The Wandering Islamist: A Profile of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s Wagdi Ghoneim

Andrew McGregor

Militant Leadership Monitor, August 30, 2018

One of the most controversial preachers in contemporary Islam is Dr. Wagdi Abd al-Hamid Muhammad Ghoneim, a leading member of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (MB). Now an occasionally troublesome resident of Turkey, Ghoneim has been arrested eight times in Egypt and turfed out of numerous nations for his advocacy of radical Islam, using electronic platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Intolerant of women seeking anything other than traditional roles and almost fanatically opposed to the existence of Egypt’s Coptic Christian population, Ghoneim was added to Egypt’s terrorist list last June, accused, with others, of attempting to “escalate the armed struggle against the state” (Youm7 [Cairo], June 26, via BBC Monitoring).

Early Career

Wagdi Ghoneim was born in 1951 in Egypt’s Sohag Governorate (Upper Egypt). Ghoneim began his academic career with a Bachelor of Commerce from Alexandria University in 1973 and worked for the Egyptian Ministry of Finance as an accountant from 1976 until his resignation in 2001. During that time he also served as the Secretary General of the Traders’ Union of Alexandria and Secretary General of the Division of Accounting and Auditing of the Traders’ Union of Greater Cairo (Assabile.com, n.d.). [1]

Ghoneim began his formal studies in Islam in the 1980s at the Alexandria campus of al-Azhar University. He began preaching in Alexandria, adopting a powerful and persuasive style that exploits his listeners’ often limited knowledge of the Western world to spin conspiratorial narratives with little or no basis in reality. Ghoneim was soon using cassette tapes to spread his vilification of Christians, both Western and Egyptian, and attracted the attention of Egypt’s secret police. A series of arrests and detentions of three to six months at a time began, though Ghoneim claimed to have continued to receive his government salary each time (Ottawa Citizen, January 10, 1998).

Activities in North America

By the late 1990s, Ghoneim was being invited by Islamist groups to preach in North America. In 1998, he was strip-searched and held at the Canadian border while attempting to cross from Detroit. Suspected of being a member of Hamas, Ghoneim was detained overnight before being interviewed by a member of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). Immigration records indicated that the preacher was a member of the MB and had already been denied a visitor’s visa by the Canadian Embassy in Cairo in 1993. Ghoneim demanded an apology and financial compensation from the Canadian government. His supporters maintained he was simply a harmless accountant in Egypt’s finance ministry and claimed the Egyptian government was behind Ghoneim’s immigration problems (Ottawa Citizen, January 10, 1998). [2] Ontario’s socialist New Democratic Party also supported the radical Islamist and unsuccessfully demanded an apology to all Muslims in Canada from the federal government (Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March 1998).

In 1998, Ghoneim urged the audience at an Islamic Association for Palestine conference in Brooklyn to help fund jihad before leading them in a song with the chorus, “No to the Jews, descendants of the apes, we vow to return [to Palestine], despite the obstacles.” [3]

By 2001, Ghoneim had decided to move with his family to California, where he became Imam of the Islamic Institute of Orange County. He acted as a fundraiser for the Toledo-based Hamas charity KindHearts and helped support himself by working as an Arabic calligrapher.

This existence ended abruptly in January 2005, when he was detained and voluntarily expelled from the U.S. in January 2005 (along with his wife and seven children) for violations related to his fundraising activities and his immigration status. He left for Qatar after receiving a ten-year ban on re-entry to the United States. Bill Odencrantz, U.S. Immigration and Customs director of field legal operations, said there were greater concerns regarding Ghoneim’s activities, but the immigration violation was pursued as “it was the easiest charge to prove… Frankly, our task is not to sit around and wait for people to blow up buildings” (LA Times, December 29, 2004).

A Peripatetic Preacher

Ghoneim was denied entry to Switzerland in September 2005 while attempting to attend the annual meeting of the League of Muslims in Switzerland, which claimed the decision was “driven by a bunch of opportunists who are playing the terror card to scare authorities and to provoke the Muslim minority” (IslamOnline, September 19, 2005). Ghoneim then returned to Qatar, where he held a work visa and enjoyed the ruling al-Thani family’s support for Muslim Brotherhood leaders. Ghoneim used Qatar as a base for frequent speaking tours elsewhere in Europe.

Ghoneim shifted his base to Bahrain, but was expelled from there in November 2007 after it was revealed he had supported Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. The preacher moved to South Africa in March 2008, but was deported only months later for possessing an “illegal residency permit” (Islam Online, July 3, 2008).

This turmoil did not prevent Ghoneim from receiving a Masters of Theology and a Doctor of Philosophy in Islamic Studies in 2008 from the Indiana-based Graduate Theological Foundation for his online studies of the Islamic concept of divine shura (consultation) and the status of democracy. [4]

After several preaching trips to the UK, Ghoneim was banned from entry to Britain for seeking to “promote, justify and glorify terrorist actions” (UK Home Office Press Release, May 5, 2009).

He was soon living in Yemen, where he became (in absentia) one of five prominent members of the MB to be charged in Cairo with money laundering (IkhwanWeb.com, July 13, 2010). On returning from a visit to Qatar, Ghoneim and his wife were denied re-entry to Yemen in August 2011. They were briefly detained before being returned to Qatar, likely due to the suspicion of Yemeni security officials that the preacher was involved in Islamist opposition politics (Yemen Post, August 30, 2011).

Several Tunisian Islamist organizations invited Ghoneim to Tunisia to speak on a variety of religious issues in February 2012, but the visit turned into a national uproar when the preacher decided to lecture Tunisians on their obligation to carry out female genital mutilation (FGM) on young girls. The practice is extremely rare in Tunisia and Ghoneim was quickly rebuked by the Tunisian Ministry of Women’s Affairs, which denied any connection between FGM and Islam while reminding Tunisians FGM was prohibited by a number of international conventions to which Tunisia was a signatory  (TunisiaLive, February 15, 2012; TunisiaLive, February 17, 2012).

Ghoneim and the Egyptian Revolution

The election of Muslim Brotherhood member Muhammad Mursi as the successor to deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in June 2012 was a high point for the movement, but Mursi’s rule soon brought protesters back into the streets.

Former Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi on Trial in Cairo

Even Ghoneim was critical of the Mursi regime; in September 2012, he condemned Mursi for meeting with Egyptian artists, whom the preacher claimed were “promoters of immorality and prostitution.” Ghoneim asked why Mursi did not also meet with “stoned people and homosexuals.” He then slammed Mursi for referring to Egypt as “a civil state” rather than an Islamic state (which it is not) (Ahram Online [Cairo], September 17, 2012).

Nonetheless, as protests mounted against Mursi’s government, Ghoneim took to YouTube in January 2013 to demand that Mursi kill the “criminals, thugs, thieves [and] those who are burning the country and are killing innocent people.” The preacher further warned that if the police were not willing to do it, “we [the MB] will restore justice… God willing” (al-Arabiya, January 30, 2013).

With the anti-Mursi Tamarod (“rebel”) movement gaining steam, Ghoneim continued to defend the Mursi regime energetically, declaring that rebellion against Mursi’s government was a “rebellion against Islam” (Al-Masry al-Youm [Cairo], June 16, 2013).

The Egyptian military moved to replace the Mursi governmet on July 3, 2013. The security services began a campaign of repression against the newly powerless Brotherhood that killed many, detained others, and drove its leaders abroad as fugitives. Ghoneim remained safely in Doha at the time of the coup. By December 2013, the Muslim Brotherhood had been declared a terrorist organization.

In September 2014, Ghoneim became one of seven MB leaders to be asked to leave Qatar in what appeared to be a conciliatory gesture to the anti-Brotherhood regimes in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (Observatoire-Qatar.com, September 13, 2014). Ghoneim then moved his base to Turkey.

Views on Coptic Christians

When Coptic Pope Shenouda III died in March, 2012, Ghoneim offered no words of condolence, insisting via a March 18 YouTube video that “God’s worshipers and the trees and the animals were all relieved by his death” (al-Arabiya, January 30, 2013). Ghoneim called the late Pope “the chief of the infidels,” and accused him of the clearly impossible intention of turning Egypt into a Coptic state: “We should be happy that he died. He should go to Hell.” [5]

The body of Pope Shenouda III was put on temporary display after his death in 2012. (ABC)

A year later, Ghoneim made the absurd claim that Copts were stockpiling weapons in their churches in preparation of a Coptic revolution and demanded an immediate search of these buildings (Al-Masry al-Youm [Cairo], June 16, 2013).

When Egyptians packed into Cairo’s Tahrir Square to protest the Muhammad Mursi Islamist government, Ghoneim used YouTube to assert that most of the protesters were actually Copts disguising their religious affiliation. The preacher’s anger spilled into warnings of imminent genocide:

The day Egyptians — and I don’t even mean the Muslim Brotherhood or Salafis, regular Egyptians — feel that you are against them, you will be wiped off the face of the earth. I’m warning you now: do not play with fire! … If you want to stay here in Egypt with us, know your place and be respectful…   What do you think — that America will protect you? Let’s be very clear, America will not protect you. If so, it would have protected the Christians of Iraq when they were being butchered! [6]

Ghoneim eventually received a five-year sentence in absentia from a Cairo court in March 2017 for incitement against Egypt’s Copts (Daily News Egypt, April 30, 2017).

Views on the Islamic State Organization

A September 20014 YouTube video provided Ghoneim’s views on the Islamic State (IS) organization and Western efforts to contain it:

No to the crusader war that America and the crusader West is recruiting for now against the Islamic State… The crusaders are malevolent towards Islam and Muslims… These are the words of Allah, not my words. [The crusaders] have a creed that is based on spilling blood… America is the terrorist state, by Allah the biggest terrorist state… Are we going to forget what America did to the Red Indians and what it took from them?

Demonstrating a cavalier attitude towards historical facts, Ghoneim went on to accuse Christopher Columbus of handing out smallpox-infected blankets to the “Red Indians” on his arrival in America in 1776 (a mere 224 years after his actual arrival in 1492; the “smallpox blankets” allegation dates from 1763 and involves Swiss mercenary officers in British service, not Columbus or his descendants).

