The Complexity of Islamism in Egypt and the Middle East

El-Watan News reported this morning that Egyptian security services uncovered and detained 13 jihadists involved in planning to set up a local chapter affiliated to the Islamic State (IS).

The most striking part of the article is the following:

وقال أبوصهيب الليبى، القيادى بـ«داعش»، فى فيديو مصور بثته مواقع جهادية، أمس الأول، بعنوان «رسائل من أرض الملاحم»، … ، إن أول من سيبدأ بقتله تنظيم الدولة الإسلامية، حال دخوله مصر، هو الرئيس المعزول محمد مرسى، الطاغوت والمجرم الأكبر، لأنه كان يتمسح بالدين ويتستر به، مضيفاً: «العوام والغلابة كانوا يقولون إنه أكثر حافظ للقرآن، ويقيم الصلاة، لكنه مجرم، وقريباً نتقرب إلى الله بقتل المرتدين والطواغيت فى مصر».

My own translation:

Suhaib el-Libi said 2 days ago in a recorded broadcast, entitled “Messages from the Epic Lands” on a jihadist website … that [upon his entry into Egypt] the first one to be killed is the ousted president Mohamed Morsy because he flirted with the use of religion and used it as protection. He added that common people and the poor would say of him that he knew the Quraan well and attended to his prayers but he is a criminal. Soon we will near ourselves to God by killing the [Muslim] apostates and oppressors in Egypt.

El-Libi won’t be able to achieve this because he died in a military operation in Syria after the broadcast of the video. Clip about Egypt below:

For most commentators and viewers, this is a strange and confusing message. Middle Eastern and Western governments have developed their rhetoric by lumping together all Islamists under one term “terrorism”. But, here is a militant Islamist hoping for the blood on his hands of another Islamist. With this report and yesterday’s piece by Omar Ashour on Al-Jazeera English, a different picture emerges. Key sections of Ashour’s essay below:

In the 1990s, during a low-level insurgency led by the Egyptian Islamic Group (EIG) and the Egyptian al-Jihad Organisation (EJO), the MB offered “assistance” to the Mubarak regime to combat these groups. These political positions aroused the ire of a younger, radical generation of Islamist activists, represented by Ayman al-Zawahiri’s 1993 book, The Bitter Harvest of the Muslim Brothers, in which he criticised the MB’s pragmatic behaviour and gradualist ideology in general and the post-1970 changes in particular.

When the “de-radicalisation” process of the EIG ensued in 1997 with their unilateral ceasefire declaration, the MB supported the transition. In 2002, the leadership of the EIG renounced its radical literature, and declared that it replaced its curricula with those of the MB, to signal an acceptance of non-violent gradualist reformism. Overall, from the 1970s onwards, the MB presented itself as a transnational movement that upholds the “correct” form of Islamist sociopolitical activism, which is anti-jihadi and anti-takfiri. From the 1980s, the MB was perceived as an alternative and a rival to Saudi-style Wahabbi form of Islamism. 

It seems more likely that the ties between different Islamist groups are more fluid, morphing with the times, circumstances, and political conditions of their respective countries. An example of this is that IS was a part of Al-Qaeda until February this year.

Going back to Egypt, understanding the dynamics and shifting ties between different groups becomes very critical. It may help to understand who burnt the Coptic churches last year in southern Egypt after the violent dispersals of the sitins at Rab’aa and Nahda squares.

 

 

 

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