5 Non-Political Islamists: The Jihadi Salafis and the Situation in Sinai (Jayson Casper) in:

Cornelis Hulsman (Ed.)

From Ruling to Opposition, page 133 - 146

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
5 Non-Political Islamists: The Jihadi Salafis and the Situation in Sinai (Jayson Casper) 5.1 Introduction The Egyptian Revolution of January 25, 2011 sought 'bread, freedom and social justice'471 for all. It resulted in a political system opened to all, by which these revolutionary goals were to be achieved. Benefiting most from the opening were Islamists, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and previously quietist Salafis, who had been largely excluded from the political process. They went on to win majorities in parliament, the presidency, and a consti tutional referendum giving primacy of place to Shari 'a. However, some Is lamists were not satisfied with this process, as will be described in this chapter. A first challenge was that for years many Islamists, outside the Muslim Bro therhood in particular, were reared on the idea that democracy itself runs counter to Shari 'a and the Islamic system. Egypt's Salafi parties were able to navigate this challenge and unexpectedly won a quarter of the seats in par liament, as mentioned in chapter 4. In what was hailed as 'the battle of the ballot box', Salafis mobilized the religiously conservative population by promising that democracy was the means by which God's law would be established. All that was necessary was to outvote the others. However, some Islamists viewed voting as opportunism and a betrayal of Islam. A small number rallied around the dogmatic positions of the jihädi Salafis in rejecting democracy and with it the so-labeled hypocritical Islam ists who agreed to play within this system. Most, however, paid them little attention as the Islamist tide was rising by peaceful means. A second challenge was geographic. Contrasting with this peacefulness was the status of Sinai, which tied in well to fears associated with the selfappellation of 'jihadist' in this rejectionist faction. The buffer region be tween the Suez Canal and Israel was considered a wild terrain of Bedouins, armed groups, and criminals, tied into the illicit tunnel economy to Gaza ruled by Hamas. In this regional context, a democratic opening meant little. These two challenges, ideological and geographical, can arguably be con nected, since both could have had the potential to destabilize the nascent democracy. The jihädi Salafis posed a threat to the participatory Islamists' right flank, who were already uncertain about 'democracy'. President Mursi's own democratic credentials and commitments canbe debated, but In Arabic,' 'Aysh, hurriya, 'adäla ijtimä 'iyya.' 133 unless he assured Salafis that democratic gains would indeed lead to the triumph of Shari'a, he would risk splitting his strongest supporting constituency. Nevertheless, the more he leaned on them as allies, especially following his presidential decree in November 2012 to set his decisions above judicial review, the more he alienated the rest of the electorate, who accused him constantly of being sectarian and of having a religious, not democratic, agenda. Meanwhile, armed entities in the Sinai posed a different threat. Criminal groups engaged in drug or human trafficking were one thing, while other militant groups were dedicated only to the cause of Palestine. But the presence of jihadists who might potentially target the state became a security issue. As weapons proliferated following the fall of Mu ammar al-Qaddäfi in Libya, Mursi, with many Islamists, tried to reason with the inhabitants of Sinai, seeking to inculcate them against a violent ideology. But opponents accused him of being soft on terrorism, giving cover to militant Islamists he might secretly be aligned with. And if jihadists carried out an attack in Si nai, he appeared unable to govern the nation he presided over. For indeed, there were attacks, both before and after he was deposed as president. During the period of military transitional governance, the pipe line supplying gas to Israel was bombed at least fifteen times before Mursi's election. However, the first attack of note thereafter actually resulted in the cementing of his power. On August 5,2012, sixteen soldiers were killed as militants commandeered their vehicles and crossed the border into Israel, where they also were subsequently killed. On August 12 President Mursi responded by sacking leading military brass and thereby attempted to establish civilian control over the army. Nevertheless by May 2013, another attack called Mursi's leadership into question. A number of soldiers were kidnapped by militants, though negotiations eventually