Despite the Islamic State’s own pride in its sadistic execution videos, Ghoneim claimed that these videos were photo-shopped by the “crusaders.” In the video, Ghoneim says he differs with IS on some issues and asks them to review their policies. Yet Ghoneim “absolutely does not approve of the crusader coalition to strike them” and warned Muslims against taking crusaders as allies against IS or handing over IS militants “to the enemies.” [7]

Ghoneim on Punishments and Palestine

Speaking, as he claimed, from his extensive experience of prisons and their inmates, Ghoneim has insisted that many prisoners would have preferred Islamic hudud punishments such as hand amputation over incarceration (Al-Nas TV [Cairo], August 11, 2011). The preacher has railed constantly against “Egyptian infidels,” who include liberals, seculars and moderates. In his view, “One who does not want the application of God’s law [i.e. Shar’ia] should get out of his universe completely” (IPT News, November 9, 2012).

Ghoneim backs the Palestinian cause, but his support often takes the form of outlandish claims: “[Israelis] enter Egypt without a visa, bringing with them drugs. They bring heroin. Their girls who go to Sinai [resorts]… transmit AIDS to our youth. These girls wear shorts, and then they get naked and fornicate with an Egyptian boy, leaving him a message: “Welcome to the AIDS club.” [8]

Under Sentence of Death

Ghoneim received a death sentence in Egypt in April 2017 after being tried in absentia for terrorist activities. The sentence was ratified by Egypt’s Grand Mufti (a necessity for all capital sentences in Egypt, though the Mufti’s decision is non-binding) and upheld by the Cairo Criminal Court in April 2017 (Daily News Egypt, April 30, 2017; Al-Sharq al-Aswat, May 1, 2017).

Ghoneim was handed another in absentia death sentence in July 2018 at the trial of 75 MB defendants related to the clash of Egyptian security forces and MB supporters at the Raba’a al-Adawiya Square protest camp in 2013. The clash led to the death of at least 600 people, most of them MB supporters (Anadolu Agency, July 28). These sentences were again sent to the Grand Mufti for confirmation.

Conclusion

Ghoneim’s anti-Western YouTube channel has not only been enormously popular (270,000 subscribers and 31 million views by March 17, 2017), but may have provided an important line of revenue for the preacher, with marketing experts estimating an income of $78,000 from ads placed alongside his videos by Google algorithms. Google UK spokespeople questioned the figure, insisting it was “only in the tens of pounds” while defending the free speech of web extremistseven when that means we don’t agree with the views expressed” (The Guardian, March 17, 2017).

Ghoneim’s inability to secure a permanent residence has not tempered his appetite for controversy.  The preacher created a diplomatic incident from his base in Turkey in August 2017 when he issued a video condemning Tunisian president Beji Caid Essebsi’s remarks supporting full gender equality and inheritance rights for women. The Turkish ambassador was summoned and later announced that his government was “disturbed” by Ghoneim’s video and denounced any attempt made to harm Tunisia from Turkish soil (Middle East Eye, August 26, 2017).

Last December, Ghoneim issued a sarcastic letter “of thanks” to Saudi crown prince Muhammad bin Salman, the effective leader of the kingdom and the instigator of a series of controversial reforms. Addressing the prince as a “traitor and Zionist” and describing him as “dirty” and “disgusting,” Ghoneim thanked Bin Salman for “reinforcing our conviction that the majority of the al-Sa’ud family and their princes are thieves and robbers.” The preacher also thanked Bin Salman for making clear his “alignment with the Hebrew Zionists” and for “daring to be selfless in offering Ivanka and her father Trump the wealth of a whole nation [i.e. Saudi Arabia]” (Le Libre Penseur, December 14, 2017).

At the moment, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is at historic lows of power and popularity. Ghoneim’s relentless calls for jihad in Egypt have met with little response, though he has been cited as a potential successor to fellow Egyptian and Doha resident Yusuf al-Qaradawi as spiritual leader of the Brotherhood.

Notes

  1. Jocelyne Cesari: The Awakening of Muslim Democracy: Religion, Modernity, and the State, Cambridge University Press, 2014, p.239, fn. 42.
  2. Abdulrahim Ali, Iba Cer Thiam and Yusof A. Talib: The Different aspects of Islamic culture: Islam in the World today, UNESCO Publishing, 2016, p.327.
  3. An audio recording can be found here: https://www.investigativeproject.org/567/ghoneim-no-to-the-jews.
  4. Ghoneim can be viewed discussing his academic work here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GUmUZ2Ybzpw (September 17, 2013).
  5. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9d1vk8OgTo March 21, 2012.
  6. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XBVukGwjkEs&feature=player_embedded (December 6, 2012).
  7. “Sheikh Wagdi Ghoneim on Fighting IS,” September 23, 2014 (recorded September 16, 2014), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzktBtWZ8-M
  8. Al-Aqsa TV [Gaza], March 11, 2012. Video is available at: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x2qr6p0

This article first appeared in the August 30, 2018 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Militant Leadership Monitor.

The Brotherhood Fox: A Profile of Fugitive Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood Leader Mahmud Ezzat

Andrew McGregor

January 12, 2018

Dr. Mahmud Ezzat (al-Jazeera)

How does a leader of an outlawed religious-political movement apply pressure on an inflexible regime at a moment of organizational weakness and internal division? This is the dilemma facing Dr. Mahmud Ezzat, the deputy supreme guide of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (MB).  The Brothers (Ikhwan) are struggling to maintain a foothold in Egypt’s political process four years after its members were slaughtered in the streets of Cairo by security forces following the 2013 overthrow of democratically elected president and Brotherhood member Muhammad Mursi by General Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi and the Egyptian military. With much of the movement’s leadership now serving long prison sentences or awaiting execution, the work of keeping the Brotherhood alive has fallen into the hands of fugitive leaders such as Mahmud Ezzat.

Ezzat is wanted by Egyptian authorities in connection with the death of anti-MB protesters outside the movement’s headquarters in the Muquttam district of Cairo on June 30, 2013 (Al-Monitor, August 21, 2013). His current location is unknown, though speculation has placed him in Gaza, Turkey or even inside Egypt.

Ezzat was among five Egyptians added last November to the terrorist list of the Arab Quartet (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates) (Egypt Today, November 26, 2017). Known as a “hardliner,” Ezzat’s long membership at senior levels of the MB has given him an insider’s knowledge of the movement’s organization and finances, much of which is directed by him. Narrow, sharp features and a reputation for organizational skills have led Ezzat to be known as “the Brotherhood Fox” (Al-Monitor, August 21, 2013).

Early Career

Ezzat was born August 13, 1944 in the eastern Nile Delta city of Zaqaziq. He joined the Brotherhood in 1962 as an 18-year-old medical student. [1]

Formed in in Isma’iliya by Hassan al-Banna in 1928, the MB is a religious organization intended to advance political Islamism through social work and political agitation. Much disrupted by events since the 2013 coup, the MB’s leadership structure includes a majlis al-shura (consultative council) below a powerful 15-member Guidance Bureau (maktab al-irshad) with a Supreme Guide (murshid al-‘amm) and his deputies at its head.

The movement has had a difficult relationship with the state since a young MB member tried to assassinate the Egyptian prime minister in 1948. Thousands were jailed and al-Banna himself assassinated by unknown assailants shortly afterward. The movement was banned by President Gamal Abd al-Nasser in 1954. When another Brother tried to kill Nasser in October 1954, a massive crackdown followed that put thousands of Ikhwan behind bars, including revolutionary ideologue Sayyid Qutb, whose works deeply influenced the young Ezzat.

Imprisonment

Ezzzat was arrested in 1965 and imprisoned alongside Sayyid Qutb and Dr. Muhammed Badi’e, who later became the movement’s Supreme Guide (2010 to present). Qutb had already endured torture during nine years in prison; his re-arrest would lead to his execution the next year on charges of conspiring to assassinate the president and overthrow the government. Qutb believed that an Islamic administration could only be imposed by a vanguard of believers (tali’a mu’mina) who would lead the masses to Islam through revolutionary activity.

Dr. Muhammad Badi’e (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters)

Ezzat became a pupil of fellow prisoner Shukri Mustafa, who took Qutbism to extremes after his release in 1971 with the formation of Jama’at al-Muslimin, better known as Takfir wa’l-Hijra (Excommunication and Flight) (Al-Monitor, August 21, 2013). Mustafa was also an adherent of the works of extremist icon Shaykh ibn Taymiya (1263-1328), but rejected most other Islamic scholarship, pulling his followers out of Egyptian society to live in caves (after the Prophet’s model, the concept of withdrawal from non-Islamic communities is known as hijra).  Mustafa’s jihad ended with his capture and execution in 1978.

Qutbist ideology was influential among the movement’s leaders serving long prison terms, a group that included Ezzat and Badi’e. Nonetheless, the efficiency of Mubarak’s security machine forced Ezzat and other Qutbists to acknowledge the temporary futility of a direct challenge to the state, and the movement shifted back to emphasizing religious education and social assistance as the means of expanding the MB’s influence. Ezzat explained the movement’s outreach efforts by saying Islam provided “a religion for Muslims and a civilization for non-Muslims.” [2]

After nine years in notorious prisons like Liman al-Turra and Abu Za’bal, Ezzat was released in 1974. Ezzat has noted that the cycle of arrests, torture and imprisonment of MB leaders in pre-revolution Egypt always increased membership and public support: “Regime repression is the glue that binds us together and reflects that we are on the right path.” [3]

After his return, Ezzat became a member of the all-important MB Guidance Bureau in 1981 before fleeing President Anwar Sadat’s crackdown on the MB in 1981. Ezzat traveled to Yemen, where he taught at the University of Sana’a, before moving on to England for several years of post-graduate studies (Egypt Today, November 26, 2017; al-Arabiya, November 23, 2017). [4]

By the mid-1980s, a conservative trend within the movement led by Ezzat and other figures who had emerged from prison or returned from exile drove many leading reformers from roles of influence. The ascendancy of the conservatives continued until the early 2000s, by which time Ezzat and conservative businessman Khayrat al-Shater dominated the ideological direction of the movement. [5] Ezzat was responsible for student recruitment and organizing movement cells across Egypt while working as a professor at the University of Zaqaziq’s faculty of medicine.

In 1992 Ezzat was arrested in connection with the “Salsabil Case,” in which security services claimed to have discovered documents detailing plans to overthrow the Mubarak regime in the offices of the Salsabil software company established by Khayrat al-Shater with Ezzat’s assistance. Two years later Ezzat was detained again alongside 153 other Ikhwan charged with plotting to depose the regime.

