Meijer 2009, 207. 115 4.2.3 Adoption of Violence In 1979, therefore, al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya pursued a different strategy. They merged with the Jihäd Organization toward a dual purpose. Jihäd would be a small, secretive wing dedicated to assassinating Anwar al-Sädät. Simultaneously, al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya would lead an insurrection in Upper Egypt and gain administrative control of the region. The first plot succeeded in 1981; the second was crushed. The response of the state was swift and harsh and decimated the organization. Some leadership fled and began operating abroad; local leaders were all imprisoned. Of note is the fact that in 1982, sentencing the main assassins to death, an Egyptian court found ‘Abd al-Rahmän not guilty of involvement. Nonethe less, he left Egypt and eventually settled in the United States, where he continued his preaching against the government led by President Husni Mubärak. His son claimed his incarceration in 1993 was a conspi-racy in which the US agreed to Mubärak's request to pervert justice and lock him up in exchange for acceding to American foreign policy goals in the re gion.403 Academic literature, however, notes "the blind shaykh's" incendiary rhetoric and incitement toward violence.404 Sitting in solitary confinement, however, ‘Abd al-Rahmän still served as spiritual guide. Mubärak meanwhile arrested over 20,000 group members, prompting the jailed domestic leadership to reevaluate its strategy. In 1997 they issued a unilateral and unconditional ceasefire. This was jeopardized by the terrorist attack killing dozens of foreign tourists visiting Luxor in 1997. "The blind shaykh's" son claimed that radicalized youth, perhaps in association with external al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya leadership, preferred the path of violent overthrow. The best way to weaken the government, ‘Abd al-Rahmän stated of group policy in the 1990s, was to ruin tourism.405 4.2.4 'The Revisions' This strategy was indeed formulated by "the blind shaykh," but he never wanted anyone dead, said ‘Abd al-Rahmän. His father signaled his initial agreement in 1998, though he wavered when he did not see a full response from the government. Still, by 1999 negotiations led their leadership to agree publicly to the nonviolent initiative, and a limited number were released from prison. In 2001 these cooperated with the government in highly 403 Interview with Muhammad ‘Umar ‘Abd al-Rahmän 2012. 404 Meijer 2009,197. 405 Interview with Muhammad ‘Umar ‘Abd al-Rahmän 2012. 116 publicized visits to convince still imprisoned members of the new, nonvio lent, doctrine. Their results are contested, as will be seen. The culmination of the nonviolent initiative was the publication of four volumes of theological reflection, called 'The Revisions', on the use of force, on the concept of hisba, and on legitimate means of change. This included an acceptance of the parliamentary system.406 However, al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya only benefitted in a limited way from their allowance of this less than desirable but permitted democratic process, since many members remained imprisoned, and released leaders were closely monitored. Preaching opportunities remained extremely limited. The organization remained in shambles up until the January 25 Revolu tion.407 Though they played almost no part, they were beneficiaries. Shortly after the fall of Mubärak most leaders were released from prison.408 4.3 Reconstitution At the outbreak of the Revolution differences began to appear among tradi tional leaders. Näjih Ibrähim and Karam Zuhdi, widely considered cham pions of 'The Revisions' stayed silent. They had been released from prison earlier and, at least in retrospect, were considered to have gone too far in placating the state, viewing Mubärak as a legitimate Muslim president whose rule should be respected. Many still in prison however, notably the brothers Täriq and 'Abbüd al-Zumar, openly called for revolution from their cells after January 2 5 ,2011.409 All viewed themselves as legitimate revolutionaries in their youth. Accord ing to ‘Abd al-Rahman, 'Abbüd al-Zumar supplied the weapons involved in the assassination of Anwar al-Sädät; Zuhdi was a leading figure in the effort to declare an independent state in Upper Egypt at the time of al- Sädät's assassination.410 But as al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya began to reconstitute itself in the new political situation, a shift began to appear, partially involving interpretation of 'The Revisions.' In a first step, however, al-Salamüni stated that the basic organization structure had to be restored. From before the Revolution and continuing, al- Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya cells were created at the village level and usually centered around a particular mosque. Members chose a Guidance Council 406 Meijer 2009, 214. 