led to their release. In both cases, mystery continued to surround the perpetrators, who were never brought to formal justice. In stead, Egyptian military operations continued in the area, as conspiracies circled from both sides. Some Egyptians suspected Islamists in the Sinai precipitated the crisis to give Mursi the space to remove aging military lea dership. Islamists, meanwhile, wondered if intelligence links to militant groups were working to make trouble for the president.472 The threat from Sinai to the new democratic system was never direct, but along with a deteriorating security situation many felt nostalgia for the stability offered before the Revolution. Following the deposing of Mursi, a new wave of violence sprang from the Sinai, as will be described below. From frequent conversations with ordinary Egyptians during this period. 134 Noteworthy here is the comment of a leading Muslim Brother, Muhammad al-Biltäji, that this insurrection would stop the moment Mursi returned to power.473 Biltäji's statement a minute earlier on YouTube insisted the Muslim Bro therhood did not control the situation in Sinai, but his comment fueled all the speculation otherwise. Even if they had no direct control, due to the shared end goal of an Islamic state, the Muslim Brotherhood was suspected of coordination with jihädi Salafis and jihadists proper. But if not, as was consistently denied, this jihadism threatened the democratic aspirations of Islamism in general, providing justification for critics who wished to see Mursi removed from power. This chapter will explore both of these challenges, of the political but nonparticipatory jihädi Salafis and the apoliticism of groups in the Sinai. It is based on interviews with Ahmad ‘ Ashüsh, a leader in the jihädi-Salafis, Je rome Drevon, a researcher who has spent considerable time with jihadists, Ismail Alexanderni, a socio-political researcher with years of experience conducting field work in the Sinai, and a former security advisor for the government, a general with extensive experience in North Sinai. 5.2 Jihädi Salafis and Ideological Non-Participation The "jihädi Salafi" sobriquet is both descriptive and misleading. The misleading aspect comes in their use of Jihäd, which conjures among many im ages of terrorism at worst and violent insurrection at best.474 As will be seen, the use of violent rhetoric was not absent from their discourse, but since jihädi Salafis appeared on the public scene post- Revolution and continued through the presidency of Mursi, they claimed to have focused exclusively on preaching and arguing the rightness of their cause.475 As will be seen below, this claim is contested. 5.2.1 Restoring Jihäd and Shari'a The movement's cause, however, includes a full restoration of the concept of Jihäd as an essential feature of Islam, which they describe in militant terms.476 In this their name is usefully descriptive. Unlike the participatory 473 AlKaheraWalNasTV 2013. 474 For many Muslims, of course, jihäd refers primarily to the struggle against the self in submission to God. The concept of jihäd can be used in many different ways. See Anwar 2007. 475 Hulsman, Smit and Kasanwidjojo 2013 (a). 476 Anwar 2007. 135 Salafis who have adopted at least the tools of democracy and thus implicitly the world system that accompanies it, these jihädi Salafis have demanded nothing less than the triumph of Islam and the resurrection of its birthright as the leading influence in the world, as it was in the first three generations (salaf) following the Prophet Muhammad. As one of their followers noted, "Is there any Salafism without Jihäd?"477 The Salafis and Muslim Brotherhood may have believed they were aiding Islam in their ascent to power, but according to jihädi-Salafis, they were playing the wrong game.478 They believed, actually, that the Brotherhood was working in cooperation with America, cares nothing about Shari 'a, and was concerned only for their own power.479 ‘ Ashüsh argued in 2013 that: The Muslim Brotherhood do not strive to implement or enforce the Shari'a; the Muslim Brotherhood organization is solely committed to hold on to and evolve around power. In fact, to hold onto power is the main objective of the Muslim Brotherhood, and eventually they neglect values and religious doctrines for the sake of pragmatic considerations.480 With regard to the participatory Salafis, the jihädi Salafis were slightly more generous, but it was the connection to America and the West that compromised them all. Democracy, jihädi Salafis understand, means placing sovereignty in the hands of the people, while they say that for a Muslim, sovereignty must be for God alone. Any movement away from this is hypocrisy and error.481 The