The Revolution

Ezzat served as MB secretary general from 2001 to 2010. During that time he became a prominent supporter of Khayrat al-Shater. Ezzat and other conservatives skilfully squeezed out or tamed the movement’s leading reformers in 2009-2010 and elected Muhammad Badi’e as the new supreme guide, replacing Mahdi ‘Akif, who was persuaded to step down. [6] Also forced out was ‘Akif’s first deputy, Muhammad Habib, who accused Ezzat of mounting a coup against him. [7]

By the time of the 2011 revolution, the movement was firmly in the hands of a conservative trend embodied by Ezzzat, al-Shater and MB spokesman Mahmud Ghuzlan.  Reformers began to flow out of the movement, a process accelerated by the events of the revolution and the uncertain response of the Brotherhood’s leadership.

Khayrat al-Shater (al-Arabiya)

Mubarak’s overthrow allowed the MB to form a political party for the first time in June 2011, the Ḥizb al-Ḥurriya wa’l-’Adala (Freedom and Justice Party – FJP). Ezzat’s ally Khayrat al-Shater became the FJP’s post-revolution candidate for president until his disqualification and replacement by Muhammad al-Mursi, who won the presidential election.

As al-Mursi was not the head of the Brotherhood, it remained unclear whether the Egyptian president was still answerable to the movement’s supreme guide. Despite efforts to portray the FJP as an autonomous political party, the Guidance Bureau’s importance became clear when Mursi and two other FJP leaders began to meet weekly with MB deputy supreme guides Ezzat, al-Shater, Ghuzlan and secretary general Mahmud al-Hussein to “coordinate” political activities. [8]

One consequence of the 2011 revolution was that the MB’s shura council was able to meet for the first time since 1995 without fear of arrest. During that time the Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau (including Ezzat) made all the movement’s major decisions without input from the broader leadership. Yet even as the Brotherhood’s new political wing tried to convince Egyptians of their commitment to democracy and tolerance of different perspectives, Ezzat shocked many Egkyptians by making remarks endorsing the implementation of hudud punishments such as stoning, amputation and crucifixion for certain offenses under Shari’a. [9]

The Military Targets the Brotherhood

Following days of public protest, the July 3, 2013 military coup d’état brought an end to Mursi’s administration and yet another wave of anti-Ikhwan repression.  The Brothers’ insistence that the FJP was the legitimate and democratically elected government of Egypt was largely ignored by the international community.

Attempts by the Brotherhood to apply pressure on the military through public protests and sit-ins were met with a savage response by government security forces who killed hundreds and arrested thousands to make it clear to the movement and its supporters that it was no longer part of Egypt’s political process.

With supreme guide Muhammad Badi’e and deputy guides al-Shater and Rashad al-Bayumi in prison, Ezzat became the movement’s acting supreme guide in August 2013 (al-Arabiya, August 20, 2013). Kamal Helbawy, a former MB guidance bureau member who resigned in 2012 over the movement’s decision to run a presidential candidate, noted Ezzat’s affinity for “radical Qutbism” and questioned Ezzat’s appointment as the movement’s supreme guide: “Ezzat is a well-mannered, decent man; he is not a great public speaker and prefers to work in secret more than in public. … Given these characteristics, I don’t think that he is a suitable leader for the Muslim Brotherhood at this stage” (Al-Monitor, August 21, 2013).

Leadership in Exile

Ezzat evaded arrest unlike his comrades Badi’e, Mursi and al-Shater, all of whom are serving a variety of life sentences bestowed in trials on an assortment of charges, mostly involving terrorism, armed opposition to the state and espionage on behalf of foreign countries (Arab News, November 15, 2017; Daily News Egypt, September 16, 2017; Ahram Online, December 30, 2017).

Egyptian media reports in August 2015 maintained that Ezzat had been replaced as the MB’s acting supreme guide by his UK-based 80-year-old Guidance Bureau colleague, Ibrahim Munir Mustafa. Munir denied the report and insisted “Dr. Mahmud Ezzat is still the deputy supreme guide and acting supreme guide” (Middle East Monitor, August 10, 2015). Citing Ezzat’s alleged ill health, the claim resurfaced a year later (Youm7 [Cairo], September 22, 2016). However, there was no formal announcement, and Ezzat appears to remain the temporary supreme guide. [10]

A new generation of MB leaders suggest the conservative old-guard bears responsibility for the movement’s loss of power and post-coup persecution. Those conservatives still operating freely, such as Ezzat and secretary general Mahmud Hussein, maintain their influence with difficulty as new leaders seek methods of furthering MB aims in al-Sisi’s Egypt. [11]

Still insisting on the legitimacy of Mursi’s FJP government, Ezzat released a public letter from his place of concealment in August 2017 urging an escalation of violence against the al-Sisi regime. Admitting that the organization was “in pain,” Ezzat called for “victory and sovereignty or death and joy” (Egypt Today, August 14, 2017). The letter may have been designed to undercut the appeal to Ikhwan youth of the more militant Kamal faction of the Brotherhood that emerged after the military coup.

Muhammad Kamal (Middle East Monitor)

Muhammad Kamal, a member of the Guidance Bureau, led “special operations committees” engaged in violence intended to force out the new Egyptian regime. Kamal and another MB leader were both killed by shots to the head during a police raid in northern Cairo in October 2016 (Reuters, October 3, 2016). Nonetheless, Kamal’s followers (sometimes termed “the new guard”) attempted to take over the movement in December 2016 when they “dismissed” the existing guidance bureau and established their own “revolutionary” version, creating competing administrations within the movement (Mada Masr, March 22, 2017).

In early 2017 the Kamal faction announced that it would begin publishing internal assessments of the mistakes made by the movement’s leadership. Though this initiative of the MB’s youth wing was supported by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the movement’s Qatari-based spiritual leader, the Brotherhood’s “old guard” was alarmed by the announcement.  Ibrahim Munir reminded members that documents lacking the approval of Mahmud Ezzat did not represent the movement’s opinion (al-Masry al-Youm [Cairo], March 27, 2017).

The Kamal faction followed up with a report in March 2017 that was highly critical of the reaction of Ezzat and the movement’s “old guard” to the 2011 revolution, accusing the Brotherhood’s senior leaders of adopting a cautious and conservative stance rather than adhering to the revolutionary principles of MB founder Hassan al-Banna (Mada Masr, March 22, 2017).

In May 2017, the Kamal faction published a document they claim revealed that the Munir/Ezzat faction of the Brotherhood was recommending a pragmatic and conciliatory approach to the movement’s political isolation, both in Egypt and internationally. It was an apparent recognition that continued insistence on the legitimacy of the FJP government and the return of Mursi as president was preventing political re-integration. The Munir/Ezzat faction was urging ideological flexibility at a time of weakness in order to allow the movement to survive and avoid international condemnation as a terrorist organization (al-Arabiya, May 8, 2017).

The Egyptian government has rejected all Ikhwan attempts to restore the group, even in a diminished fashion. In August 2017, a Cairo court placed 296 Ikhwan on the national terrorist list and claimed Ezzat was forming a military wing for the movement that would focus on toppling the state and working alongside other extremists to target Coptic Christians (al-Arabiya, November 23, 2017). The charges are at odds with Ezzat’s protestations of MB peacefulness, in which Ezzat has quoted Dr. Badi’e: “Our motto remains ‘Our non-violence is more powerful than bullets’” (Ikhwanweb.com, September 13, 2016).

Conclusion

Ezzat insists that there is still a future for the MB, which has survived 90 years of confrontation with Egypt’s governments. The MB’s temporary leader declared last year that the movement is still working to “break the coup and restore legitimacy [i.e. the Mursi/FJP government]” (al-Jazeera, February 24, 2017).

The disaster ushered in by the Brotherhood’s full-scale entry into national politics was met with confusion and dissension within the movement. The detention or dispersal of many Ikhwan prevents the movement from gathering to develop strategies to move forward. In the meantime Ezzat and an aging and fugitive leadership spend much of their time fending off internal challenges from younger members urging defiance rather than the gradualism of the old guard leadership, which still cherishes values like discipline and obedience.

Notes

  1. Hesham al-Adawi, “Islamists in Power: The Case of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt,” in Khair El-Din Haseeb (ed.): State and Religion in the Arab World, Routledge, 2017, pp. 193-94.
  2. Eric Trager, Arab Fall: How the Muslim Brotherhood Won and Lost Egypt in 891 Days, Georgetown University Press, 2016, p. 94.
  3. Khalil al-Anani, Inside the Muslim Brotherhood: Religion, Identity, and Politics, Oxford University Press, 2016, pp. 142-43.
  4. Ibid, p. 151.
  5. Ezzat knew al-Shater from his days in al-Sana’a and London. For al-Shater, see: Andrew McGregor, “The Entrepreneur at the Heart of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood: A Profile of Muhammad Khayrat al-Shater,” Jamestown Foundation Militant Leadership Monitor, July 31, 2013.
  6. Hazem Kandil: Inside the Brotherhood, Cambridge, 2015, pp. 136-37; Carrie Rosefsky Wickham, The Muslim Brotherhood: Evolution of an Islamist Movement, Princeton University Press, 2013, pp. 139-40.
  7. Khalil al-Anani, op cit, pp. 153-54.
  8. Eric Trager, op cit, p. 111.
  9. Carrie Rosefsky Wickham, The Muslim Brotherhood: Evolution of an Islamist Movement, Princeton University Press, 2013, p.186.
  10. Nearly a year after this last alleged transfer of authority, Munir signed a statement regarding the Manchester terrorist attack as “Deputy Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood” (Middle East Monitor, May 23, 2017).
  11. 11. Khalil al-Anani, Inside the Muslim Brotherhood: Religion, Identity, and Politics, Oxford University Press, 2016, p. 158.

This article first appeared in the December 2017 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Militant Leadership Monitor.

Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood and the Struggle for Post-Revolutionary Libya: A Profile of Shaykh Ali Muhammad al-Salabi

Andrew McGregor

March 2016

The rise to power of Mu’ammar Qaddafi (1969-2011) in Libya led to major changes in the observation of Islam in a deeply conservative Sunni Muslim North African nation. While establishing Shari’a as the basis of Libyan legislation, Qaddafi sought to disrupt the dominant Sanusiya and other Sufi orders that dominated traditional Islamic worship in Libya. As the Sufi orders were weakened, Qaddafi adopted an unorthodox approach to Islam in which he was uniquely gifted with the ability to interpret the Quran while diminishing the importance of the hadith-s and Sunna. The result was state-imposed “Islamic socialism,” tightly tied to Qaddafi’s poorly received implementation of the Libyan jamhariya (“state of the masses”) as the national political structure. Unwilling to enter into debate over his controversial interpretations of Islam (likely due to his lack of scholarship in this area as well as his personal arrogance), Qaddafi took harsh measures against Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood in the 1980s, plunging many Brothers into grim prisons while driving others into self-exile in Europe and America. Ironically, it was Qaddafi’s repression of Sufist worship that allowed the Muslim Brothers to fill a void in the spiritual and political opposition to Qaddafi during the 2011 revolution. At the forefront of these efforts was a second-generation Muslim Brother, Shaykh Ali Muhammad al-Salabi.