407 Hulsman, Smit and Kasanwidjojo 2013 (a). 408 Baghat 2014. 409 Drevon 2014. 410 Interview with Muhammad ‘Umar ‘Abd al-Rahmän 2012. 117 (Maktab al-Irshäd) of 5-7 leaders, geographically linked villages, then created a council at the district level, and these chose between 7-9 members for a guidance council in each governorate.411 Governorates then elected a total of 300 members to a nationwide general assembly, to which 50 additional influential leaders were appointed by the historical leadership. By May of 2011 these were able to meet and democratically elect al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya's Guidance Council comprising of nine members. These included Issäm Darbäla as the president, Usäma Häfiz as the vice-president, Äsim ‘ Abd al-Mäjid, Ali Dinari, Safwat ‘ Abd al-Ghani, Täriq al-Zumar, ‘ Abbüd al-Zumar, Saläh Häshim, and Husayn ‘ Abd al-Ä l. Even though these persons exercised leadership and publically represent the organization, all official decisions are taken by the larger general assembly.412 Missing from this list are Ibrähim and Zuhdi, long considered the ideologues of al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya. In fact, Ibrähim was elected to the Guidance Council, but in the ninth and final position. Previously, he was considered the number two man in the organization with Zuhdi serving as president. Perhaps recognizing the changing attitude among members, Ibrähim declined his position and chose to leave administration to others.413 Exploring this changing attitude and what it implies for al-Jamä'a al- Islämiyya and its Revisions will be considered below. As the main challenge within al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya was perceived to be the question of how to deal with the new opening granted by the Revolution in which they had not played a key role, a shift from ideology to pragmatism took place. 4.4 Politicization One of the first decisions taken by the general council was to create a politi cal party, called the Building and Development Party, to serve as the politi cal arm of al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya. There was only limited debate about this issue, which signaled the organization's recognition of the Revolution and the legitimacy of its turn toward politics. 4.4.1 Internal Democracy Näsir ‘ Abd al-Saläm was selected as party president, ‘ Ala’Abü al-Nasr as its general secretary, and Täriq al-Zumar as head of the political office. Each 411 Casper 2013 (c). 412 Interview with ‘Ala’Abü al-Nasr 2013. 413 Ibid. 118 was appointed into his position by al-Jama 'a al-Islamiyya leadership, with whom there was great overlap. According to ‘A la’Abü al-Nasr, this overlap was viewed as natural by al- Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya, which considers the political party to be its birth child.414 In this they resemble the Freedom and Justice Party of the Muslim Brother hood and al-Nür Party al-Da 'wa al-Salafiyya (the Salafi Call), each of which is viewed less as an independent political party than as an extension of the group in question. This perhaps semantic question is important, for each of these parties have been able to register legally with the government, while the mother institutions remain in official limbo. For their part, al-Salamüni asserted that they were studying the issue of official registration, waiting to see how the institutions of state would be reshaped in the transitional period.415 But if this overlap seems natural, he said it is not official party policy to have it continue, though independence is not to be considered. Internal elections were due to be held after one year, but were canceled for unclear reasons. Moreover, the party claims it has a majority of members drawn from outside al-Jamä'a al-Islämiyya, including Christians.416 Identifying them, however, is difficult even for the party. Neither al-Salamüni nor his staff were able to offer estimates of total party membership or name the Christians among them. 4.4.2 Financing Another uncertain issue facing both (the original group and the political party) party and group concerns financing. Unlike members of the Muslim Brotherhood which were given space in society to operate and conduct business though officially banned, most members of al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya spent considerable time in prison. They are not a wealthy organization, and in fact, according to Jerome Drevon, a considerable number of members appear not to have work at all apart from their group activity.417 Some members themselves expressed uncertainty about where the money comes from, having heard it is funded by wealthy Egyptians, perhaps some who have made their fortune in the Gulf.418 Others, such as al-Salamüni, speak of a more general interplay of financial transfer - they receive from 414 Ibid. 415 Casper 2013 (c). 416 Interview with ‘Ala’ Abü al-Nasr 2013. 