cause of jihäd, therefore, is not one of wanton violence. It is the firm commitment to not give way to a world system imposed on Muslim peoples around the world. It is a rejection of what they believed to be imperialism proper, but also of cultural and intellectual imperialism which is far more insidious. A foreign army can be repelled, but foreign ideology can seep into the consciousness of unwary individuals and families.482 "The Egyptian people have been brain-washed," contends."483 A chief example of these effects caused by imperialism was witnessed in the behavior of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis, explain jihädi-Salafis. As these Islamists campaigned for office, they often spoke to assuage the people - and the 477 Interview with Ashraf 2013. 478 Hulsman and Casper 2016 479 Ibid. 480 Ibid. 481 Ibid. 482 Ibid. 483 Ibid. 136 West - that they were interested only in the 'gradual application' of Shari 'a. This rhetoric asserted that political freedom had to be achieved, the econo my set right, and only then would Shari'a make sense in its entirety. When all is done well in the name of Islam, people will welcome Shari 'a with open arms, and its oft-maligned hudud punishments of cutting off hands would never need to be applied.484 During this period, ‘Ashüsh explained that Our major concern now is to achieve a change in thought and mentality. Our struggle as Salafi-Jihädis is to first change the Egyptian mentality that has been strongly afflicted by the corrupt media structure, the treacherous liberal politics that had succeeded to systematically distort the people's thought. Our goal is to bring back the authenticity of [Islamic] thought to the people, to disclose the truth, to revive in them the power of their belief.485 For jihädi-Salafis, God has made Shari 'a - hudüd and all - as part of his mercy, aspects of which can be set aside in times of poverty. But to be set aside means that as a system it has already been established. Thus, to say Shari'a will be applied 'gradually' is to accept the terms of debate set by the West, as it tries to define what proper Islam looks like, for its own interests. Jihädi Salafis saw this foreign ideology deforming the concept of jihäd itself. Muslims have allowed the West to limit its meaning to a defensive war against an invading power. Jihäd, however, is, in their view, far more powerful a concept. Islam is God's system of justice; it is a code of ethics, eco nomics, and politics that will put the world right. Jihäd, as God intends it, is a way to right the wrongs of the world and end the idolatry of man enthroning man's law. As ‘Ashüsh claimed, Jihäd is an ongoing religious duty to maintain our religion, Islam. There are different kinds of jihäd; one kind is the struggle against oneself (nafs), the strife to inform people on the truth of Islam, or an outer struggle, the jihäd of the sword. It depends on what efforts would fit best according to situation and location as well.486 Of course this necessitates violence, but it is more appropriately labeled as power.487 This intellectual warfare from the West has also convinced Muslims that democracy is consistent with Islam, that they can recapture some of their lost glory in adopting these forms. But according to jihädi-Salafis, there are 484 Ibid. 485 Ibid. 486 Ibid. 487 Ibid. 137 three legitimate means to achieve power. The first is simply to seize it, which becomes justified if the Shari'a is applied. Once a Shari 'a-based state is established, the other two means follow. First, the leader may bequeath his authority to someone else. Or, and this is pre ferred, the consensus of approved scholars give their indication of approval. These scholars would assert themselves, and be recognized as such by the population, but the source of their formal or informal authority was not otherwise explained.488 Jihädi Salafis find that the participatory Salafis fell into a trap. By running for parliament they believed they could ensure the priority of Shari 'a in the constitution. In the end, in their interpretation, a constitution was produced which was influenced equally, if not more, by non-Islamists opposed to the rule of Islam. This flawed document then became the basis for the authority of a supposedly Islamist president. Mursi bound himself to guard both this constitution and the law, but the 'true' Muslim leader, they believe, must bind himself only to the Qur 'än and the Sunna. From ‘ Ashüsh's perspective, their hypocrisy and error were apparent. "Mursi declared himself a secularist ruler who rules according to positive law and the constitution," he said, "contrary to the Muslim ruler who declares Shari'a in accordance with the Qur'än and Sunna. Mursi is a constitutional