SalabiShaykh Ali Muhammad al-Salabi (Moises Saman, NYT)

The Libyan Ikhwan

The Libyan Muslim Brotherhood was formed in 1949. Prior to the 2011 revolution, membership was traditionally small and heavily focused on professionals, many of whom were based in the West, with Geneva serving as a type of headquarters for the exiled Brothers. Their first post-revolutionary conference on Libyan soil was held in November 2011.

The development of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood was strongly influenced by the arrival of numerous Ikhwan [“Brothers”] from Egypt following Nasser’s decision to repress the movement after initially cooperating with it. Many of the exiles were academics and access to educational institutions under King Idris exposed many Libyan youth to the Brotherhood’s ideology. Qaddafi’s 1969 coup brought this period to an end, and the movement henceforth developed largely in exile in Europe and the United States. [1]

Officially, the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood is led by Ahmad Abdullah al-Suqi of Misrata, though al-Salabi is a prominent, if unofficial, intellectual and spiritual leader, largely through his international connections, including a close relationship to Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Brotherhood’s Qatar-based over-all spiritual leader (Libya Herald, October 5, 2015). Hizb al-Adala wa’l-Tamiyya (the Justice and Development Party) is widely considered to be the movement’s political arm in Libya, though party leader Muhammad Sawan (a former political prisoner) insists that the party is “administratively and financially independent of the Muslim Brotherhood” (al-Jazeera, July 3, 2012).

Early Life in the Qaddafi Era

Born in 1963, al-Salabi is the son of a Benghazi banker and Muslim Brotherhood member who was imprisoned for opposing the Qaddafi regime. Under his influence, al-Salabi joined the movement himself while still a youth. At 18-years of age, al-Salabi was sentenced to eight years in Tripoli’s Abu Salim prison in connection to an alleged role in a plot to kill Mu’ammar Qaddafi, though al-Salabi maintains his only crime was praying at the mosque daily and encouraging others to do so (Washington Post, December 9, 2011). [2]

Over 1200 prisoners (mostly but not exclusively Islamists) were massacred in a single day at Abu Salim prison in 1996 (prior to al-Salabi’s incarceration). Mu’ammar’s son, Sa’if al-Islam al-Qaddafi, made efforts to address the still-simmering anger over the Abu Salim massacre by promising an investigation into the still-taboo subject in 2008. With Qaddafi still in power, the resulting probe found few witnesses or participants willing to discuss what orders were given and by whom. Ultimately, it was small-scale protests over the Abu Salim massacre in Benghazi that sparked the Libyan uprising in 2011.

His sentence done, al-Salabi lost little time in leaving Libya in 1998 to take a bachelor’s degree at the Islamic University of Madinah, followed by a master’s degree and a doctorate from Omdurman Islamic University in Sudan.  Ultimately, al-Salabi settled in Qatar, where the regime was supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood so long as it remained uninvolved in domestic politics. Qatar is host to a significant international Muslim Brotherhood community, though the movement does not operate in Qatar itself, the local chapter of the Brotherhood having shut itself down as redundant in 1999 after first expressing its approval of the state’s religious direction and administration (The National [Abu Dhabi], May 18, 2012).

In 2009, al-Salabi served as a mediator between the regime, as represented by Sa’if al-Islam Qaddafi, and still-imprisoned members of the Jama’a al-Islamiya al-Muqatila bi-Libya (Libyan Islamic Fighting Group – LIFG), most of whom were kept under often brutal conditions in Abu Salim prison.

Headed by al-Salabi, funded by Qatar and drawing inspiration from a similar Egyptian effort (Dr. Fadl’s “Revisions”), the initiative used arguments based on Islamic theology to de-radicalize imprisoned militants and resulted in the production of a book written by Abd al-Hakim Belhaj and five other leading Islamist prisoners, Corrective Studies in Understanding Jihad, Enforcement of Morality and Judgement of People. [3]

It was during this time that al-Salabi began to forge a relationship with Belhaj, a still incarcerated LIFG commander. As a result of the initiative, hundreds of Islamists were released from Libyan prisons after swearing not to take up arms against the regime. Belhaj and several other former LIFG commanders became closely associated with al-Salabi after their release, though their oath meant little in the end.

Scholarship

Salabi’s Master’s thesis, Al-Wasatiyah fi al-Qur’an al-Karim (Moderation in the Noble Quran), was published in Arabic in 2001. The work examines the concept of wasatiyah in Islamic epistemology, a concept that calls on Muslims to adopt a balanced approach to Islam that emphasizes fairness and best practices. [4] After completing a doctorate in Islamic studies at Omdurman Islamic University in the Sudan in 1999, al-Salabi produced a series of biographies (often in multiple volumes) of the Prophet Muhammad, the early Caliphs, crusader adversary Salah al-Din al-Ayubi and others.

All these works (save his master’s thesis) have been translated into English by Saudi publishing houses and garnered general scholarly approval in the Islamic community and wide sales internationally, though the Russian seizure of a single copy of al-Salabi’s biography of the first Caliph, Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, led to a 2014 ban on the unexplained claim the work contained “information aimed at justifying suicidal terrorism and armed struggle (jihad) in the path of Allah under the guise of religious ideology”(Forum 18, March 20, 2015).   Al-Salabi also specializes in the study of hadith-s, accounts of the words or actions of the Prophet Muhammad. Prior to his return to Libya in 2011, al-Salabi was best known to other Libyans by his frequent appearances on Qatar-based al-Jazeera TV.

Revolution

Shortly after the anti-Qaddafi revolution began in February 2011, Qatar decided there was an opportunity to increase its influence in Libya, which is similarly blessed with massive reserves of gas, possibly with a mind to expanding the operations of Qatar’s highly successful natural gas firms (Reuters, June 9, 2011). Al-Salabi returned to Libya to act as the point man for shipments of arms from Qatar and the provision of Qatari intelligence and training from Qatari Special Forces operatives. Qatar’s support for the Salabis and the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood appears to have been more practical than ideological in that the chaotic early days of the revolution offered few (if any) other Islamist groups that could claim to be fully organized with an established hierarchy. Nonetheless, Doha’s preference for Islamist revolutionary groups and al-Salabi’s pre-existing relationship with the Qatari regime sealed the deal, and soon both parties began to build a network of influence funded and controlled from Doha.

Saif al-Islam QaddafiSa’if al-Islam Qaddafi (Guardian)

Contacts between al-Salabi and Sa’if al-Islam Qaddafi appear to have continued well into the revolution; in July 2011, Sa’if al-Islam announced the formation of an alliance with al-Salabi against the rebels. Al-Salabi denied the creation of an alliance, but did acknowledge that he had been in continuing talks with regime representatives (AFP, August 4, 2011). In the course of an interview with the New York Times, Sa’if al-Islam Qaddafi described al-Salabi as “the real leader” of the revolution. (NYT, August 3, 2011).

Post-Revolution Politics

Al-Salabi loudly opposed the appointment of Mahmoud Jibril (a close friend of Sa’if al-Islam al-Qaddafi) to head the Transitional National Council (TNC) during the revolution. Though Jibril had proclaimed Shari’a would be the basis of all Libyan legislation, he remained tainted in the Islamists’ eyes by his former role as a major player in the Qaddafi administration. The pressure from al-Salabi, Belhaj and others eventually compelled Jibril to resign on October 23, 2011.  Ironically, one of al-Salabi’s criticisms was that Jibril was going too far by announcing he would ban all non-Islamic finance, with al-Salabi stating simply that “We are part of international banking systems” (Telegraph, November 10, 2011).

Al-Salabi’s vitriolic personal attacks on Jibril quickly backfired, with some of his own supporters melting away as protests against his remarks broke out in Benghazi and Tripoli. Even Abd al-Hakim Belhaj failed to rally behind the Ikhwan leader. Forced to step back until the controversy subsided, earlier predictions that al-Salabi would emerge as Libya’s first post-revolution leader were proved false. [5]

The Islamist Hizb al-Watan (Homeland Party) was founded by al-Salabi and Belhaj in November 2011 (initially under the short-live name National Gathering for Freedom, Justice and Development. According to al-Salabi, the movement was “not an Islamist party, but a nationalist party… but its political agenda respects the general principles of Islam and Libyan culture” (Telegraph, November 10, 2011). Al-Salabi has been publicly consistent on two principles; first, that the movement is democratic and second, that the movement is focused on the implementation of moderate Islamic politics along the lines of the “moderate” Islamist governments of Turkey and Malaysia. He was supported in this by Belhaj, the allegedly reformed militant, when he stated: “Libyans are Muslims and they call for moderate Islam, so none of us poses a threat to anyone inside or outside Libya” (al-Jazeera, July 3, 2012).

Salabi told a post-revolution gathering that included Islamic scholars critical of his decision to enter politics: “We call for a moderate Islam. But you all have to understand that Islam is not just about punishment, cutting hands and beheading with swords” (Reuters, October 10, 2011).

Contrary to expectations, Hizb al-Watan failed to take a single seat in the Libyan National Assembly election of 2012, which was easily won by Mahmoud Jibril’s National Forces Alliance (39 seats, 48% of the vote). [6] The Muslim Brother’s Justice and Development Party took 10% of the vote, but benefitted from the election of a large number of independent candidates sympathetic to the Brotherhood.

Situating himself as a proponent of democracy, al-Salabi called for general elections in May 2015 “to put an end to the bloodshed and protect Libya,” urging the UN envoy to Libya and Libyan politicians to stop “wasting time and effort and manipulating Libyans’ feelings in preparation to invade their country under the pretext of combating terrorism” (Middle East Monitor, May 5, 2015).

