• August 14, 2006
  • 15 minutes read

Dr. Najih Ibrahim of the Egyptian Islamic Group Talks to Asharq Al-Awsat

Dr. Najih Ibrahim of the Egyptian Islamic Group Talks to Asharq Al-Awsat

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- Dr. Najih Ibrahim, the Egyptian Al-Jama’ah al-Islamiyah (Egyptian Islamic Group, EIG) chief theorist has stressed that there is a wide disagreement between the Al-Qaeda Organization and the EIG in both the ideology and the methods. He pointed out, “Their aim is jihad, and our aim is Islam.” He strongly denied that any leading, or even ordinary member of the EIG had joined the Al-Qaeda. Dr. Ibrahim stressed that Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the second in command in Al-Qaeda, by claiming that leading members of the EIG had joined Al-Qaeda wanted to keep the organization in the limelight.

In a rare interview since he was released two years ago from prison after 24 years behind bars in implementation of a life-imprisonment sentence by the court in the case of the assassination of late Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat, Najih Ibrahim said that the killing of Al-Sadat was prohibited by Shariaa. He explained that the EIG, which adopted violence for long years and raised arms against the ruling authorities, had corrected its ideas and concepts about Islam, and published a number of intellectual revision books, which raised some controversy, in order to reformulate the relationship between the society and the ruling authorities.

The following is the text of the interview:

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Al-Zawahiri’s announcement that a number of EIG leading members had joined the Al-Qaeda provoked a major controversy, and was denied by the EIG. What do you think was the aim of Zawahiri’s statement?

(Ibrahim) There are many opinions about the aim of his statement. Some people attribute it to Al-Zawahiri’s Egyptian nationality, and his wish to annex Egyptian members to the organization, especially as there are no followers of Al-Qaeda in Egypt now. However, Dr. Al-Zawahiri always wants to annex the EIG to Al-Qaeda, because he realizes the patience and endurance characteristics of the EIG. Al-Zawahiri is committed to the theory that fighting is an aim, and that the concept of the initiative (the EIG initiative of abandoning violence) will hinder a large group of mujahidin.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Some people consider that what Al-Zawahiri did indicates that he has not forgotten the EIG decision in 1998 to withdraw from the International Front for Fighting the Jews and the Crusaders, which was formed by Bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri?

(Ibrahim) Definitely Al-Zawahiri has not forgotten this. This is a suitable opportunity to announce the reason for our withdrawal from the front. The reason is that the EIG does not believe in the creed of killing by nationality. The aim of the front was to kill everything that belongs to the United States. Shariaa does not say so, because when the Koran mentions the People of the Book, it says that they are not all the same. Therefore, is it logical to kill anyone merely because he is a US national? What if this person is a Muslim, and elderly man, a woman, or a child, because it is prohibited by Shariaa to kill any of these? Furthermore, the Holy Koran always uses “of” when it mentions the People of the Book, which means “some of them,” which is the summit of justice. Therefore, we decided to withdraw from the front because we found in it generalizations that distorted the Shariaa.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) But the aim of Al-Zawahiri’s statement being issued at this particular time remains unclear?

(Ibrahim) The aim might be to strike at the initiative to stop violence, especially as Al-Zawahiri has been against the initiative from the beginning despite the fact that he stopped the fighting within Egypt since 1995, but this was an internal administrative decision that was not announced publicly.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Al-Zawahiri mentioned specific names of the EIG members that joined Al-Qaeda, a fact that amazed and perplexed many. What do you think of this?

(Ibrahim) I think that amazement is justified, especially as he never invited these people before. It would have been better if he invited the members of the Al-Qaeda Organization, as they are the closest factions to him. He knows very well that those he mentioned and others from Al-Jihad will not join him because they disagree with his takfiri ideology. This is particularly true after Dr. Sayyid Imam left the Al-Jihad Organization. Bear in mind that the EIG previously refused to join Al-Qaeda for the same reason.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do you consider that this statement represents a transformation in the performance of Al-Zawahiri, especially as he is known not to be hasty, and his statements always are characterized by being unemotional?

(Ibrahim) I think that the wish to attract media attention at this time prevailed over this tone of the statement. Here, I do not mean attracting the attention of the media to him personally, but to the Al-Qaeda Organization. This is compatible with his previous statements in which he described the Muslim Brotherhood – after they won the elections – as followers of the US principles; he did the same with Hamas after it won the elections. The EIG rejected these descriptions, because if any Islamic faction achieved a certain position, this could serve Islam, which is completely in our interest.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) so is Al-Zawahiri now is attacking all Islamic factions?

