Al-Jama’a Al-Islamiyya and the Safety and Development Party

Some of these former militant groups have returned to the political stage as legitimate political actors, such as Al-Jama’a Al-Islamiyya and Al-Jihad. Meetings which witnessed the Brotherhood and Al-Jama’a leaders on the same table raised are a source of much interest on the part of political analysts who speculate over the course these groups will take in post-Revolution Egypt.

a) The Safety and Development Party / Al-Salama wa-l-Tanmeyya

In the post-Mubarak era, Al-Jihad announced the creation of a political party Al-Salama wa-l-Tanmeyya, the “Safety and Development Party.” A-Jihad leaders chose the following officials: Kamal El-Saeed Habib as president of the party, Magdy El-Demeriy as general secretary, Ali Farrag secretary of organization, Ahmed Ishaaq as Vice President for political affairs, and Ahmed Ismail as general secretary for legal affairs. Interestingly, key leaders of the group in the late 1990s, Abbud al-Zumar and Tarik al-Zumar, were absent from the party’s leadership.

The majority of the sixty founders of the Safety and Development Party are former members of Al-Jihad organization. The founders defined themselves as “the Independent Islamic Trend,” stressing their commitment to political activism and distance from violence or the employment of secret organizations. Dr. Kamal Habib, president of the party, issued a statement on the party’s page on Facebook stressing that the party is founded on the principles of peaceful political participation and respect of pluralism, the constitution, and the law. Habib emphasized transparency and rejected the formation of secret organizations. Furthermore, Habib stressed that the main goal of the party is to gain regional and international status for Egypt. Habib also said that the party supports the civil character of the state but also bases its foundation on religion. The main pillars of the party’s platform, as summarized on the group’s Facebook site, are as follows:

On the issue of religion and society, the platform suggested giving leaders of mosques and preachers legal immunity to allow them freedom of expression. It also recommended the establishment of an independent institution to supervise and administer mosques and religious endowments. The platform recommended the election of the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar by top religious scholars, and abolishing secular faculties from Al-Azhar and putting them under the Ministry of Higher Education. Finally, the platform stressed that Al-Azhar should be the source of legislation in areas of personal status for Muslims.

On the Educational dimension, the platform stressed the need to segregate boys and girls after the primary educational level, and the creation of a higher committee to establish unified religious curricula to strengthen belonging to the Arab and Islamic identity. The platform also called for making the religious subject obligatory, and abolishing foreign language sections in universities. It also called for abolishing private universities and restricting university education to government and non-profit universities. Finally, the platform called for re-introducing the system of kuttab (Muslim schooling).

On the Foreign Policy dimension, the platform called for opening the borders among Arab countries, and strengthening cooperation with regional countries, especially Turkey and Iran. It also called for supporting Palestinian resistance organizations. The platform also called for respecting international treaties and agreements, while maintaining the right of the parliament to review them in order to take whatever measures deemed in Egypt’s best interest.

On the media dimension, the platform called for creating a media policy based on Egyptian national identity, in accordance with the Islamic religion and Sharia. It called for the creation of an independent committee to supervise media materials in order to make sure they do not represent a threat to national cultural and ethical security. It also called for the creation of a Higher Council for directing media and cultural affairs in a way that strengthens the citizens’ Arabic and Islamic identity.

Economically, the platform stressed the respect for private property and the role of the state to intervene in order to restore balance in the market. The platform called for progressive taxation and the establishment of minimum wages. It also called for expanding Islamic banks toward ending “traditional banks” that the platform considers to be based on usury (riba). The party called for the creation of Beit al-Mal (House of Money), which existed during the Islamic Caliphate, as well as abolishing the Ministry of Awqaf and replacing it with an independent committee to supervise mosques.

From the perspective of gender, the party stressed the importance of women’s social and political participation, within the limits of her capacity and the needs of her family. 

b) Islamic Group / Al-Jama’a Al-Islamiyya

Egypt’s largest militant group, Al-Jama’a Al-Islamiyya (Islamic Group) began its activities in the 1970s. The group targeted Egyptian security and other government officials, Coptic Christians, Egyptian opponents of Islamic extremism, and tourists. One of its most notable and bloodiest attacks took place in November 1997 when 58 foreign tourists were killed in Luxor. The group also claimed responsibility for the 1995 assassination attempt at President Hosni Mubarak in Addis Ababa. The group was under the spiritual leadership of Shaykh Umar Abd al-Rahman  (b. 1938), who is now currently serving a life sentence in the United States for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombings. Al-Jama’a al-Islamiya has currently renounced violence and decided to form a political party to run in the 2011 parliamentary elections. Al-Jama’a Al-Islamiyya’s new party was announced on May 24, 2011.

To date, there is little information about the new party of Al-Jama’a and its political orientation. The internal Al-Jama’a elections have drawn more media attention. Essam Derbala was elected Emir for a one 2-year term, and Osama Hafez was elected Deputy President (or Deputy Emir). Abbud al-Zumar, a key founding member, did not compete for the post. The internal elections of Al-Jama’a also witnessed the absence of Akram Zuhdi, one of the group’s historic leaders, who resigned from his role following internal debates about the direction of the group. Following Zuhdy, Nagih Ibrahim, another leader, also resigned. How these resignations will affect the internal cohesion of the group as well as its future orientation remains to be seen.

c) Cooperation between different Muslim factions

In May, 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Wasat Party welcomed the initiative of Sheikh Essam Derbala, president of Al-Jama’a Al-Islamiyya, for alliance between Al-Jama’a’s new party on one hand, and the Brotherhood and Al-Wasat on the other. But the Muslim Brothers and Al-Wasat party were also quick to note the limits of this welcome. Essam Sultan, Vice President of Al-Wasat Party, stressed that such an alliance does not mean accepting the religious ideology of Al-Jama’a. Essam al-Erian, Vice President of the Freedom and Justice Party, said that his party welcomes communication and cooperation with any political trend. Sultan and El-Erian advised Al-Jama’a Al-Islamiyya on issues regarding political participation: The first was to present political ideas as human contributions that others can agree or disagree with stressing that disagreement does not imply disagreement on religion. Second, they advised on separating the political functions from the religious functions. Third, they advised Al-Jama’a to open up to the broader society in order to repair their image in the Egyptian people’s perception, after the media campaigns, which presented them as terrorists. They also stressed the need to focus on the Initiative to stop violence that Al-Jama’a had accepted in the 1990s and advance the theoretical revisions that they have already implemented. Fourth, they advised Al-Jama’a to present a new vision of political participation that could attract members from outside the group.

In May of 2011, a number of Islamist groups issued a code of ethics for religious and political activism. Thirty six Islamist activists participated in the issuance of this document, including Sheikh Osama Hafez from Al-Jama’a Al-Islamiyya, Kamal Habib from the Safety and Development Party, and Abdul Moneim Al-Shahat the official spokesperson of the Salafist Da’wa movement. The document called for political participation through political parties and the parliament, and stipulated that political activism should be directed toward elevating Islam in the public consciousness. Furthermore, the document called for referring to Sharia on a voluntary base on the individual and institutional levels up to the state level. It also called for a transparent revision the jihad doctrine and the requirements for its application in modern times. The document also supported peaceful transition of power.

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