20 March 2011
Egypt’s most notorious political prisoners released
Abboud and Tareq al-Zomor were the two oldest political prisoners in Egypt.
Abboud, who was born in the Giza village of Nahia in August 1947, is a former officer at the military intelligence apparatus and holds a medal of valour as well as several military decorations for his role in the October 1973 War. Tareq, his cousin and brother-in-law, earned a PhD in law from Cairo University in 2007, while in prison. They both served multiple sentences for plotting—but not actually executing—the shooting to death of Egypt’s former president Anwar al-Sadat in October 1981. Sadat was the first Arab leader to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, and for that he was killed.
Abboud had been sentenced to 20 years for the assassination plot and attempting to overthrow the regime, and another 15 years for using force to resist police during his arrest. Tareq was also sentenced to 20 years for the plot and seven years for resisting his arrest.
All over the media
Last Saturday saw the end of life behind bars for the Zomor cousins.
They were released by order of the ruling Military Council, to a hero’s welcome held in Nahia by their neighbours and friends. And they have been all over the Egyptian media ever since. Hosted by every talk show on TV channels public and private, and interviewed extensively by the press, they have had ample opportunity to express their views.
Abboud and Tareq had joined the Islamist Jihad movement in 1980 and, while behind bars, became members of its shura (consultative) council in 1991.
The cousins’ pet project is the foundation of the Islamic State. In an interview with the independent Cairo daily al-Masry al-Youm, Tareq spoke of his dream of an Islamic State after the model of the rightly-guided caliphs who ruled following the death of the Prophet Mohamed in the 7th century. “We see this model, which recognises the rights of the ‘other’, as far superior to current liberal civil models which are based on a purely material nature.”
For his part, Abboud called for the creation of a new party, representing Jihadi and Salafi groups. “We oppose the use of violence,” he said on TV, alluding to one of the basic tenets of jihadi thought, at least, he said, as long as there is no need for it.
“I praise the January 25 revolutionaries, thanks to them we are now free,” Abboud said. “I am thinking about nominating myself in the next presidential elections.”
The huge media coverage accorded to the Zomor cousins aroused the wariness of many Egyptians. Could it indicate anything in specific, regarding the power of political Islamists, many asked. Watani took the question to Abdel-Ghaffar Shukr of the leftist Tagammu party, Salah Eissa the liberal writer and editor-in-chief of the weekly State-owned al-Qahira, and Emad Gad who is a Coptic rights activist and editor-in-chief of the quarterly Mukhtarat Israeliya published by Al-Ahram.
Mr Shukr began by saying that the media coverage in itself warrants praise since it exposes the thoughts and views of the Zomor cousins. “No-one can doubt that the cousins are still as jihadi as ever, complete with the concept of the Islamic State and the promise to resort to the use of violence when they see fit,” Mr Shukr said. “This places an added responsibility on the shoulders of the liberals and believers in a civil State based on citizenship rights: they should collaborate to form a front to strive for their demands.”
In reply to whether the different Islamist movements—the Salafis, the Jamaa Islamiya, and the jihadis—could make a coalition with the more politically powerful Muslim Brotherhood (MB), Mr Shukr said he expects that they may vote for one another but in all probability form no coalition. “Their principles are far too wide apart to make a coalition possible,” he said. “But voting for another Islamist group is, for them, better than voting for liberals. Which makes it all the more important for the proponents of a civil State to form a united front.”
Civil is the answer
Mr Eissa saw the extensive media coverage where the Zomors are concerned as entirely normal. “They are figures in the thick of the events,” Mr Eissa said. “So far, their Islamist political address is the same as it always was. But, in view of the fact that it has caused not a small public shock, it may soon change to be more accommodating. It is obvious they are interested in being part of the political process, and for that they are willing to take part in elections and democracy, concepts they had previously rejected as anti-Islamic.”
It is far-fetched, according to Mr Eissa that the different Islamist movements would collaborate with the MB. “They are different factions that belong to a common ideology,” he said, “which creates bitter animosity between them. Each sees the others as outlaws of Islamic sharia.” In all cases, he said, we are opposed to the concept of an Islamic State. At this point in time, he stressed the Copts should be active politically, since they stand to lose if the Islamists come to power. As to Coptic fears of violence against them should Egypt come under Islamic rule, the law should be able to deter the use of violence and terror, he said.
Strongly in agreement was Mr Gad. He felt that the danger from Islamists was overstated. “The only way to overcome such fears,” he said, “is to positively participate in the political process. This should take care of rendering Islamists less powerful.
“The only danger,” Mr Gad said, “is that the Islamists succeed in securing a majority in Parliament. I thus call upon voters to vote ‘no’ to the proposed constitutional amendments, in order to give a chance for new parties and figures to emerge on the scene.
“As to the formation of an Islamist party,” he said, “the current Constitution, and in all probability any new Constitution, will not allow religion-based parties. Neither is it probable that Islamists would use violence against Copts since, under a civil State, the violence would be against the State not against the Copts.”