417 Hulsman, Smit and Kasanwidjojo 2013 (a). 418 Ibid. 119 the rich to give to the poor, having won a trusted social role in Upper Egypt.419 But some observers, such as Mamdüh Sarür, wondered if they are financed by the Muslim Brotherhood,420 while the accusation of funding from either citizens or states in the Gulf hung over all Islamist movements. The Build ing and Development Party was required to file officially with the state, but al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya escaped scrutiny due to its unregistered nature. 4.4.3 Political Influence Lacking such capital may help explain their relatively poor performance in national politics. The Building and Development Party joined with the smaller, Cairo-based Salafi al-Asäla Party and the more influential Salafi al- Nür Party, whose base of operations is in Alexandria. Overall, this alliance did very well, winning a full quarter of the popular vote. How much of their success in Upper Egypt can be attributed to the influence of al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya is debated, but their reward was meager. Of a total of 123 seats won by the coalition, the Building and Development Party received only 13. Safwat ‘ Abd al-Ghani was elected head of their parliamentary bloc.421 Al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya again played second fiddle in the presidential elec tions, but their maneuvering suggests a maturity in their political reasoning. The general assembly gathered and for fifteen hours listened to various invited Islamist candidates, afterwards debating who they should support.422 Early on, they somewhat surprisingly rejected the populist campaign of the independent Islamist Hazim Salah Abü Isma il. Though conservative Mus lims throughout Egypt rallied behind his calls for an Islamic state, al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya deemed him too divisive in his rhetoric as it unnerved liberals and non-Islamist revolutionaries alike.423 Eventually he was disqualified for having a parent of non-Egyptian citizenship, which was forbidden by the electoral law. They also chose not to support the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, first Khayrat al-Shatir, then Muhammad Mursi. They were aware that many liberals did not trust the Brotherhood, and instead favored a decision of 419 Casper 2013 (c). 420 Interview with Mamdüh Sarür 2013. 421 Interview with ‘Ala’Abü al-Nasr 2013. 422 Ibid. 423 Ibid. 120 maximum consensus to secure the gains of the revolution.424‘Abd al- Mun im Abü al-Futüh, on the other hand, occupied a middle ground be tween the Islamist and liberal camps, was a revolutionary figure, and had the added benefit of once being among their number.425 Al-Jamä'a al- Islämiyya support, however, along with the endorsement of al-Nür Party, may have cost him in the end as liberals and revolutionaries grew wary of ‘ Abü al-Futüh's true objectives. He fell to fourth position with a disappointing 17 percent of the vote, having early on been considered a front runner. In the second round, however, al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya rallied behind the candidacy of Muhammad Mursi in opposition to Ahmad Shafiq, whom they viewed as the representative of the former Mubärak regime. When Mursi prevailed in a tight contest, Täriq al-Zumar called on Christians and other average Egyptians to apologize for their losing vote.426 Despite their developing democratic acceptance, the organization still viewed the struggle for power as a revolutionary contest. But al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya also continued to reflect a new consciousness for unity in the subsequent struggle over the constitution. Amid fierce haggling, the elected parliament selected individuals for a 100-member com mittee to craft Egypt's new charter. Liberals complained vehemently that the fact of an Islamist majority did not grant them the right to dominate the committee. Seeking a modicum of consensus, al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya decided to withdraw its two candidates from consideration, offering they be replaced by non-Islamists. As such they did not participate in writing the constitution.427 4.5 Mobilization The back and forth nature of al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya, simultaneously supporting unity while advocating for revolutionary Islamic change, reflects a dichotomy within the organization concerning 'The Revisions' and their role in an organization moderating between its past and future. In many ways, they held to the past, if not to their association with violence. 4.5.1 Revolutionary Fervor One useful example of this dichotomy is al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya leader ‘Äsim ‘Abd al-Mäjid, a member of the Guidance Council. During the presidency 424 Ibid. 425 Ibid. 426 Al-Misri al-Yawm 2012. 427 Interview with Abü al-Näsr 2013. 