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The Islamic Militants in Egyptian Politics

  • Hamied N. Ansari (a1)


Because of the assassination of President Anwar Sadat, observers have felt a sense of urgency to analyze the conditions that favored the emergence of Islamic militancy in Egypt. Psychological, political, and socioeconomic categories have been widely used to explain—and even suggest the means to neutralize—the ill effects of sectarian and political violence on social harmony and the stability of the political order. Laudable as these attempts are, they must first be preceded by a clear conception as to whether the militants do represent a social movement whose existence can be supported by empirical data.



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Author's note: I wish to thank Professors Fouad Ajami and Leonard Binder for giving me the opportunity to discuss the subject of this article with them and their students at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and the University of Chicago. The discussions clarified many of my ideas. I am also grateful to Professor Fazlur Rahman and Dr. Ann Lesch for their comments on an earlier version. 1 am, however, alone responsible for the ideas expressed in this article.

1 Nazih, N. M. Ayubi, “The Political Revival of Islam: The Case of Egypt,” International Journal of Middle East Studies, 12 (1980), 481499. See also Saad Eddin Ibrahim, ‘Anatomy of Egypt's Militant Islamic Groups, Methodological Note and Preliminary Findings,”ibid., 423–453.

2 al- Taqadum, 19 11 1981.

3 Louis, Awad quoted in Rose al-Yusif, 6 11 1981. See also Mustafa Amin's column, “Fikra,” in al-Akhbar, 29 01 1982.

4 Amina al-Said's article on youth in al-Musawwar, 13 11 1981. See also the comments of Ahmad Khalifa, the Director of the National Center for Sociological and Criminological Research, in al- Wadi, 11 March 1982. Hasan, , the President of Cairo University in al-Akhbar, 14 12 1981. See also the statement of Mustafa Kamel Murad, the leader of the Liberal Party, in al-Akhbar, 7 December 1981.

5 Mayo's interview with the Rector of al-Azhar, 22 March 1982. Shaykh Metwalli Sha⊃rawi, the former Minister of Al-Awqaf, expressed similar views when he said that “the extremists were the enemies of the regime and their principal motive was to capture power”al-Ahram, 18 11 1981. See also the interview of Abd al-Mun⊃im al-Nimr, the former Minister of al-Awqaf, in AlAhram, 15 12 1981.

6 See the interview of Shaykh Jad al-Haq, the Rector of al-Azhar, in al-Liwa⊃ al-lslami, 20 07 1981.

7 Anis Mansur's critical assessment of the Nasirite period in October, 24 01 1982, pp. 710.

8 See Omar al-Tilmisani's interview in al-Musawwar, 22 01 1982, pp. 1419 and 7477.

9 Most of the issues of al-Liwa⊃ al-Islami, the ruling party's Islamic organ, devoted large space in the early part of 1982 to the discussions which took place between prison inmates belonging to the various militant groups and the leading⊃ Ulama from al-Azhar. See, for example, 25 March 1982.

10 Saad al-Din Ibrahim is one of a few scholars who took an exceptional view of the notion that the militants were alien to the Egyptian society. See al-Ahram, 20 November 1981. See also Ali H. Dessouki's excellent review of the Islamic movements in Egypt, in Alexander, S. Cudsi and Ali, E. Hillal Dessouki, eds., Islam and Power (Washington, D.C.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981).

11 See the statement of Nabawi Ismail, the former Minister of the Interior, in al-Ahram, 23 12 1981. See also al-Gumhouriyya, 6 03 1982.

12 According to one newspaper report, a total of five groups participated in the plot to assassinate President Sadat, despite ideological differences. See al-Ahram, 6 11 1981.

13 See al-Musawwar, 13 11 1981.Mohammad, Abd al-Qudus, al-Da⊃wa, 05 1981. Also, al-Ahram, 6 03 1981.

14 The Minister of Defence, Abu Ghazalah, denied the existence of a secret apparatus belonging to the Tanzim in the military services. However, he acknowledged the reports that an unspecified number of army personnel were either retired or transferred to civilian posts. See Akher Sa⊃a's interview with the Defence Minister, 11 04 1982.

15 Khalid Islambuli was selected to participte only eleven days before the annual military parade on October 6.

16 See al-Ahram, 25 03 1982.

17 Based on an interview by this author with Kamil Zuhayri, the former President of the Egyptian Press Syndicate on 24 November 1981.

18 See al-Gumhouriyya, 8 09 1981.

19 See al-Liwa⊂ al-Islami, 25 February 1982.

20 Interview with Shaykh Zakariya al-Burn, the Minister of Al-Awqaf in Mayo, 2 11 1981.

21 Shaykh Hafiz Salamah was the head of Jamiyyat al-Hidaya al-Islamiyya in Suez. He delivered sermons at both al-Shuhada⊃ mosque in Suez and al-Nur mosque in Cairo. Both were private mosques. The latter was a popular meeting place for the militants. Shaykh Salamah was one of the most outspoken critics of the Peace Treaty with Israel. In one of his sermons he described the treaty as the treaty of surrender,⊃ Isrislam. Among the accusations levied against him by the regime was his alleged role in the sectarian conflict in al-Zawiyya al-Hamna in June 1981. President Sadat called Shaykh Salamah “the mad Imam.”