ruler, but not a legitimate one."489 5.2.2 How to Restore Jihäd and Shari a When focusing on jihädi-Salafis' vision, the question of the means to achieve it arises. Here they exhibit less clarity. As one of their primary spokesmen, ‘Ashüsh, presented two somewhat odd comparisons to Hitler and to the American neo-conservative foreign policy establishment. As leaders of the movement, he said, jihädi Salafis intend to speak clearly and never compromise, positing that "earthly matters are negotiable, beliefs are not to be bargained."490 On the one hand this would win the respect of the people, causing them to rise to power like Hitler during a moment of national crisis. On the other hand, their rhetoric would set the tone for both national and pan- Islamic policy, like the American neo-conservatives ruling without actually being 'elected'.491 But how will it happen? 488 Interview with Ashraf 2013. 489 Hulsman and Casper 2016. 490 Ibid. 491 Ibid. 138 They have been deliberately vague. Jihädi Salafis have asserted a wide following but give no evidence of it. They claimed no organizational structure and insisted they carry no weapons. Their jihäd, spoken of during the pe riod of Mursi's presidency, was described as only intellectual and psychological. Perhaps it is the latter that made them appear wild-eyed. For example, they approve of al-Qä 'ida, supported the attacks of September 11, in 2001492 and in 2012, when the American ambassador to Libya was killed in Benghazi. These are demonstrations of power, ‘Ashüsh explained, showing the West they will resist their world dominance.493 He stated that they "w ill never cede to any form of domination, whether intellectual or military."494 But at the same time, one of their leading figures, Muhammad al-Zawähiri, the brother of al-Qä 'ida leader Ayman al-Zawähiri, publicly offered a truce to 'the W est', in which all attacks would stop in exchange for the withdrawal of all armies from Muslim territory and non-interference in their affairs.495 Until then, however, resistance movements, incorrectly la beled 'terrorism', will continue and receive the moral and material support of the jihädi-Salafis.496 However, analysts believe that they had very little support in Egypt or even among Islamic militants elsewhere, such as in Afghanistan or Iraq. They could neither enforce a truce497 nor guide operations.498 On the whole their rhetoric was a show, offered to the media as a platform to showcase their views. Political Islamists who were asked about the jihädi Salafis disavowed them and claim ignorance of their movement.499 Yet others find jihädi Salafi leaders to be heroes, and furthermore, closely linked with public figures of political Islam.500 The security sector asserted the same.501 Muhammad Jamäl al-Käshif, a leading jihädi Salafi figure, is in prison in Egypt due to his connection with the Benghazi attack on the American consulate in September 2012. ‘Ashüsh denied he was involved, additionally absolving another jihädi Salafi figure, Ädil Shahäta, of being linked to the 492 Interview with Ashraf 2013. 493 Hulsman and Casper 2016. 494 Ibid. 495 Egypt Independent 2012 (f). 496 Hulsman and Casper 2016. 497 E-mail exchange with Khalil al-Anani 2013. 498 Interview with Ismail Alexanderni 2013. 499 Interview with Sharaf al-Din al-Jibäli 2013. 500 Interview with ‘Abd al-Bäsit al-Fashni 2013. 501 Interview with a security advisor to the Egyptian government 2013. 139 militants in Sinai.502 But he did not deny their status as jihädi-Salafis, nor did he condemn the attacks. Was their 'jihäd', therefore, in fact violent, actual, and underway? Analyzing this question demands a closer look at the reali ties of Sinai. 5.3 Bedouins, Jihadis, and Geographical Non-Participation Though military opinion runs contrary,503 many observers note the Sinai is a region of economic neglect among the Bedouin.504 The population of North Sinai, where most militant activity is located, is estimated between 350.000 and 400,000, of which 130,000 to 200,000 are Bedouin.505 The rest are predominantly transplanted residents of the Nile Valley, who come to work as doctors, teachers, and government employees, and live exclusively in the region's cities.506 There is also a small but influential number of descendants of the former ruling Mamluk class deposed and massacred by Muhammad ‘Ali in the 19th Century. These are of Turkish and Eastern European origin and live primarily along the Sinai-Israel border.507 The economic neglect has been due to the state's policy of treating the re gion - especially its Bedouin elements - as a security matter.508 This policy is explained by factors such as being on the border with Israel, being home to a traditional tribal community that resists modern notions of citizenship, and being a vast, underpopulated area of difficult terrain easing the flight and hideout of criminals and militants alike. However, the sometimes harsh and arbitrary behavior of the state has increased the local population's resentments, as they resist governmental coercion. 