In interviews with Western journalists, al-Salabi inevitably professes an admiration for American-style democracy that he claims began when he read Jefferson in prison (Washington Post, December 9, 2011). Responding to a leaked video showing the beating of Sa’adi Qaddafi in a GNC prison in Tripoli and reports that former regime members were being tortured in revolutionary prisons, al-Salabi denounced the treatment, insisting it repeated the “authoritarian behavior that was ousted in the 17 February revolution” (Middle East Memo, August 6, 2015).

Isma’il al-Salabi

Al-Salabi works closely with his brother Isma’il, who was also imprisoned by Qaddafi in 1997 until his release in 2004. During the revolution, Isma’il took command of the Raffalah Sahati militia, a main recipient of Qatari arms and a part of the February 17 Brigade, a coalition of Islamist militias. The May 2014 launch of Operation Dignity by General Khalifa Haftar quickly led to clashes in Benghazi between Isma’il’s Raffalah Sahati Brigade and Haftar’s Libyan National Army, with tensions between the two groups continuing to this day (al-Hayat, May 19, 2014).

Ali and Isma’il al-Salabi work closely with Jalal al-Dugheily, a politician and former soldier who served as Defense Minister in the post-revolutionary TNC, a position that allowed him to help with the mass transfer of Qatari arms to Islamist revolutionaries.

A third brother, Khalid al-Salabi, left Libya in 1996 and is an imam at a Galway mosque in Ireland and head of the Galway Islamic Society (Irish Times, September 10, 2011).

Conclusion

The influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Libya is now being challenged by the upstart Islamic State organization. The extremism of the Islamic State is obviously distant from al-Salabi’s emphasis on moderation; to counter the movement, the cleric has called for a national unity government that possesses a clear mandate to combat terrorism and “is also prepared to cooperate with the international war on terrorism” (Libya Herald, March 1, 2016).

Al-Salabi appears to have pulled back from the political scene to some degree today, but continues to be active in promoting and organizing Islamist forums. The Shaykh may still play a role in restoring Libyan stability, but it has become clear al-Salabi speaks for only a small percentage of Libyans. His professions of moderation in both Islam and Islamist politics brings back unfortunate memories of Egypt’s Muhammad al-Mursi’s embracement of moderation and inclusion in Egypt’s post-revolutionary period before the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood sought to control most elements of Egyptian society and governance, bringing themselves down in the process. Unlike al-Mursi, al-Salabi’s interest in moderation appears sincere and long-held; on the other hand, his close association with Belhaj, a former militant whose disavowal of extremism appears somewhat less certain, and Islamist militias including the one controlled by his brother, lead to inevitable questions about his commitment to democratic ideals. Libyan gratitude for Qatar’s assistance during the revolution has withered into a growing resentment of what is now widely viewed as a prolonged interference in Libya’s domestic politics. Once an asset, al-Salabi’s close relations with the Qataris has begun to work against him in the Libyan political arena.

Al-Salabi recently insisted that both the General National Congress (GNC) government in Tripoli and the rival House of Representatives (HoR) government in Tobruq must resign, as neither institution is legitimate. Only in this way can a real and inclusive national dialogue be initiated to restore Libyan unity (Middle East Monitor, November 23, 2015). With both governments doggedly hanging on to belief in their own legitimacy a month later, al-Salabi issued a call for the leaders of both institutions to meet with Fayez al-Sarraj, head of the new UN-sponsored Government of National Accord (GNA), the latest effort to unite Libya’s political structure (Libya Prospect, December 21, 2015).

For now, al-Salabi’s campaign to promote modernity and moderation in Islamist politics is treated with some suspicion by many Libyans following the Egyptian Brotherhood’s disastrous term as the government of Egypt. However, as Libyans continue to struggle to establish a unity government and bring an end cycles of ethnic and political violence, new opportunities will undoubtedly emerge for al-Salabi and his colleagues to ensure Islamists are well represented in any future government.

Notes

  1. Libya Electoral, Political Parties Laws and Regulations Handbook – Strategic Information, Regulations, Procedures, International Business Publications, Washington D.C., 2015, p.53.
  2. M. Cherif Bassiouni (ed.): Libya: From Repression to Revolution: A Record of Armed Conflict and International Law Violations, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2013, p.444.
  3. An English summary of the 420 page work can be found here: http://www.quilliamfoundation.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/publications/free/a-selected-translation-of-the-lifg.pdf
  4. Mohamed Shukri Hanapi: “The Wasatiyyah (Moderation) Concept in Islamic Epistemology::A Case Study of its Implementation in Malaysia,” International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, Vol. 4, No. 9(1); July 2014, pp. 51-62, http://www.ijhssnet.com/journals/Vol_4_No_9_1_July_2014/7.pdf
  5. Fitzgerald, Mary: “Finding Their Place: Libya’s Islamists During and After the Revolution,” in Peter Cole and Brian McQuinn (eds.): The Libyan Revolution and its Aftermath, Oxford University Press, 2015, pp. 194-95.
  6. Richard A. Lobban Jr. and Christopher H. Dalton: Libya: History and Revolution, Praeger Security International, Santa Barbara, 2014, p.153, fig. 7.1.

This article first appeared in the March 2016 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Militant Leadership Monitor.

Beyond the Brotherhood: Egypt’s Yasir Hussein Borhami and the Salafist Revolution

Andrew McGregor

Militant Leadership Monitor, January 2016

With a growing debate over the role of Saudi-inspired Salafism in the development of Islamist extremism, it is worth examining the career and continuing influence of Yasir Hussein al-Borhami, one of Egypt’s most prominent Salafists. Despite the rigid ideology associated with Salafism, Borhami has proved flexible and pragmatic in ensuring a continued political presence for Egypt’s Salafists in a politically volatile atmosphere. Nonetheless, opposition to his approach has led to threats of violence from both Brotherhood supporters and fellow Salafists. Copts and more secular Egyptians also oppose Borhami’s intention to apply Shari’a across Egypt.

BorhamiYasir Hussin Borhami. The bump on his forehead is known as a zabiba (“raisan”), caused by repeated contact of the forehead with the ground during prayer and is regarded as a sign of piety by some Egyptian Muslims.

Early Years

Borhami was born in the Beheira region of the Nile Delta in 1958, the son of a member of the Muslim Brotherhood who imprisoned by President Gamal Abd al-Nasser. The young Borhami pursued degrees in medicine (pediatrics) at Alexandria University and aqida (“creed”) studies (which focus on the essential beliefs of Islam) at Cairo’s al-Azhar University. While still in college, Borhami performed the pilgrimage to Mecca, where he encountered a Salafist scholar who would be a great ideological influence, Abd al-‘Aziz bin Baz (Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia – 1993-1999) (Ahram Online, December 19, 2011). Borhami opened a clinic in Alexandria and preaches at Alexandria’s al-Khulafa al-Rashidun mosque. [1]

The Salafist Call

In 1984, Borhami became one of the six founders of Alexandria’s Da’wa al-Salafiya (Salafist Call), a movement that would borrow aspects of the Muslim Brotherhood’s preference for social organization and action, but not its structure or political aims.

Though there are many schools of Salafism even within Egypt, there is a shared trend towards a literal interpretation of core Islamic texts (the Qu’ran, Sunna, hadith-s, etc.) supplemented by the work of a few later scholars who sought to eliminate religious innovations (bidah) from Islamic practice. In this sense, Salafists view themselves as rational modernists rather than the popular Western perception that they are arch-conservatives seeking to live in the past. This approach to Islam, which habitually puts the movement at odds with many other Islamic trends, began to gain currency in Egypt in the 1970s, particularly in Alexandria. Traditionally, the Salafists have been apolitical based on a tradition of obedience to rulers, giving them a certain room in Egyptian society unavailable to other religious trends viewed as a challenge to the state (such as the Muslim Brotherhood). The movement has proved attractive to professionals and uses modern technology (such as its Ana Salafi website) to disseminate its message.

During the Mubarak era, the Alexandria Salafists were watched carefully but tolerated so long as they steered clear of violence and politics. Travel restrictions and occasional arrests served as reminders of the regime’s watchful eye. In 1987, Borhami was arrested in connection with the attempted assassination of former Interior Minister Hassan Abu Basha, though he was only held a month (Ahram Online, November 19, 2011). In 1994, the government decided the Salafist Call was posing a threat to the existing order and cracked down, imprisoning hundreds and banning the group’s activities. Borhami responded by lowering the group’s profile until restrictions eased in 2004. With the movement reinforced by newly-freed preachers and activists, Borhami now began an intensive period of organizing, leading to the Salafist Call finally obtaining state recognition as a legitimate social organization in April 2011. [2]

The Formation of al-Nur

Borhami is closely associated with Egypt’s leading Salafist political party, al-Nur (“the Light”), formed in June 2011 by Imad Abd al-Ghaffour. By December 2012, leadership had passed under pressure into the hands of Yunis Abd al-Halim Makhyoun, a Borhami loyalist, with al-Ghaffour and 150 members resigning to form the Watan Party. With loyalists in place in top party positions, the move gave Borhami effective control of the Party without being part of its official leadership. In theory, the Salafist Call pursues a more cooperative and collective method than the more hierarchal Muslim Brotherhood; in practise, personal loyalty to Borhami is almost essential to penetrate the leadership of both the movement and its political expression, the Nur Party.

By leading his movement into politics, Borhami intended to press for a Shari’a state without reliance on the Muslim Brotherhood while attempting to diminish the appeal of radicalism in the movement’s younger members.

Salafism and the Egyptian Revolution

The Salafists played only a minor role in the 2011 Revolution, most preferring to maintain a traditional apolitical stance, though individual members joined the protests in Tahrir Square that ultimately compelled the overthrow of President Mubarak by the Egyptian military.

In the parliamentary elections that followed the Revolution, al-Nur shocked the nation by forming a coalition with three smaller Salafist parties to take 24% of the vote, making the party the second-largest block in parliament after the Muslim Brothers’ Freedom and Justice Party. Though Borhami opposed the participation of women and Christians in politics, he opened up the doors of the Nur Party to both as candidates in the election after their inclusion became legally required.

In the first round of the presidential election, Borhami steered al-Nur into support of Abd al-Moneim Fotouh rather than the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Muhammad al-Mursi. In the run-off, however, al-Nur switched its support to Mursi against the candidacy of Mubarak-era premier Ahmad al-Shafiq in the second round, won handily by Mursi.