121 of Muhammad Mursi, many Islamists saw the 'deep state' or 'remnants of the old regime' working to undermine his authority. Two main culprits were the media and the judiciary, and many Islamist followed the call to conduct sit-in protests at the Egyptian Media Production City and Supreme Constitutional Court in December of 2012. Mursi took no actions against their disruptive presence, but such 'revolutionary' activity made little sense to his opponents who criticized Islamists for behaving as an oppositional force while officially in charge of the nation. Al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya, meanwhile, very conscious of the public skepticism about their new commitment to nonviolence, sought to portray itself as a unifying force, albeit unapologetically Islamic. ‘Abd al-Mäjid, however, wished to continue revolutionary activity, recalls Abü al-Nasr, showing their commitment lied primarily with the energetic youth - of all spectrums - who feared the Mubärak regime was not yet dismantled despite the Mursi presidency. He sought to resign his position in April of 2013 in order not to politically embarrass his organization. As per bylaws, the matter was put to al-Jamä'a al-Islämiyya's general assembly, which rejected his resignation.428 Politics aside, the example of ‘Abd al-Mäjid illustrates the difficulty al- Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya has in mobilization. Leaders like Izzat al-Salamüni admit they suffer a generation gap,429 (and therefore recruiting among the politicized youth would have been useful) so who better to recruit than politicized Muslim youth? But at the same time, they wished to demonstrate their capacity as a mature political entity, and youthful 'excesses' have cost them in the past. Negotiating this balance was not easy, especially coupled with issues tied to their own self-identity. This has two components. As an organization, the leaders of al-Jamä 'a al- Islämiyya view the organization as a middle way between the literalism of Salafis and the pragmatism of the Muslim Brotherhood. The former gets bogged down in religious texts, seeking for justification before they can take any step at all. The latter, meanwhile, readily sets aside religious principle if it suits the needs of their organization. Both are allies, they all sup port the end goal of an Islamic Project. But they choose to walk a path fully consistent with Salafi principles, while being fully engaged in striving to change the political and societal order.430 428 Interview with ‘Ala’Abu al-Nasr 2013. 429 Casper 2013 (c). 430 Interview with ‘Ala’Abu al-Nasr 2013. 122 4.5.2 Nonviolent Advocacy As a political organization, meanwhile, they sought also to be a middle way. A regional leader in Fayyüm, Sharaf al-Din al-Jibäli states they have called themselves 'The Third Current' (al-Tayyär al-Thälith), seeking to praise the president for what he does right, but also say when he does wrong.431 Few examples of the latter, however, were evident in either the press or in conversation. Their greatest effort to mobilize with such balance played into one of al- Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya's greatest strengths - the break from their past. As Presi dent Mursi retreated more into the safety net of his Islamist advisors, primarily after his November 2012 decree elevating his decisions above judicial review, demonstrations against him turned increasingly violent. Some attacked Muslim Brotherhood regional headquarters, and a mysterious group called Black Bloc appeared on the scene in January of 2013, to oppose the Muslim Brotherhood and Mursi-led state.432 In the middle of this controversy, al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya called for a protest on February 15. Labeled 'lä li l- unfal-siyäsf or, 'no to political violence', they issued an invi tation to all political forces to condemn and distance themselves from this violent phenomena of the Black Bloc. Attended largely by Islamists, they attracted a substantial number of non-Islamist revolutionary activists as well. In defense of democratic legitimacy, they put their own legitimacy on the line. "W e have experience down this path," al-Jibäli said to those flirting with violence. "It will only end in bloodshed - avoid it."433 But despite seeking a middle way, al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya, perhaps characteristically, failed. Group leaders appeared on the stage and honored Khälid al-Islämbuli, the assassin of al-Sädät. Täriq al-Zumar even called him a martyr in his subsequent death. Their revolutionary nature - and with it a justification of violence - continued to seep out. Perhaps in terms of mobilization this was for the best? It may not be so. Officially, al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya has foresworn violence, though the absolute nature of this commitment will be examined below. But leaders have complained that today's youth listen to, what they call, 'shaykh Google' more than any traditional leaders, including themselves. Interview with Sharaf al-Din al-Jibäli 2013. Egyptians were calling this group "Black Bloc." I have not heard Egyptians, even in demonstrations, using an Arabic name. Interview with Sharaf al-Din al-Jibäli 2013. 