(Ibrahim) In the past, Al-Zawahiri wrote a book called “Al-Hasad al-Murr (The Bitter Harvest)” in which he nearly considered the Muslim Brotherhood as an infidel organization. This is the mistake of the Sunnis, because they usually attack any new faction, or any faction that is different in its leanings from the others. This is the opposite of what the Shiites do, because they appreciate the Ulema, and take into consideration the differences and respect them.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) By doing this, does Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri mean to split the ranks of the EIG?

(Ibrahim) He wants to see the sons of the EIG join the ranks of Al-Qaeda, and abandon the concept of the (ending of violence) initiative. This is because he can see only one way forward, which is jihad, and he considers that anyone who adopts any other option is a traitor.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) You said that the aim of Al-Zawahiri’s statement is to attract the attention of the media; why did he choose this particular timing to do this?

(Ibrahim) Of course there is no doubt that at the moment the carpet has been pulled from under the feet of Al-Qaeda, and that there are other groups that hold the cards of the game, such as Hezbollah, especially as Al-Qaeda has no role in confronting Israel. When we review the actions of Al-Qaeda, we find that all its actions are internal fighting, and killing of civilians as it happened in 11 September 2001, and the explosions in London, Madrid, and Indonesia, in which hundreds of civilians were killed. We support the stance of Hezbollah when it rejected the internal fighting, which is the opposite of the stance of Al-Qaeda, which fought in Jordan against the government, and also in Saudi Arabia, a stance which won Al-Qaeda the animosity of all these countries. Rejecting the internal fighting always remains one of the most important principles to which we are committed. Hezbollah’s stance is that despite the fact that the Lebanese President is Christian, Hezbollah has not rebelled against him; on the contrary, it is focusing its efforts on fighting the Zionist enemy. Hamas is doing the same, as it rejects internal fighting against the rest of the factions, such as Fatah. Al-Qaeda is doing the opposite of this in Iraq, as it destroys the Shiite mosques, and targets civilians, a course that led to the emergence of sedition between the Sunnis and the Shiites.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) In 1997 you announced the initiative of stopping the violence, and in 2002 you issued the controversial (Intellectual) Revisions. Four years after issuing these revisions, what is your assessment of them?

(Ibrahim) Always the new is met by unexpected reactions. After 24 years of fighting, do we not have the right to talk about reconciliation? However, we appreciate that enthusiastic youths do not accept reconciliation. What astonishes me is that they all know by heart the jurisprudence of jihad, but they stop when they reach the chapter on reconciliation, and do not give it any consideration. This is despite the fact that reconciliation is not easy, because it needs courageous men who are capable of adopting decisions of destiny and shouldering the responsibility for the results stemming from these decisions. As for the decision of war, it is much easier than the decision of peace. However, I believe that everything new needs time to settle down in the minds.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do you mean that the revisions have achieved what the fighting operations could not achieve?

(Ibrahim) Yes certainly, what did we get from fighting other than executions and detentions? Fighting has completely exhausted four generations of the EIG. If we compare the fruits of the fighting to the fruits of the initiative, we will find that the latter gave us security and safety in order to continue the Islamic call.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Your stance about Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman is unspecific and ambiguous. It is said that you have not requested his extradition to Egypt. Could you please clarify this stance?

(Ibrahim) The first of our demands was the return of Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman from abroad to attend the dialogues we were conducting. However, no one responded to this demand.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Now, have you stopped such demands, and have you removed him?

(Ibrahim) No, we are still demanding this, and we still remember his words when he said that he would very much rather be imprisoned in Egypt than in the United States. Dr. Omar Abdul-Rahman still is the overall Amir of the EIG, no one has removed him, Sheikh Karam Zuhdi is the chairman of the EIG Shura Council, and his relationship with Dr. Omar Abdul-Rahman is good. Some people might not know that Sheikh Omar was the one who selected Sheikh Karam to assume this position. Sheikh Omar still is the symbol of the EIG; we respect and appreciate him. Furthermore, as a group we have a great capacity for loyalty, and we have never denied anyone.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Sheikh Abbud al-Zumur defended the initiative of stopping violence, but he was not a signatory to the revisions, and he split from the EIG because of his disagreement with some members of the leadership. What is the nature of your current relationship with him, and what is your current stance toward him?