Borhami played a major role in drafting a new constitution, but initiated a bitter dispute with the shaykhs of al-Azhar when he claimed the institution was trying to ensure its supremacy in the new constitution, accusing it further of advocating too forcefully for Christian rights in the document (Daily News Egypt, December 24, 2012). Borhami ultimately backed off, recognizing the importance of al-Azhar to most Egyptian Muslims. During the constitutional discussions, Borhami emphasized the necessity of curbing rights and freedoms, though “this doesn’t mean cancelling rights and freedoms” (Daily News Egypt, December 25, 2012). To the alarm of many Egyptians (even within the Nur Party), Borhami interpreted Article 10 of the constitution as allowing Salafis to establish Saudi-style Committees for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, religious police entitled to punish or arrest civilians believed guilty of Shari’a violations (Daily News Egypt, December 25, 2012). Others involved in the constitutional process did not share Borhami’s enthusiastic view that the draft constitution would implement restrictions on “freedom of thought, expression and creativity” and could eventually be used to strip apostates of their human rights (Daily News Egypt, December 24, 2012).

The Presidency of Muhammad al-Mursi

As the post-Revolution Mursi government faltered under economic and security pressures, Borhami’s feud with the Brotherhood intensified, with the Salafist leader warning the Brotherhood would pay the price for Mursi’s stubbornness in rejecting Salafist attempts to mediate a solution to the crisis (al-Masry al-Youm, March 15, 2013).

Under Borhami’s influence, the Nur Party approached the demonstrations against Mursi with caution, staying aloof but ready to join the opposition to the Brotherhood if the winds proved favorable. By the time Mursi was overthrown by General Abd al-Fatah al-Sisi on July 3, 2013, al-Nur was ready to display its full backing of the coup on public television. The decision to stand side-by-side with the Coptic Pope and human rights advocate Muhammad al-Baradei was met with outrage by both the Brotherhood and fellow Salafists outside the Nur Party who viewed Mursi as al-wali al-amr, a community guardian legitimized by Shari’a. Borhami considered Mursi to be a mere political figure and dismissed the opposition to al-Nur’s stance: “Maybe we lost some support from within the Islamic movement, but many have admired the party’s policies” (Reuters, January 23, 2014). [3]

After the Egyptian military’s slaughter of hundreds of Brotherhood supporters at two Cairo sit-ins, Borhami absolved al-Sisi of any blame, saying it was impossible for the general, “a religious man of high ability and competency,” to have issued a command to kill all protesters (Ahram Online, January 21, 2014; al-Masry al-Youm, January 26, 2014). Borhami laid the blame directly at the feet of the Brotherhood, saying they had encouraged their members to face bullets to create massive casualty counts that would discredit the army (Ahram Online, January 21, 2014).

Borhami opposed Islamist protests against al-Sisi in the summer of 2013 and claimed Western criticism of the general’s methods was in fact an attack on Egypt and Islam as a whole: “[The Islamists] should admit that the military saved the people from civil war in which millions of people were against Islamists” (al-Masry al-Youm [Cairo], August 27, 2013). By early 2014, the rift with the Brotherhood had grown so much that calls to attack Borhami began to appear on Brotherhood Facebook sites (al-Sharq al-Awsat, January 4, 2014).

In early February 2014, Borhami declared that the Salafist Call would not support al-Sisi’s candidacy for president, though it would not oppose him (Ahram Online, February 1, 2014).

Borhami’s Religious Rulings

There is often some confusion regarding the actual content of Borhami’s fatwa-s as he commonly backs away from controversial rulings when they appear to be out of step with the rest of Egyptian society, including the religious current. One such example was Borhami’s fatwa against the 2014 FIFA World Cup, which the shaykh claimed would distract Muslims from their prayers and encourage Muslims to admire non-believers playing for foreign teams. When his ruling was widely ridiculed in soccer-mad Egypt, failing even to gain support from other religious leaders, Borhami backed away, claiming he only meant to say “don’t waste your time” (International Business Times, April 27, 2014; al-Masry al-Youm, June 15, 2014).

Other rulings that have, at times, gained international attention, include:

  • A ruling that a man can abandon his wife to rapists if his own safety was threatened. Borhami claimed that the ruling was “woefully distorted” by the media and concerned only “absolving from sin those incapable of defending themselves” (Al-Monitor, October 21, 2015).
  • A fatwa calling on Muslims to refrain from congratulating Coptic Christians on their religious feast days led to a police report being filed by both Muslim and Coptic leaders accusing Borhami of contempt of religion and inciting sectarian violence (al-Masry al-Youm, April 27, 2014).
  • In February 2012, Borhami used the Salafi Call’s website to issue a fatwa pronouncing the impermissibility of standing for the national anthem (com, February 25, 2012). Borhami later admitted that he found it “unwise” to follow this fatwa in the face of a possible six-month stretch in prison for disrespecting national symbols (Al-Monitor, October 21, 2015).
  • In August 2012, Borhami clashed with other Salafists by issuing a fatwa that said an International Monetary Fund loan to Egypt at 1.1% interest was not usury (collection of interest is forbidden in Islamic finance) (al-Masry al-Youm, August 28, 2012).
  • Borhami was seen in a December 14, 2013 video explaining the permissibility of demolishing Christian churches, an activity that is generally understood to be impermissible in all but the most radical Islamist circles (com, March 18, 2015). Borhami’s remarks on this issue were condemned by al-Azhar and many leading Egyptians, leading him to deny he had ever issued a fatwa on this subject (Al-Monitor, October 21, 2015).

Among Borhami’s most pressing concerns are “radical secularism” and fears that Iran will spread Shi’ism to Egypt, where the small existing Shi’a community is closely monitored by the Salafi Call in cooperation with security services.  This collaboration with security forces has opened rifts with the rest of Egypt’s Islamists, including some members of the Nur Party.

Parliamentary Campaign – 2015

Al-Nur was targeted by the “No to Religious Parties” campaign that preceded the election. Supported by Egypt’s Ministry of Endowments, the campaign collected 1.25 million signatures in support of its claim that religious parties violated the section of the Egyptian constitution banning the formation of political parties “on a sectarian basis…” (Daily News Egypt, October 11, 2015). Borhami’s view was that the new constitution declared Egypt was an Islamic nation, making Islamic political parties permissible.

In contrast to their earlier success, the Nur Party was crushed in the 2015 election. After a poor showing in the election’s first phase, Borhami pleaded with Salafi leaders to urge their followers to the polls, but many Egyptian Salafists had had enough of politics. With only nine seats taken by the election’s conclusion, Borhami accused the government of detaining Salafist candidates and orchestrating a hostile media campaign, but many former party members cited the party’s political flexibility as the real reason for the party’s poor performance (al-Masry al-Youm, November 25, 2015; Reuters, November 23, 2015). One failed Nur candidate blamed the controversial fatwa-s issued by Borhami and other Salafist Call leaders for the failure (al-Masry al-Youm, October 25, 2015).

Relationship with the Islamic State

The Salafist Call has publicly condemned Salafi-Jihadism and radical Qutbist ideology, preferring a method of collective action over violence in the establishment of a Shari’a-based state. The movement believes greater religious education is the key to prevent radicalization of the sort that has led to the creation of an Islamic State chapter in the Egyptian Sinai.

Borhami insists the Salafi-Jihadis of the Islamic State do not belong to any particular Islamic trend, preferring to believe they are the natural result of human rights violations. Salafi preacher Muhammad al-Abasiry recently claimed that Borhami’s students have already joined Islamic State forces in Syria (Daily News Egypt, December 20, 2015).

Conclusion

Borhami has undoubtedly committed many missteps that have damaged the popularity of the Nur Party and the Salafist agenda, though some of these are no doubt due to the difficulty of forming political policy in a party based on a traditionally apolitical sector of Egyptian society. What is perhaps more damaging is public realization that the Salafist Call is prepared to use democracy in order to institute non-democratic reforms. Borhami has asked “Is anyone afraid of Shariʿa, the Shariʿa that achieves justice, welfare, and wisdom?” (al-Shorouk [Cairo], June 30, 2012).  The better question might be, “Is anyone afraid of a religious minority eager to impose their own version of Shari’a on a multi-confessional Egyptian state?” Last year’s election results appear to give the answer as “Yes.”

NOTES

  1. Stéphane Lacroix, “Yasser Borhami,” in: Bernard Rougier and Stéphane Lacroix (Ed.s), Egypt’s Revolutions: Politics, Religion and Social Movements, Palgrave MacMillan, 2015.
  2. Ashraf El-Sherif, “Egypt’s Salafists at a Crossroads,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, April 29, 2015, http://carnegieendowment.org/2015/04/29/egypt-s-salafists-at-crossroads/iir4
  3. Ibid, fn. 57

This article first appeared in the January 2016 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Militant Leadership Monitor.

An Islamist View of Somalia’s Political Crisis: An Interview with Abdurahman Abdullahi Baadiyow, Leader of Somalia’s National Unity Party

Andrew McGregor
October 13, 2013

In recent weeks, Somali security forces working in unison with troops of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) have made significant steps in its battle against al-Shabaab extremists, retaking the coastal towns of Barawe and Adale. Shabaab has responded to the military campaign by mounting assassinations and terrorist strikes within the Somali capital of Mogadishu, including an October 12 car bombing of a Mogadishu café that killed 15 people and wounded another 18. Amidst the ongoing violence and security concerns, Somalia’s Federal Government continues to struggle with issues of regional rights, development, foreign investment, corruption, federalism and national reconciliation. In the following AIS exclusive interview, an insider’s perspective of the political struggle in Somalia is provided by Abdurahman Abdullahi Baadiyow, a candidate in the 2012 presidential elections and the current leader of Somalia’s broad-based National Unity Party (NUP). [1]

Abdurahman 1Abdurahman Abdullahi Baadiyow

1. Can you describe the political approach of the National Unity Party and its relationship (if any) with the Somali Islah Movement?
After the collapse of the Somali state, the first national government was formed in 2000 through a traditional power sharing formula based on clan quotas that empowered traditional elders to nominate members of the parliament. The current political trend is to move away from a clan-based system to a citizen-centered approach in which political parties are formed and elections are held. Along those lines, we have initiated the National Unity Party (NUP), which was officially announced on February 26, 2014. According to its principles, the party stands for the restoration and preservation of national unity and social solidarity, espouses individual liberty, democracy, institutionalism, federalism, protection of human rights, socio-economic development, empowering women and youth and striving for the realisation of the regional integration of the peoples and states of the Horn of Africa. The NUP is independent from the Islah movement and its members belong to different social and religious affiliations. All citizens have equal opportunity to join the party and internal democracy is exercised to elect its leadership.