123 Those with a bent towards violence or who experience radicalization can now gravitate easily toward extremists online.434 4.5.3 Joining a Social Islamism Meanwhile, in defining their Islamism simply as an Islamic frame of refer ence, they did nothing distinctive compared with their political rivals. Is lam, said Abü al-Nasr, demands the integration of the religion with all aspects of life, including state, politics, economy, and law. Moreover, this is not deserving of being called 'Islamism', which is a label secularists have forced upon them. It is simply Islam, he said.435 In conversations with the author, leaders were careful to say their oppo nents are also Muslims, keen to avoid the takfir (calling a Muslim an infidel) label associated with extremist groups. But it is a fine line difficult to tread; even if they allow others the name of 'Muslim', in calling their Islam deficient they are sure to make enemies. But in all this, they differ little from the Muslim Brotherhood or Salafis. So why would someone join al-Jamä 'a al- Islämiyya? Back in the 1970s and 80s it was or it seemed to be simpler. They were one of the few to turn Islam into an activist social movement.436 A young man frustrated with the lack of Islamic piety in his life, family, and or society would hear an al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya preacher in a mosque. Inquiring more, local leadership would take him aside, get to know him, and encourage him to attend additional lectures and seminars. Eventually he would be invited to be an active member in the local setting, drafted into al-Jamä 'a al- Islämiyya's commitment for hisba.437 This hisba is understood as described above, but also included assuming the role of reconciliation agents in a community. In the case of a conflict, all too often the state and the law are negligent in setting things straight, or else the judicial process would take years to decide an issue. Instead, villagers would agree to sit before a trusted elder who would pronounce his judgment immediately, in binding fashion. Often, he would receive financial compensation for his service. Abü al-Nasr states they perform this service as volunteers, for the sake of God, and are trusted because of their higher commitment to religion, not 434 Hulsman, Smit and Kasanwidjojo 2013 (a). 435 Interview with ‘Ala’Abü al-Nasr 2013. 436 Meijer 2009,190-1. 437 Casper 2013 (c). 124 just to tradition.438 Other observers testify they often do take a share, and in fact, in the case of local Copts, work in coordination with area thugs to create a dispute and then profit off the settlement.439 True or not, this social role has earned them authority among Muslims especially in Upper Egypt, and adds to their recruitment efforts. 4.5.4 Controversies in M obilizing Practice This status as protectors of community was controversially engaged as Mursi's presidency found itself at odds with the police force. Frustrated with being put on the front lines of protest activity without adequate equipment to protect themselves, police went on strike in a number of loca tions, including al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya areas in Upper Egypt. M ilitias Their response was to organize community policing, but this sent shockwaves through the nationwide media. Rumors were rampant at the time about Islamist militias, and this effort played right into their hands. Furthermore, al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya had sought to lead an insurrection three decades earlier to gain administrative control of the area. This raised the question if instability would now simply hand the region to them? Would hisba become area policy? Leaders consistently denied any intention to form militias, revolutionary guards, or morality-enforcing religious police. At the same time, however, Abü al-Nasr confirmed they rode through the streets on motorcycles, proclaiming that if the police left, "w e are here."440 He denied the detail reported about brandishing swords held aloft in the air.441 But such a perception lasts, and may well be related to their mobilization effort. No matter how 'mature' they sought to present themselves in the po litical arena, they reached out to the masses through their customary ag gressive rhetoric. Perhaps this was due to their background less as statesmen or politicians, as opposed to preachers. Rhetoric for the People A descriptive example of aggressive rhetoric concerns a conference al- Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya held in October 2012 in the Cairo suburb of ‘ Ain Shams, Interview with ‘Ala’Abü al-Nasr 2013. Interview with Mamdüh Sarür 2013. Interview with ‘Ala’Abü al-Nasr 2013. Interview with Mamdüh Sarür 2013. 