Militant Groups

The network of organizations constituting the militant movement in Egypt developed during the 1970s and 1980s. Particularly after the assassination of Sadat in 1981, the state security apparatus engaged in bloody confrontations with the jihadists. The government’s crackdown on violent groups was so intense that some analysts argue this was a main reason for further radicalization. Scores of members, and even family members and acquaintances, of the members of jihadist groups were tortured, imprisoned, exiled, or killed. Among those detained and tortured was Ayman Al-Zawahry, who later left to Afghanistan and united with Osama Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda (Wright, 2007).

Until the second half of the 1990s, the approach of these militant groups was centered on employing violence to achieve regime change. They did not only reject the peaceful approach of the Muslim Brotherhood to politics, they also accused the Brotherhood of becoming too domesticated and weak. While confrontations with the state arguably led some to become even more radical in their methods, the heavy costs of these confrontations coupled with the difficulty getting new recruits, and an understanding that violence could not lead to the desired change led key militant leaders to issue revisions of their doctrines (Hamzawy and Grebowski, 2010). Revisionism of militant ideology started in the late 1990s, with further momentum gaining since 2007 (Al-Anany, 2009).

The attitudes of Egyptians toward radical groups gained special attention after the ouster of Mubarak. The Pew Research Center conducted a survey in 2010 examined the views in Egypt and six other countries about Muslims and the role of Islam. Asked whether there was a struggle in their country between those who want to modernize and Islamic fundamentalists, 61% of the Muslims surveyed in Egypt said that they found no struggle. Only 31% of Egyptian Muslims saw a struggle between modernizers and fundamentalists. Among the other countries surveyed, only Jordan had a lower percentage of those who found a struggle between modernizers and fundamentalists. Among those Egyptian Muslims who saw a struggle, 59% sided with the fundamentalists. Only 27% of those who saw a struggle sided with the modernizers.

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