5.3.1 The Security Sector and Bedouin Tribes State policy adopted the strategy of working closely with the tribes. But this strategy has also contributed to dividing the Bedouin and engendered so cial instability among them, as the tribal code has weakened. The Commit tee of Tribal Affairs, based in the Sinai, is staffed entirely by security fig- 502 Hulsman and Casper 2016. 503 Interview with a security advisor to the Egyptian government 2013. 504 Eleiba 2013. 505 Higher estimates are from Balanga 2012, lower estimates are from an interview with a security advisor to the Egyptian government 2013. 506 Interview with a security advisor to the Egyptian government 2013. 507 Interview with Ismail Alexanderni 2013. 508 Ibid. 140 ures, with no Bedouin participation.509 Furthermore, the police bypassed the traditional route of leadership selection by appointing the head of each tribe, resulting in some rejecting him while others profit from his privileged access to resources and influence.510 A further source of social disruption came from the state's unofficial policy of promoting a tunnel economy with Gaza. Allowing these tunnels had several advantages. It facilitated Egypt's image as a supporter of the Palestinian cause, gave a political pressure point with which to influence both Israel and Hamäs,511 and greased the wheel of corruption while providing both economic opportunity for and leverage with the Bedouin community. At its height during the Israeli operation in Gaza in 2009, a rented tunnel would gain $30,000 per day,512 and provide exorbitant profits for traded goods and smuggling alike.513 The rapid development of this industry naturally contributed to competition between Sinai actors. Informal spheres of influence were divided so that the ten families of Mamluk descendants who reside on the border 'own' the tunnels, the Bedouins control the routes of access, and the Nile Valley residents participate in shipping and handling. However, among the Bedouins some profited more than others, while others have pushed the boundaries with drugs, weapons, and human trafficking.514 As a result, while a tribal code still exists, tribal leaders find it difficult to take and enforce consensus measures. The al-M inä‘i family of the Sawärka tribe provided an example. Ibrähim al- Minä'i was the tribal leader of a divided clan. He and his son, Khalaf, were killed by unknown militants upon returning from a tribal conference to take a decision on how to deal with increasing militancy.515 Khalaf suggested each tribe arm itself through popular committees to pacify its area, and turn over any of its members involved in militancy. Meanwhile, Ibrähim described his own brother as a member in a jihädi group. While security la beled this brother the operational leader of local jihädis,516 an analyst described him as a cousin, and not a jihädi at all but rather a human trafficker newly associated with a rejectionist strand of Islam, and in fact, likely an 509 Interview with Ismail Alexanderni 2013. 510 Interview with a security advisor to the Egyptian government 2013. 511 Ibid. 512 Interview with Ismail Alexanderni 2013. 513 El-Rashidi 2012 (b). 514 Interview with Ismail Alexanderni 2013. 515 Reuters 2013. 516 Interview with a security advisor to the Egyptian government 2013. 141 informant for the intelligence apparatus.517 Such confusion did not aid proper understanding of the Sinai. From the security perspective, this confused situation is tied directly not only to jihädi groups culminating in al-Qä 'ida, but also to the larger Islamist movement. Muslim Brotherhood deputy leader Khayrat al-Shätir was, ac cording to a security source, stated to be one of the chief beneficiaries of the tunnel economy, with his group coordinating between all in common pursuit of an Islamic state.518 After the Revolution in particular, the Muslim Brotherhood are said to have divided up roles, in which jihädis play the 'useful' part, according to a security source. Their role is to scare the liberals and assure the West that Islamists alone are able to keep militants in line. The many visits paid by Muslim Brothers519 and Salafi shaykhs520 to the Sinai gave evidence to an effort - officially to combat violent ideologies - to synchronize operations.521 Either way, it appeared that there was a level of success in pacifying the area was achieved, at least up until the deposing of Mursi.522 However, Mursi's