125 a lower class urban district. During the height of the controversy over the Islamic nature of the constitution, al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya described the efforts of liberals to remove Article Two of the Constitution, which called Islam the religion of the state and the principles of the Shari 'a the main source of leg islation. It was a false claim; there was no organized, consensus effort among non-Islamists to do so, as described in chapter 6. But Äsim ‘Abd al- Majid led the panel discussion, in which one member threatened to defend Shari 'a, even if blood is shed.442 Abü al-Nasr described this simply as a means to communicate with the people at their level. There is a difference between political discourse and popular rhetoric, he said, though both are important and are noncontradictory.443 But to the observer, the difference is clear, leading to wonder which discourse is primary and which is their true face. It certainly called into question their stated commitment to non-violence, an issue which continually haunts them. 4.6 Philosophy One reason for this ongoing issue is the doubt over the sincerity of their commitment to non-violence. While al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya may have given up violence themselves, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafis, violent militias in Sinai, and even al-Qä 'ida are all accused of being part of one grand scheme to turn Egypt into an Islamic state. They have simply divided up the different roles between them.444 Such a grand conspiracy can be set aside for more concrete analysis, but it is worth noting this idea is common among anti-Islamists and the security sector.445 The following section will explore al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya’s attitude toward violence. 4.6.1 The Conception of Violence As noted above, 'The Revisions' were both a watershed and controversial moment in the history of al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya. Some observers believed cer tain leadership figures were compelled to agree publicly with the document,446 while others may have done so simply to secure their freedom. ‘Abd al-Äkhir Hammad, reportedly al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya's current spiritual 442 Al-Misri Al-Yawm 2012 (a). 443 Interview with ‘Ala’Abü al-Nasr 2013. 444 Interview with Mamdüh Sarür 2013. 445 Interview with a former security advisor for the government in North Sinai 2013. 446 Interview with Mamdüh Sarür 2013. 126 leader, admits his own reservations, while making clear these do not endorse violence. He also describes how Ibrähim and Zuhdi went too far in interpreting 'The Revisions' to admit Mubärak's status as a Muslim worthy to be obeyed as head of state.447 Abü al-Nasr said these two were not fit for leadership.448 Abü al-Nasr refutes the notion, however, that 'The Revisions' themselves were the cause for the recent shift in leadership. Issäm Darbäla, their pres ident, was one of the key historical leaders involved in their production.449 He also disputes those who believe the entire younger generation, left in prison while many leaders were freed, reject 'The Revisions' entirely.450 The first notion to set aside is that 'The Revisions' were a complete rejection of violence. On the contrary, it recognized the Islamic legitimacy of Jihäd in its violent dimension, but subjected it to consideration of the overall general good and the importance of avoiding civil strife. Furthermore, as a concept, it was restricted to repel a foreign invasion.451 This is similar to one of Hammäd's objections. He stated that the use of vi olence against a Muslim leader who refuses to apply Islamic law is legitimate in theory.452 However, al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya's practical experience led it to commit to nonviolence, as the group's violent struggle increased civil strife and harmed the general good. This helps explain why al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya leaders like Abü al-Nasr continued to honor al-Sädät's assassin, Islämbuli. He must be judged, he insisted, with an appreciation for the context of the time. After the Revolu tion, society opened and it became feasible to change the system without having to resort to violence. In contrast, al-Sädät's regime made this impossible. Islämbuli and al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya did not calculate properly the cost of their rebellion, said Abü al-Nasr, but their intentions were noble.453 Worthy to remember also is al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya's insistence that the secu rity forces took the fight to them. Their initial goals were to be a revolutionary social movement, not an armed insurrection. Many times their vi olence was mixed up with the retaliatory culture of Upper Egypt, as mem bers were drawn into family, tribal, and community disputes. Leaders told 447 Ibid. 448 Interview with ‘Ala’Abü al-Nasr 2013. 