(Ibrahim) Sheikh Abbud al-Zumur is a member of the EIG Shura Council. He is a very polite person of lofty moral fiber. There are some circumstances that obstruct many issues. Some time ago, he had problems with the state; however, we have tried to mediate in order to resolve them.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Why did he not sign the revisions?

(Ibrahim) This happed because of circumstances beyond his control, which prevented him from attending the signing.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) You announced that Sheikh Rifa’i Taha was in an Egyptian prison, and that his declared stance was to reject the initiative. What is his stance now?

(Ibrahim) Rifa’i Taha is a member of the EIG Shura Council. When he was released from prison he was objecting to the initiative; however, after that he agreed to the initiative when he was arrested in 2001. Later on, the initiative was the reason for sparing him the enforcement of two in absentia death sentences. Despite this previous disagreement, Taha did not split from the EIG, because we, in the EIG, do not have any dissidents.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Have you visited Sheikh Rifa’i in prison?

(Ibrahim) No. However, his family visited him a number of times, and assured me that he was in a safe place in which he was comfortable.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) There is information confirming that some of the leaders of Al-Jihad Organization within the prisons have nearly completed intellectual revisions similar to those of the EIG. What do you know about this?

(Ibrahim) This information is true. We have heard this. We in the EIG have no objection to read the writings of any Muslim Sheikh or scholar, despite the fact that many groups refuse to read material written by the Sheikhs who do not belong to their group. However, I cannot comment on the Al-Jihad’s writings because so far I have not read them.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do you think that the revisions of Al-Jihad will be met with the same doubts and suspicions as the EIG revisions? Why have Al-Jihad’s revisions been delayed?

(Ibrahim) I think that the EIG revisions have made the situation easier. Four years have passed, it has been proved that they were not tactics as it was rumored by some, and the convictions and credibility of the EIG have been proved to all; this will make the stance toward the Al-Jihad’s revisions less acute. Perhaps the delay of the Al-Jihad’s revisions is due to the fact that they wanted to examine the consequences of our revisions.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) You killed Al-Sadat, after that you announced the initiative, and then you ended up with the revisions. Twenty-five years later, what is your view of the assassination of Al-Sadat?

(Ibrahim) More than once we held meetings to review this issue; we concluded that the assassination of Al-Sadat was not in the interest of the Islamic movement, especially as during the era of Al-Sadat the Islamic movements witnessed a large margin of freedom which we never witnessed before.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Then, in your opinion the assassination of Al-Sadat was prohibited by Shariaa?

(Ibrahim) Yes, it was prohibited, and it did not achieve any benefits for Islam.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) Some people think that launching an Internet website, such as yours, indicates a transfer to public peaceful political action. Bear in mind that the Muslim Brotherhood was the first to do so, and succeeded to win 88 seats in parliament. Despite your historical differences with them, what is your opinion of the Muslim Brotherhood?

(Ibrahim) The Muslim Brotherhood is an old and well-established group, and we cannot deny its historical role. Many Islamic movements stemmed from the Muslim Brotherhood, and it has done services to Islam. Now, we are establishing contacts with all the Islamic movements. The differences of opinions and marginal interpretative judgments could happen, and are currently considered one of the manifestations of democracy; this is beneficial in particular for the Islamic movements.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) What about the establishment of a political party?

(Ibrahim) We do not object to the establishment of a political party, or even to a private society from which we move to serve Islam and Muslims; provided that such an action would bring good. However, we have not reached a specific decision on this issue.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) What is your stance toward the Copts?

(Ibrahim) The Copts are partners in the homeland; they have the same rights and duties as we have. This is our firm stance. Islam urged us not only to be fair, but also to be charitable; Islam urges us to treat people kindly whether they are Muslims or not. Were it not for the justice and mercy of Islam, not a single Christian would have remained in the land of Muslims. If someone makes a mistake, the mistake should be attributed to the person and not to the religion.

(Asharq Al-Awsat) You have spent 24 years in prison. What are your conclusions of this experience?

(Ibrahim) I have learned many things in prison. The first thing is to honor God Almighty, and also justice. Any group that has both of these qualities will be successful in its institutional and social system. I have also learned how to be kind to people. I have learned not to beseech God to harm anyone, but to beseech Him to help people, because it is better for me to follow the example of God’s Messenger.