Egypt's homegrown terrorists
01 August, 2005
By Yasser Latif Hamdani
The British Muslim connection to 7/7 was expected. After all proliferation of the radicalized Salafi Islam within expatriate communities is no secret. It has been going on for the last 20 years.
The rise of organisations like Hizbut Tahrir and Al Muhajiroun in the United Kingdom and elsewhere was viewed with alarm but no solid intellectual movement was organized within the Islamic sphere to counter them. Their connection to seminaries in Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad and Peshawar was also to be expected. Most British Muslims happen to be of South Asian origin and we as Pakistanis had allowed the American sponsored Jehad against Godless Soviet Russia to flourish from our heartland. So London bombing and the connection to Pakistan was logical. However what was not logical was that the Egyptian government would turn around and blame the terror attacks on its soil on Pakistan as well. It would therefore be worthwhile to dwell on the history of Islamic revival and radical Islamism in the Muslim world.
Egypt is where it all started as early as 1928. Indeed it was not as much a reaction to non-Muslims or even colonial rule as it was opposed to its own co-religionists. According to Albert Hourani, the 1930s saw the Muslim world as a whole enter a liberal age when Muslim nationalism grew exponentially on the premises of modernism and reform. Ikhawan-ul-Muslimeen or the Muslim Brotherhood was organized around the premise of Islamic revival in order to combat the menace of this liberal Muslim nationalism, which threatened to liberate women and reform Islamic societies all over. The Ikhwan gave an alternative to this Muslim Nationalism. It sought a return to Islam as practiced by the "Salaf" and to wage "Jehad" against the enemies of Islam. At first the Ikhwan was enlisted by the Egyptian government under Gemal Abdel Nasser to make common cause against Israel and its western allies, but later he repressed them. They were given a new lease of life by Nasser's successor, Anwar Saadat, but it cost him his life. Since Saadat's assassination, Egypt has followed a strict policy of exerting state control over religion, while tolerating extremist religious groups on the fringe. Though, after the 1997 bombing, Hosni
Mubarik went after the Islamists with significant resolve, the latest bombing in Egypt is a manifestation of those fringe groups. Ikhwan's condemnation of terrorism notwithstanding, it can hardly be denied that this movement of Islamic revival, persecuted and cornered into a movement of radicalism and terrorism, is the motivation behind the terrorist attack on Sharm Al Sheik. The victims were not Americans, Britons or Israelis but Egyptians themselves, mostly Muslims, whose only fault was that they were having a good time at a resort. Indeed something is amiss in al-Masr. The 9/11 mastermind Muhammad Ata was from Egypt. So is Aiman Al Zawahiri, the number 2 man in the Al Qaeda terror network. Mr Zawahiri once part of the Ikhwan and was imprisoned for his role in the Saadat Murder case. It is therefore alarming that the regime in Egypt would cynically seek an easy scapegoat in Pakistan, instead of looking for clues within.
There are three very important lessons to be learnt from the Egyptian terror bombing. First: Autocratic governments in Muslim societies more often than not create conditions for Islamic revival and radicalism even if inadvertently. This is as true of Egypt as of Iran, Algeria or even Pakistan. Second: Repression has its limitations. This is why democracy is the preferred alternative.
Democracy forces fringe groups to compromise and tone down their rhetoric and extremism as real politic dictates it. The Muslim masses have shown on numerous occasions that their concerns are this worldly as opposed to otherworldly which is why religious clerics have never won at any free polls in the Islamic world. Third and perhaps the most important lesson for Pakistanis: We must realize that Pan-Islamism is a spent force. Our Muslim brothers are always the first ones to send us down the river and we have already been bitten one too many times. In recent times, Libya, Iran and now Egypt all have ratted the first opportunity they got. So it is time we place Pakistan's well-being and its future before that of a chimerical Ummah.