policy may not have been a success at all. The security source says that, although President Mursi made it seem like he was authorizing military operations against militants, he was actually preventing them behind the scenes.523 Mursi much preferred the delegations of dialogue, some of which were presidential,524 and promised a new era of devel opment in Sinai. But all the while, the aforementioned jihädi Salafis are said to have carried instructions to the up to 10,000 jihädis,525 who were organized by Ramzi Muwäfi, the former medical doctor of Usäma bin Lädin.526This is not analysis, the security source said, but intelligence. Analysis may give a more balanced view. This requires a deeper delineation of militancy in the Sinai. 517 Interview with Ismail Alexanderni 2013. 518 Interview with a security advisor to the Egyptian government 2013. 519 Al-Monitor 2012. Egypt Independent 2012 (e). Interview with a security advisor to the Egyptian government 2013. 522 Pelham 2012. 523 Interview with a security advisor to the Egyptian government 2013. 524 Associated Press 2012. 525 Interview with a security advisor to the Egyptian government 2013. 526 Ahram Online 2011 (a); Fahmy, M. 2013. 142 520 521 5.3.2 M ilitancy in the Sinai Before describing the militancy during this period, however, its forerunners are necessary to understand. Takfiri groups were formed in the 1970s as a breakaway from the Muslim Brotherhood. Their name desig nates 'excommunication', i.e. the process of calling someone an infidel. Seeing Egyptian society as un-Islamic, these groups decided to withdraw from it and live a 'pure' Islamic existence in community in the desert.527 Some groups turned violent, such as al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihäd, which bombed Sinai resorts each year from 2005 to 2007.528 Most so-called takfiri groups, however, were not violent, according to researcher Alexanderni. Quite the opposite, as they live apart from others and believe they must await a new caliph before being able to establish a full Islamic society. Those who engage in violence are generally associated either with criminal activity or regional intelligence networks promoting chaos and instability.529 Even ideologically, violent militant groups have not traditionally focused on Egypt. Their presence and activity in the Sinai is instead directed at Israel. Bedouins in general do not recognize the borders between Egypt and Israel which were drawn ignoring their living quarters, and most view Israelis as occupiers of Muslim land. Bedouin residents of Sinai are thus more than happy to provide refuge to those who work against Israel, and consider them heroes.530 Of the four major militant groups, the two strongest, Ansär Bayt al-Maqdis and Majlis Shürä al-M ujähidinfi A knäfBayt al-Maqdis, fit the description of being anti-Israeli. The former, however, was thereafter radicalized. Outraged at the dispersal of the pro-Mursi sit-in in Nasr City, Cairo, but especially at the killing of their members at the hands of Israeli and Egyp tian 'aggression', they took on the activity of terrorists, Alexanderni said. He further asserted that their attempted assassination of the minister of the interior on September 5,2013 could have painted them as rebels, but in announcing the targeting also of journalists and television presenters, they exceed all limits of sympathy.531 527 Fahmy,M. 2011. 528 Ashour 2013. 529 Interview with Ismail Alexanderni 2013. 530 Ibid. 531 Ibid. 143 The other two groups are the confusingly named jihädi Salafis and the remnants of al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihäd. These groups did not display the opera tional capacity nor the communication sophistication of those above. But despite any sharing of nomenclature, none of these militants had connec tions with jihädi-Salafis532 or political Islamists outside the Sinai or elsewhere, Alexanderni stated.533 And while Alexanderni believed there is ideological connection with al-Qä 'ida, he also contended there are no established relationships between them. Even among themselves, militant groups have been fiercely independent - as well as clandestine. Jihädis, as they have been targeted by the state do not tend to associate with others, he said, and are unknown even by their own families. A major figure in the formerly violent, turned participatory Islamist group, al-Jamä 'a al- Islämiyya, who Alexanderni said preferred not to be named, demonstrated almost no knowledge of the realities of the Sinai.534 If anything, the accusations of Mursi's accommodation of jihädis should be seen in reverse. The high profile visit of Salafi leader Yäsir Burhämi - accompanied by an intelligence officer - resulted in jihädi threats, and