Shaykh Ahmad al-Mahalawi was another critic of Sadat's peace policy with Israel in his sermons at al-Qa⊃id Ibrahim mosque in Alexandria. He was dismissed from the post in July 1981 by a decision of the Ministry of al-Awqaf. He was the Imam of the mosque for nine years. What angered President Sadat was Shaykh Mahalawi's constant reference to the corruption of his regime and to his ostentatious style of living. Both Islamic moderates and militants reacted indignantly when President Sadat publicly called Shaykh Mahalawi “the filthy Imam.” See President Sadat's speech of 5 September.

22 See al-Gumhouriyya, 9 09 1981.

23 See al-Ahram, 23 09 1981. After Sadat's assassination, the Minister of the Interior, Nabawi Ismail, acknowledged that the September crackdown did not go far enough to include all the members of the Islamic groups: “Although the backbone of the extremists was broken, some elements remained at large” (see al-Musawwar, 30 10 1981).

24 This finding was confirmed by the statement of the Governor of Asyut, who asserted that the assault by the militants against the security forces was led by the Amirs of the group who were on the wanted list since 5 September 1981. See al-Musawwar, 23 10 1981.

25 See al-Ahrar 2 11 1981. Also, 26 10 1981.

26 The security forces penetrated the group led by Col. Abbud al-Zomor and were actually able to film on videotape the transaction between one of the militants in the group and an underground arms dealer. Sadat himself viewed the tape just a few days before the actual assassination on 6 October.

27 Kamil Zuhayri in an interview with this author on 24 November 1981.

28 Data on population and other social indicators are derived from the 1978 census conducted by the Central Agency for Statistics and General Mobilization, Cairo, Egypt.

29 Akher Sa⊃a, 11 11 1981.

30 See al-Ahram, 18 11 1980.

31 John, Waterbury, Egypt, Burdens of the Past. Options for the Future (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1978), p. 17. See also Ayubi's analysis of the consequences of rural migration to the cities, “The Political Revival of Islam,” 493–96.

32 It is interesting to note that one of the first decrees issued by President Mubarak shortly after assuming office was the demolition of all constructions on the Pyramids' plateau, including the presidential villa.

33 See Hamied, Ansari, “The Rural Elite: A Study of its Role in Egyptian Social and Political Development,” Ph.D. dissertation, The University of Chicago, 1979.

34 Akher Sa⊃a, 11 11 1981.

35 See al-Ahrar, 2 11 1981.

36 Abbud's cousin, named Tariq, was wounded in the leg during the sectarian conflict in al-Zawiyya al-Hamra. See al-Musawwar, 26 02 1982.

37 Obituary notice in al-Ahram, 23 03 1982.

38 Khalid Islambouli's aunt's husband is an army general. See al-Ahram 26 10 1981.

39 See the discussion of Sabri, Abu al-Majd in al-Ahram, 22 01 1982.

40 Hasan, Hanafi, “The Relevance of the Islamic Alternative in Egypt,” Arab Studies Quarterly, 1 &2 (Spring 1982), 61.

41 The militant group known as al-Takfir wa-al-Hijra was liquidated in 1977. See Ibrahim, , “Anatomy of Egypt's Militant Islamic Groups,” 423453.

42 See al-Ahrar 14 12 1981. The paper claimed that it was publishing the unabridged version of the text.

43 The high casualty rate among security personnel was attributed to the fact that the majority of them were not carrying their weapons. See Rose al-Yusif, 19 10 1982, p. 78.

44 Text in al-Ahram, 8 12 1981.

45 Mayo, 26 10 1981.

46 Similar opinions were expressed by the former Minister of al-Awqaf, in al-Ahram, 6 12 1981.

47 See the interview with prison inmates belonging to various Islamic groups by a number of leading ⊃Ulama from al-Azhar, in al-Liwa⊃ al-Islami, 25 03 1982. See also ibid., 8 April 1982.

48 al-Ahram, 18 11 1981.

49 See the interview with the Grand, Mufti in October, 6 12 1981, pp. 1415.

50 Sayyid, Qutb, Ma⊃alim fi al-Tariq (Cairo: Dar al-Shuruq, 1981), pp. 1081.

51 See al-Musawwar, 22 01 1982, p. 18.

52 See al-Ahrar's interview with Omar, al-Tilmisani, 22 03 1982.

53 Mayo, 28 12 1981.

54 al-Da⊃wa, 01 1977, p. 8. See also the argument of Saleh ⊃Ishmawi, ibid., May 1981.

55 See al-Musawwar, 22 01 1982, p. 18.

56 a1-Da⊃wa, 09 1976, p. 9.

57 See the criticism of the Islamic Jama⊃at, ibid., May 1981.

58 The “Islamic Left” sees the militants as part of a historical continuity whose secular movement is reflected in the rise and decline of successive Islamic attempts at Islamic revival. Thus the reformers of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries gradually lost their mass appeal as a result of their elitist tendencies. They were followed by the Muslim Brotherhood which led the fundamentalist appeal in the 1930s and 1940s. But in recent decades it lost its vigor as a populist movement capable of mobilizing a large segment of the population behind Islamic and nationalist causes. With the compromising attitudes and worldly views of the traditional ⊃Ulama, only the militant Jama⊃at continue to exist as a harbinger of a new era of Islamic resurgence. Hasan Hanafi, “The Contemporary Islamic Movement from al-lkhwan to al-Jama⊃at,” lecture at the Seminar of Islam and Society in Modern Egypt, The American Research Center in Egypt, 11–13 May 1982.

The Islamic Militants in Egyptian Politics

  • Hamied N. Ansari (a1)


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