2. Two years after its establishment, has the Somali Federal Government made progress in restoring security in Somalia? Have attacks on members of parliament affected the ability of the government to move forward on essential issues?
The Somali government has been trying to rebuild the Somali national security system. However, progress is very limited for many objective reasons and due to low performance. The continuous assassinations of MPs, attacks on the symbols of the state sovereignty such as the parliament building, the state house and the regional court, are clear evidence of the fragility of Somalia’s security institutions. Al-Shabaab militants are still very dangerous even though efforts were made to fight against them with the support of international partners.
With respect to achieving major milestones towards “Vision 2016,” which includes completing the constitution, conducting a countrywide census and holding free and fair elections, the government unfortunately lags behind. [2] The main reason is not security alone, as the overall performance of the government is far from satisfactory.

Somali government troops fight along side AMISOM peacekeepers against Islamic rebel groups in the north of the capital MogadishuSomali government troops in action alongside AMISOM armor.

3. In recent weeks there have been a number of cases of undisciplined behavior by soldiers operating under the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) banner. Do you view the continued presence of AMISOM troops in Somalia as a positive or necessary contribution to the restoration of security in the region?
AMISOM’s presence is essential for restoring peace in Somalia and undisciplined soldiers should be held accountable for their alleged crimes. On the other hand, Somali society is very sensitive and suspicious of foreign troops and their presence is used by al-Shabaab as the main reason for their sinister activities. Moreover, for Somalia to stand on its own feet, building its security institutions should be given priority and a clear exit strategy for AMISOM must be developed. Such a strategy is not yet known to the Somali public.

4. The trend towards establishing new federal administrations in Somalia appears to be a continuing process. Is federalism the answer to creating political unity in Somalia, and do you see sufficient popular support to make it work?
The National Unity Party supports federalism. Without the adoption of a federal system, the national unity that our party stands for will be endangered. Opposition to federalism is narrowing and the majority of Somalis are now very busy establishing a federal state in various regions. More established federal entities such as Puntland are adamant in their support for federalism and will not compromise on it. The case for federalism also strengthens the position of Somaliland unionists who can advocate among their constituencies that the era of a strong central and oppressive state in Somalia is over and the new federal but unified Somalia will be a win-win scenario for all Somalis. However, the process of establishing these federal regions should be improved to include all those living in each federal state’s territory while the monopoly of power by certain clans over others should be avoided.

5. Resource-sharing has been one of the main issues to emerge during the debate over Somali federalism, particularly in light of Puntland’s insistence that it has the right to negotiate its own deals for offshore gas and oil exploration. Should regions have the power to make their own agreements regarding resource development, or should this responsibility lie with a centralized government in Mogadishu?
The issue between the national government and Puntland concerns not only resource-sharing and oil exploration, which was a hot issue even during President Abdullahi Yusuf’s tenure (2004-2008), even though Puntland was his constituency. It is about different perceptions regarding how the national state should relate with the federal states. Puntland considers itself an established federal state and demands more autonomous federalism; it expects better engagement and a consultative role with the national state. Besides the grievances and scars of the unresolved civil war that continually nags and instigates clan sentiment, there are many failed agreements between the two sides. However, resource sharing laws and procedures are still to be completed so that there is a collective responsibility by the national and federal states. Such laws are still in the making and hopefully will be finalised when other federal entities are established. Finally, I hope the recent agreement during the official visit of the Prime Minister Abdiwelli in Puntland will contain various grievances.

6. You have played a prominent role in the national reconciliation process. Do you see this effort as making progress at this time? What are some of the obstacles to national reconciliation?
True, I played important role in reconciliation since 1994 when I was elected as the Chairman of the Somali Reconciliation Council, an NGO based in Mogadishu. I was a member of the Somali technical committee in the Djibouti Reconciliation Conference of 2000 where the first Somali government was established since the collapse of the state in 1991. Recently, I visited Puntland and the Juba administration to diffuse growing clan sentiments and pave the way for reconciliation. Also, it is worth mentioning that armed conflicts between Somali clans have to a certain extent faded away and conflict is now mainly between the national government and al-Shabaab. There are also fracases between emerging federal states. There is continuous wrangling within the national state institutions such as the President and the Prime Minister’s offices while the government is frequently changed and parliament is busy with motions to topple the government. However, genuine reconciliation is not taking place. What is happening is mostly power sharing conferences without true reconciliation. I believe reconciliation that addresses past grievances and a legitimate power sharing approach is what Somalia needs to recover and prosper. The main obstacle is the vision of the national leaders who do not see national reconciliation as a priority for state-building.

7. Alleged corruption in the Somali Federal Government has inhibited development and even led to a temporary suspension of development aid from Turkey (one of the largest promoters of Somali reconstruction) in February 2014. What steps would you recommend to create greater transparency to assure foreign donors that funds will be used in a transparent and responsible way?
Corruption is rampant in Somalia because various state institutions are yet to be established. In reaction to alleged high profile corruption scandals, a donor-backed committee that includes the Governor of the National Bank, the Minister of Finance and officials from the World Bank, African Development Bank and International Monetary Fund was formed. As a result, eight contracts, such as the agreements with Schulman Rogers, Soma Oil and Gas, Favori and others are under scrutiny, since none of them went through a competitive tender process, according to the World Bank. In Somalia, corruption and commercialization of politics is openly exercised by the state institutions and sometimes by the highest authorities. Somalia does not need to reinvent the wheel in fighting corruption; it has to follow the internationally proven procedures of transparency and those responsible must be prosecuted.

8. The southern region of Jubaland has developed its own administration with the support of Kenya, which appears to desire the establishment of a buffer region along its northern border under the influence of Nairobi. Is this an inevitable process, or is there still room for Jubaland to return to greater integration with the rest of Somalia?
Jubaland is part of Somalia and one of the emerging federal states of Somalia. There is no tendency of breaking away and their leaders are hard-core unionists. Kenyan involvement was motivated initially by the threat of al-Shabaab, which was endangering the national security of Kenya. As a result, Kenya dispatched its armed forces to Somalia, where along with the Somali army and militias they liberated the important port city of Kismayo from al-Shabaab. Kenyan troops later joined AMISOM forces. We hope that Somalia will be able to establish its own security institutions capable of maintaining its security and that the foreign forces that helped Somalia will be offered an honourable exit and appreciation.

9. What role do you see for Islamist political formations in the reconstruction of the Somali state?
According to the Somali constitution, Islam is the ultimate reference of laws. The constitution says: “The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Somalia is based on the foundations of the Holy Quran and the Sunna of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and protects the higher objectives of Shari’a and social justice” (Article 3:1). Therefore, the era of dividing the Somali people into secularists and Islamists is over since the constitution resolved that issue forever. Thus, no particular group or political party should claim a monopoly on religion and its interpretation. Political parties should be established on political vision, principles and performances. This is a turning point in which Somalia needs to move away from parochial politics based on clans and affiliation to particular Islamic persuasions to a new political culture founded on the choices of individual citizens without discriminating between any group or clan.

10. There is talk of impeachment for first-term president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. Is this a realistic possibility? Are Somali political institutions strong enough to endure such a development without experiencing a general collapse?
Impeaching President Hassan is a very difficult task and is not the right way to solve our difficulties, besides the fragility of state institutions and the judiciary branch of the state. I believe Somalia requires stability in which differences and conflicts between the presidency, government and parliament are contained. Such conflicts always weaken emerging national state institutions and harm the national leadership. This culture of conflict between the president and the prime minister on one hand and the government and parliament on the other has continued since 2000, when every president appointed three prime ministers within 3-4 years. However, I hope, we can overcome such a culture.

11. You are touring Europe to establish chapters of your National Unity Party. What is the importance of the Somali Diaspora for the party?
It is estimated that more than 20% of Somalis live in the Diaspora. A large number live in Europe, North America, Middle East and the greater Horn of Africa region. They are very influential in Somali politics and many of them have become members of the parliament, prime ministers and cabinet ministers. The political program of the NUP advocates for the improved political engagement of the Somali Diaspora, such as their right to vote in the Somali elections while they are in their Diaspora constituencies. Therefore, tapping their human and financial resources is very crucial for the party. So far, we have formed chapters in Alberta (Canada) and Finland and are in the process of forming other chapters in other countries.

12. You were a prominent candidate in the 2012 presidential elections. Will you stand as a candidate for the 2016 elections?
In 2012, I was independent candidate in the presidential race. I was not a member of a party. Now, we have established a party and our decision will a collective party decision. If the party leadership decides to assign me such a position, I will not hesitate. I will also accept and support the decision if the party decides otherwise.

Notes

1. See the NUP website: http://midnimoqaran.so/eng/index.php/en/ . For an earlier interview with Abdurahman Abdullahi, see Andrew McGregor, “The Muslim Brotherhood in Somalia: An Interview with the Islah Movement’s Abdurahman M. Abdullahi (Baadiyow),” Terrorism Monitor 9(30), July 29, 2011, http://www.jamestown.org/single/?no_cache=1&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=38256#.VDwa7hZ0a3M
2. “Vision 2016” was a five-day national conference held in Mogadishu in September, 2013 to focus on key political process issues in the run-up to 2016 elections. For the conference resolutions, see: “Vision 2016: Principles and Recommendations,” Mogadishu, September 26, 2013, http://hiiraan.com/Pdf_files/2013/VISION2016%20_Final_COMMUNIQUE.pdf

Egypt’s Domestic Security Threat: Ajnad Misr and the “Retribution for LIfe” Campaign

Andrew McGregor 

July 10, 2014

A Cairo-based extremist group using the name Ajnad Misr (Soldiers of Egypt) has intensified its bombing campaign in the Egyptian capital with a surprising attack on the Ittihadiya Palace in Heliopolis, the home of Egyptian president Abd al-Fatah al-Sisi. The bombing was part of the movement’s “Retribution for Life” campaign, apparently mounted in support of pro-Muhammad Mursi/Muslim Brotherhood demonstrations in the capital met with ruthless responses by Egyptian security forces that have left hundreds dead. Ajnad Misr refers to Egypt’s police as “criminals” who carry out “massacres” and has made them the main target of their bombing campaign so far (Ahram Online [Cairo], April 3).