449 Ibid. 450 Interview with Mamdüh Sarür 2013. 451 Meijer 2009, 215. 452 Hulsman, Smit and Kasanwidjojo 2013 (a). 453 Interview with ‘Ala’Abü al-Nasr 2013. 127 stories of traveling extensively to stop younger members from engaging in violence, whereas it flared in areas unable to be reached in time. Often leaders watched from prison in disbelief.454 Taken together with the above, al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya wishes to maintain an ideological acceptance of violence as a means of change, while severely restricting its application. Perhaps this is also from necessity, the group no longer had much capacity to act violently. But a close observer with thorough familiarity of al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya was convinced the leadership has moved on from their violent past and embraces instead the new possibilities of the Egyptian Revolution.455 4.6.2 The Conception of Democracy and Shürä Despite their past ambivalence, even rejection, these new possibilities included a practical democracy. Democracy, however, has to be introduced along with an arguably similar Islamic concept, i.e. shürä. Shürä means 'consultation', and has long been suggested by modernizing Muslims as an equivalent of democracy and re ligiously legitimate bridge by which to import an otherwise Western model of governance. Its traditional usage, comprising consultation only, howev er, worried many Egyptians hopeful the January 25 Revolution would turn the state into a true and open democracy. In Article Six of the 2012 constitution, Egypt's political system was said to be based on the principles of democracy and shürä, as if they are different, though no difference is elaborated upon. Some believed the word was added only to placate the Salafis, who were distraught over other articles such as those giving sovereignty to the people, and not to God. But something else may have been intended. Al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya shared this concern over the issue of sovereignty with the Salafis, and rejects de mocracy as un-Islamic, even if they accept(ed) it in practice.456 Abü al-Nasr explained that the traditional caliphate is the ideal Muslim system of gov ernment, even if it is not yet achievable in reality.457 Moreover, he added that this ideal includes the theological belief that God has given the ruler all authority. It is within the ruler's remit, however, to delegate his authority to others, such as judges. Islamic history, he ex plained, is full of examples where a judge decided against the ruler, but he 454 Hulsman. Smit and Kasanwidjojo 2013 (a) 455 Ibid. 456 Ibid. 457 Interview with‘Ala’Abü al-Nasr 2013. 128 did so only within the authority designated by him. The separation of pow ers is not an Islamic idea, but it does not violate Sharl'a458 A similar delegation could be seen with the legislative branch, though troubles may begin to emerge here. Shürä intends for the ruler to listen to all perspectives on a given issue, Abü al-Nasr explained, but the ruler alone is constituted to take the final decision. If he does not listen he opens up grounds for his removal by the people, but it is assumed he will judge wisely among the options presented him. A legislature, however, does not present the ruler with options - it codifies the law. So while Abü al-Nasr believes such a democracy may be the closest of all systems to shürä, it does not equal it. Much is shared between the two, such as the principle of rotation of power. But democracy may be acceptable as a means to eventually get to shürä. Until it does, he said, it must be limited by God's law. The parliament in a democracy is also deficient because it allows for the collection of representatives to allow the transgression of Shari'a. Shürä as an Islamic system will never permit this; it serves as a ceiling to the authority of the people to legislate as they wish. It also includes the hudüd punishments such as cutting off the hand of a thief. God is the merciful one, Abü al-Nasr explained, and his system is always more merciful than man's, even if we cannot comprehend it.459 Drevon noted that however much al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya still holds to the idea that democracy is at least sub-Islamic, they do accept it in practice.460 The example given is of their own internal elections, which resulted in a transfer of leadership.461 Closer examination, however, moderates this understanding. Abü al-Nasr explained that al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya does not have a culture of nominating oneself for a position. Instead, each member puts forward 5-10 names he has confidence in, and these are debated together, with the most agreeable chosen.462 By appearances, these are chosen by election, and indeed Ibrähim technically qualified for the Guidance Council in the ninth position. But Abü al-Nasr 458 Ibid. 459 Ibid. 460 Hulsman, Smit and Kasanwidjojo 2013 (a). 