neither coordination nor placation. They warned the state that the authorities may know about us here in Sinai, but they do not know what we have in Cairo or Alexandria, conveyed Alexanderni. To signal their strength, they gave a tip which resulted in a raiding of a terrorist cell in Nasr City, as it was not of their own organization.535 Information in this raid led to the linking of the alleged, having been arrested for coordinating the attack on Benghazi.536 While security signaled up to about 10,000 militants in Sinai, they estimate only about 350 of these are Bedouin - and they are known to the intelli gence apparatus.537Alexanderni numbered the total as no more than a few thousand, and perhaps only hundreds.538Analyst Omar Ashour, Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, however, said the number is no more than in the tens.539 532 Drevon 2014. 533 Al-Monitor 2012. 534 Interview with Ismail Alexanderni 2013. 535 Ibid. 536 Fahmy, M. 2013. 537 Interview with a security advisor to the Egyptian government 2013. 538 Interview with Ismail Alexanderni 2013. 539 Ashour 2013. 144 5.3.3 Local Political Islam ism More influential than militant groups, however, were the Salafi associations that had begun to replace traditional tribal allegiances. Abü Faysal for instance had been a Salafi Shari'a court judge in al-‘Arish, heading one of fourteen established but unofficial courts for dispute resolution in the Sinai. Bedouins have always had their internal methods of tribal justice, but as the state weakened, their traditional code alongside an increasingly absent pub lic justice sector since the Revolution, more and more have been turning to religious solutions.540 Abü Faysal is a veteran of al-Tawhid wa-l-Jihäd, but as security cracked down upon his group following their bombing campaign, he joined the wing which revised its ideology in prison and adopted Salafi ways in Ahl al- Sunna wa-l-Jamä 'a (roughly translated as 'Those of the Prophet's way and group'). In September 2013 he conducted a symbolic trial of General al-Sisi of the Egyptian army, pronouncing a sentence of execution. He also rejoiced in the fact that since the Revolution Shari 'a has been the effective law of the Sinai, and longed for the day it will be the law of the state.541 Security estimated the number of religious but not armed Salafis such as Abü Faysal are between 5,000 and 7,000,542 but their influence may be much wider. By contrast, the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Sinai has been ra ther limited. They have almost no presence in eastern Sinai and find sup port only among urbanites hailing originally from the Nile Valley.543 A diversity of political allegiance can be found among this community, but as a whole, the region is geographically distant and politically marginalised. Such is the nature of a desert and a social system dominated by tribal reali ties. 5.4 Conclusion As has been noted, the information presented on both the jihädi Salafis and realities in Sinai is deeply sensitive and contested. The former appeared on the margin of the political scene, which they pulled to the Islamist right. On the one hand, they portended ill for safety and stability as they are linked to an armed form of the Jihäd they insisted was nonviolent, but very confrontational. 540 Revkin 2013. 541 Ashour 2013. 542 Interview with a security advisor to the Egyptian government 2013. 543 Interview with Ismail Alexanderni 2013. 145 On the other hand, however, this could have been the tarnishing of al- Jamä 'a al-Islämiyya by state security and the intelligence apparatus, a sector prominently involved among the latter described groups in the Sinai as well. Amid discontent Bedouins resided a limited number of armed socalled jihädis, whose aims are not always clear. The recent turn against the Egyptian police and armed forces, mostly in Sinai but creeping elsewhere, bodes negatively for Egypt's future. Even before this, the situation in Sinai was hardly conducive to the establishment of a participatory democracy. These issues may be on the periphery of the major changes going on in Egypt. After all, both radical ideology and militant Islamism have been present in Egypt for decades. In the Sinai it was mostly left to fester, while the state cracked down upon its spectre in Upper Egypt. But unless they are dealt with in transparency by the state, media, liberals, and Islamists alike, the positive transformation of socio-political dynamics is bound to stall. The full integration of Sinai's residents is one of Egypt's many ongoing challenges, among its most entrenched and difficult. 146

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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.