Moments after a Bomb Blast at Cairo’s Ittihadiya Palace

The movement announced itself via Twitter on January 23, following the announcement the next day with the release of its “Retribution for Life” manifesto. [1]  The manifesto deployed the usual references to the Salafists’ preferred religious authority, Ibn Taymiyah (1263-1328), but also spoke in sympathy with the Brotherhood, suggesting it was only their failure to eradicate corruption that allowed the old military regime to “re-emerge in an even uglier and more criminal form” (Al-Monitor, July 3).  [2]

The movement professes a reluctance to incur civilian casualties in its bombing campaign, claiming it had canceled many operations out of fears “shrapnel” could inflict damage on civilian bystanders (al-Arabiya, April 2). In its manifesto, the group appeared to have reached a conclusion in the ongoing jihadi debate over the legitimacy of killing innocent Muslims in pursuit of an Islamic state,  declaring that those fighting the Egyptian regime “must remain extremely vigilant and careful not to inflict damage upon the innocents among us, even if they oppose us” (Al-Monitor, July 3).  [3]

Ajnad Misr issued a video in April that claimed responsibility for eight bombing attacks in Egypt, including a series of bombings on April 2 that killed a senior police officer and wounded five policemen outside Cairo University (Ahram Online [Cairo], April 17). Within days of the video’s release, Ajnad Misr deployed a car bomb to kill police Brigadier General Ahmad Zaki outside his home in Sixth October City, later issuing a statement saying the time and place of the blast had been carefully chosen to avoid civilian casualties (Ahram Online [Cairo], April 24).

In the April 2 attack, two bombs were detonated in quick succession on the Giza campus of Cairo University, killing police Brigadier General Tariq al-Margawi and wounding several other officers. A third blast of a smaller device occurred as police responded to the earlier blasts, wounding the Giza deputy chief of police, Major General Abd al-Raouf al-Sirafy (al-Arabiya, April 2; Youm 7 [Cairo], April 2). In its statement of claim, Ajnad Misr said the last explosion was delayed to avoid harming civilians, though it may also have been intended to strike first responders (Ahram Online [Cairo], April 3). Police had been deployed on the campus that day in anticipation of a demonstration by pro-Mursi students.

The movement was declared a terrorist organization by Egypt’s Court for Urgent Matters in May as the death toll from extremist attacks since the anti-Mursi coup approached 500 people (Ahram Online [Cairo], May 22). Most alarming were the bombs detonated in several stations of Cairo’s busy underground metro system on June 25 (al-Arabiya, June 25; Daily News Egypt, July 3). The bombs were fortunately small in size and inflicted a limited number of casualties, but served as a warning that mass-casualty terrorist attacks could lie in Cairo’s future. The attacks were not claimed by Ajnad Misr and may be the work of one of several other terrorist cells that appear to be mobilizing against the new government.

Another bomb planted outside a court in Heliopolis the same day as the metro bombings killed two policemen (including a senior officer) and wounded Major General Ala’a Abd al-Zaher, the head of Cairo’s bomb disposal unit. Al-Zaher was attempting to defuse the bomb after Ajnad Misr tweeted their location in an apparent change of heart regarding their detonation (al-Arabiya, June 25; Egypt State Information Service, July 1). [4]

Ajnad Misr stepped up its campaign significantly with a dramatic June 30 bombing attack on the presidential palace in Heliopolis (an integrated suburb of Cairo).  Two policemen were killed and 13 others wounded as they struggled to defuse the two bombs planted just outside the palace. Most disturbing from a security point of view was the fact that the movement had issued a warning via social media on June 27 indicating it was about to plant explosives on the palace grounds, yet security services were unable to secure the area and prevent the blasts (Daily News Egypt, July 1).

Ajnad Misr’s membership, leadership and exact connections to the Muslim Brotherhood remain largely unknown, though it is possible the group has been created to enable the imprisoned Brotherhood leadership to apply pressure on President al-Sisi’s government, which appears set on the physical extermination of the Brothers and their ability to challenge the state. The group’s focus on police targets and stated reluctance to inflict civilian casualties is obviously designed to enable the group to attract wider public support, something the casual destructiveness of most jihadi groups has prevented in the past. Whether this approach will have resonance with the large number of Egyptians unhappy with the manner of the replacement of Mursi’s Islamist government by yet another pseudo-military regime is worth watching.

Notes

1. The movement’s Twitter account can be found at: https://twitter.com/ajnad_misr

2. https://twitter.com/ajnad_misr_am/status/457501373458694144/photo/1

3. https://twitter.com/ajnad_misr_am/status/457501373458694144/photo/1

4. EuroNews, “Twin Blasts Kill Policemen in Egypt,” June 30, 2014, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R_KlAOfKygs

This article first appeared in the July 10, 2014 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

Gulf Co-Operation Council Threatens to Split over Qatar’s Support for the Muslim Brotherhood

Andrew McGregor

March 20, 2014

Changing political alignments in the Gulf region now appear to threaten the continued existence of the Gulf Co-Operation Council (GCC), an important six-nation organization designed to further the political interests of the Gulf’s conservative monarchies with an eye to eventual unification. Though tensions have been growing within the GCC for some time, the dramatic rupture in diplomatic relations between Qatar and three other members of the GCC (Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain) over the former’s backing of the Muslim Brotherhood has the potential of dealing a fatal blow to the Council. GCC members include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman. Rather than a simple alliance, the GCC is better thought of as a complex network of relationships in which common goals such as security and prosperity are intended to override competing interests.

Gulf Co-operation Council Nations

On March 7, Saudi Arabia declared the Muslim Brotherhood, Syria’s al-Nusra Front, the Houthists of north Yemen, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and a little-known group the edict called “Hezbollah within the Kingdom” to be terrorist organizations. A Brotherhood front organization in Egypt expressed “surprise” at Riyadh’s choice to “continue support for the coup” and to “criminalize opposition to the unjust coup” (Ahram Online [Cairo], March 10). Riyadh also gave 15 days for all Saudi citizens engaged in fighting abroad to return home without penalty. Under a decree issued by King Abdullah on February 3, Saudi citizens fighting in conflicts outside the kingdom will face imprisonment for a term of three to 20 years, with members of extremist or terrorist groups facing even harsher penalties (Ahram Online [Cairo], March 7).

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Doha in early March in an unusual show of dissatisfaction with the policies of a fellow GCC member.  Qatar’s foreign minister, Khalid al-Attiya, responded to the moves by asserting that: “The independence of Qatar’s foreign policy is simply non-negotiable” (al-Jazeera, March 18). Qatar was a strong financial supporter of the short-lived Mursi regime in Egypt, but now has nothing to show for its investment other than growing diplomatic isolation. The Saudis and the UAE, on the other hand, have backed the military government of Field Marshal Abd al-Fatah al-Sisi with massive financial support to keep the regime afloat in a difficult period and can expect their political influence to grow if al-Sisi becomes the next president of Egypt, as expected.

Saudi Arabia is reported to have warned Qatar that it would be “punished” unless it met three demands; the closure of al-Jazeera (accused by Egypt of backing the Muslim Brotherhood), the severance of all ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and the expulsion of two U.S. institutes from Qatar, the Brookings Doha Centre and the Rand Qatar Policy Institute (Qatar News, March 15; AFP, March 15). The promised alternative is a Saudi air and land blockade of Qatar, which not only relies heavily on imports of food and other goods, but is also an important regional transportation hub. The Saudi and Qatari militaries last clashed along their mutual border in 1992.  The UAE has been somewhat less bellicose than the Saudis, given that the Emirates depend on Qatari natural gas for power generation (Financial Times, March 14). Otherwise, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain will find it difficult to apply economic pressure on Qatar, which has broad overseas investments, Asian markets hungry for its natural gas production and does only five percent of its trade with the three GCC partners opposing its policies (Bloomberg, March 13).

Qatar continues to host the Brotherhood’s unofficial leader, Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an influential preacher with considerable media skills. Qatar’s ambassador to the UAE was summoned to the foreign ministry in Abu Dhabi in February to explain a sermon broadcast from Qatar by al-Qaradawi in which the shaykh condemned the UAE as a nation that opposes Islamic rule. The remarks came a day after UAE authorities imprisoned 30 Emiratis and Egyptians accused of forming a Brotherhood cell in Abu Dhabi (al-Jazeera, February 2). Qatar has offered refuge to fugitive members of the Brotherhood, while the UAE has imprisoned scores of members of the Brotherhood and its UAE affiliate, the Islah Party (al-Jazeera, March 18).

In recent years, Qatar has grown closer to Iran and Turkey, the latter’s ruling Justice and Development Party also being a strong supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood. Qatar’s ties to Shi’a Iran in the midst of an ongoing regional Sunni-Shi’a power struggle are particularly alarming to the Saudis (whose oil-rich Eastern Province has a Shi’a majority) and the Sunni rulers of Bahrain, who are trying to repress simmering discontent in Bahrain’s Shi’a majority.  Kuwait appears to be dismayed by the whole dispute and has offered to act as a mediator. The last member of the GCC, Oman, has an Ibadite majority and has traditionally close ties to Iran as part of a resolutely independent foreign policy. Oman is a strong opponent of Saudi-led efforts to create an economic, customs and defense union within the GCC. Egyptian officials announced Cairo had decided not to close its embassy in Doha because of the large number of Egyptian nationals working in Qatar but would not send a new ambassador (Al-Monitor, March 12).

Qatar’s active role in the Syrian and Libyan rebellions has been a leading element of an increasingly aggressive Qatari foreign policy that has at times alarmed its conservative neighbors. Despite this, there is a tremendous incentive to cooperation within the GCC as its members will all suffer economically if political disputes lead to blockades, closed borders or confrontations in an already compact and volatile region.

This article first appeared in the March 20, 2014 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.

Salafist al-Nur Party Stuggles to Keep Political Islam Alive in Egypt

Andrew McGregor

February 6, 2014

With former president Muhammad Mursi in prison and the Muslim Brotherhood declared a terrorist organization, political Islam is struggling to survive in Egypt today. With the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) expelled from the political scene, the Islamist torch has passed to the Salafist Nur Party, led by Younes Makhioun. The party, established in 2011 by Egypt’s Dawa al-Salafiya (Salafist Call) movement (a Salafist rival to the Muslim Brotherhood since the 1970s), took nearly a quarter of the vote in the 2011 parliamentary elections after forming a coalition with three smaller Salafist parties, making it the second-most powerful Islamist party in Egypt after the Muslim Brotherhood’s FJP. The party endured a bitter split in December 2012 over the role of al-Dawa al-Salafiya clerics in daily decision-making in the Nur Party (see Terrorism Monitor, January 25, 2013).