461 Ibid. 462 Interview with ‘Ala’Abu al-Nasr 2013. 129 chose to distinguish this process from democracy, which has a culture of competition.463 What does this mean for their political vision for Egypt? Did the mention of shürä in the constitution suggest some sort of communal selection of an allpowerful leader? These details are not spelled out so conclusively, but they do reflect the ultimate vision of al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya. Additionally, however much al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya does intend to help establish a modern, Islamic democracy, this message is not getting down to their people. At the 'No to Political Violence' protest, one of their partisans declared their entrance into the political system was simply the jurisprudence of reality. "If the people want ballot boxes," he said, "w e will use them."464 He then smiled, recognizing the weight of his words to a foreigner, and said, "N o, the ballot box will stay. But I know our people and they are religious. They will choose us."465 4.7 Conclusion The protestor's confidence has proved unfounded. Massive protests in June and early July of 2013 demanded early elections to replace the Islamist pres ident Muhammad Mursi, and though such a demonstration does not serve to predict the outcome of future electoral contests, it is clear the religious nature of Egyptians is not sufficient to ensure the success of political Islam. So far, al-Jamä'a al-Islämiyya has held to their commitment of nonviolence,466 at least in denial. When security forces forcibly removed pro- Mursi sit-in protests, a wave of retaliatory violence struck the Coptic com munity, especially in Upper Egypt, burning their churches and assaulting their homes and shops.467 It was reminiscent of the worst 'excesses' al- Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya (in the 1970s and 1980s), at least one of their more conciliatory leaders, has since apologized for.468 Immediately, al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya distanced itself from the attacks, condemning them completely.469 Such denials were widely suspected in the 463 Ibid. 464 Interview with Muhammad Ahmad 2013. 465 Ibid. 466 Ahram Online 2013 (i). 467 Hulsman 2013 (c). 468 ‘ Amr al-Misri 2012. 469 Mada Masr 2013. 130 press, however, as a public cover to escape responsibility, either of the spontaneous action of their supporters or worse, a pre-planned expression of revenge. Media reports placed Äsim ‘Abd al-Mäjid inDaljah, al-Minyä, 300 kilometers south of Cairo, where Islamists had displaced local police and taken over the village, abusing Copts in the process.470 Whether or not this accusation is true, rumors abound, and they are likely to remain with al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya in the foreseeable future. If many doubted their true intentions during a period of openness, these are likely to increase during a time of public crackdown on Islamists. What is more to be feared is if this crackdown results in pushing al-Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya once again to violence. Early indications suggest in both capaci ty and in commitment to 'The Revisions', the leadership does not welcome such a return. Instead, they will publically reject this 'coup' through non violent protests only. Their answer could be imagined such: Even if the ac tions of the military to remove Mursi subject them to overthrow according to Islamic law, the resulting social price of a return to violence makes this option untenable. At least, this is their imagined answer, one which would be spoken to a foreigner or to the press. Whether or not they can control their recently affiliated youth, or whether or not they wish to, is another matter. Given their history, it is only fitting such suspicions remain. Should they prove themselves truly, even in the midst of adversity, it will be a great de velopment for Egypt. 470 Kirkpatrick 2013 (a). 131

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In 2013, a group of researchers had the unique chance to interview 61 Egyptian Islamists and their opponents both prior to and after Egypt’s military ousted President Mursī on July 3. Up to that time, Islamists with very different political perspectives were hopeful that they would be able to realize the implementation of sharīa and to create a utopian Islamic state. After the coup, many of them rejected the transformation and a number became involved in militant attacks on police, military and the judiciary. This resulted in harsh government responses. Their criticism has been muted, but they still exist. The interviews document authentic voices during this period of major political transformations. A must read for anyone who wants to understand contemporary Egypt.