[Imbabi] Does it mean that the failure of the assassination attempt demoralized the group and forced it to announce a non-violence initiative?
[Al-Sharif] The initiative was based on a true conviction. The group started as a peaceful preaching group and there were no intentions to carry arms. We even used to disagree with Al-Jihad group, which used to have an armed and secretive work frame. The conditions forced us to carry arms, thus the members of the group wanted to go back to their original beliefs -- preaching and rejecting violence-- on which they were raised.
[Imbabi] Why then it came at that time?
[Al-Sharif] The initiative was based on a true conviction, in addition to the weakness that afflicted the group at that time, the pressure, and the oppression against prisoners. The evidence that declaring this initiative came without asking for anything in return is the fact that I was in Yemen when the first statement of the initiative was issued. The declaration came from one side and assured that the group is unarmed and open. It is a preaching group that has its mosques. All the members of the Islamic Group abide by the initiative and agree on continuing this path even after the fall of Mubarak's regime.
[Imbabi] You said that the group was forced to take the path of violence. How did that happen?
[Al-Sharif] The regime used to adopt the policy of oppression when dealing with Islamists in order to eliminate them. This fact is recorded and can be found in the press conferences of the former Minister of Interior, Zaki Badr, who said that he wants to eliminate such groups by using the policy of "lethal strikes." We decided to defend ourselves because if we did not, the entire group would have been exterminated.
[Imbabi] Did the failure in assassinating Mubarak and the declaration of this initiative affect the activities of the Islamic Group in Yemen?
[Al-Sharif] After the declaration of the initiative, we, as the Yemeni group, accepted it although some members in the Shura Council outside Yemen lead by Rifa'i Taha and Abd-al-Akhir Hammad, declared their rejection. Nevertheless, we issued a statement announcing that we welcome that step.
[Imbabi] You were deported from Cairo in 2004 with the preacher of the Jihad Group, Dr Sayid Imam. What is the relation between the Islamic Group and the jihad in Yemen?
[Al-Sharif] Dr Sayid Imam, or Dr Fadl, returned to Yemen in 1997 after a disagreement with the Al-Qa'ida for summarizing his book "Talab al-Ilm al-Sharif" without asking for his permission. We did not have any personal relation between us but he treated Abd-al-Akhar Hammad after an attempt on his life in Pakistan in 1995.
[Imbabi] Why was there a gap between you and Dr Fadl?
[Al-Sharif] Because he was very extreme in his book; to the extent that he used to harshly criticize the Islamic Group. He argued against the thoughts of the Islamic Group in his book "Talab al-Ilm al-Sharif."
[Imbabi] How do you then evaluate the revisions of the Islamic Jihad Group which he announced in the document of rationalization of Jihadist act?
[Al-Sharif] He was with me in prison in Yemen, and the revisions he announced from Egypt in 2007 were not the result of coercion as said by Al-Qa'ida ideologue Ayman al-Zawahiri. Rather, they reflected his intellectual conviction. I spent three years with him in the political prison in Yemen after September 11. He told me then that the Al-Qa'ida Organization, by carrying out this attack, has committed a mass suicide. What he said to me exactly was: "The United States got engaged in World War II because Japan attacked a US port in an overt act of hostility. As a result, the United States hit Japan with a nuclear bomb." He further said that the Al-Qa'ida did not have a political consideration while planning the September 11 attack, or else, the organization would have taken into consideration what happened in Japan. When two towers are destroyed, there must be a reaction, and this is what happened. He believed that the attack entailed a violation of the Islamic law in the sense that it led to the killing of innocent civilians who did nothing wrong. He also believed that the attack was a political and organizational mistake. He believed then that there is a need to rationalize the jihadist act on a global level. Hence was his idea to write the revisions document which was declared from Egypt.
[Imbabi] But did you have any hand in this?
[Al-Sharif] I told him then that he is responsible for the killing of women and children that takes place in Algeria inspired by his book "Al-Umda fe I'dad al-Udah." He said it was not his intention that the Algerians should commit these acts. He renounced these acts, which confirms that his revisions were a result of a genuine conviction and not a result of pressure or coercion of any type. And I confirm that.
[Imbabi] How were you and Dr Fadl extradited from Yemen to Cairo?
[Al-Sharif] It was in return for allowing Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Salih to promote the idea of transforming the Arab League into the Arab Union. This was before September 11. Salih used to say that there were security tensions between Yemen and Egypt and that he wanted to resolve that file.
The poof of this is when I was arrested, the political security department suggested that I and Uthman al-Samman be deported to Somalia and then to Sudan, but we refused. They did not want to extradite us to Egypt because some leaders of the Yemeni Socialist Party, such as Abu-Bakr al-Attas, were living in Egypt. These leaders were sentenced to death for attempting to separate and destroy Yemen. At the time, Egypt refused to extradite them and consequently Yemen refused to extradite us. But, when Yemen and the Egyptian regime reached a deal with regard to the issue of the Arab Union, we were deported from Yemen despite their earlier rejection of our demands to return to Egypt to the extent that we staged many hunger strikes asking to return to Cairo.
[Imbabi] Yemen was considered a fertile ground for Al-Qa'ida Organization. How was your relation with the organization's leaders Usama Bin Ladin and Ayman al-Zawahiri?
[Al-Sharif] It was a relationship between two groups which coordinate with each other, especially with our elements in Afghanistan, to the extent that at one time, there was an idea to merge the Islamic Group and Islamic Jihad into one group. But this did not happen because leaders of both groups held conflicting perceptions and orientations
[Imbabi] What is the role of Iran in the Afghan jihad and in supporting the Arab jihadists?
[Al-Sharif] Iran was supporting the Shiite side in Afghanistan during the Afghan jihad, and there were special relations between the Islamic Group and Iran.
[Imbabi] How strong were these relations, and do they still exist now?
[Al-Sharif] The relations covered all materialistic and logistic aspects. The relations between us were special. However, after the initiative and the September 11, the situation changed completely.
[Imbabi] How do you explain the detention of the Group's leaders such as Shawqi al-Islambuli and Tharwat Salah Shihatah in Iran till now?
[Al-Sharif] Iran is supporting what is happening in Afghanistan.
[Imbabi] Is it a kind of bargaining with the Egyptian regime?
[Al-Sharif] There is no bargaining. More than that, they are held in jails under the pretext that they have entered Iran without informing the Iranian authorities or coordinating with them. Anyway, the mutual interest between us and Iran does not exist anymore, so there is the possibility that they might be used as leverage.
[Imbabi] With regard to the story of Usama Bin Ladin's killing, there was skepticism expressed by some Islamists with regard to the US's Adminstration account of the incident?
[Al-Sharif] Usama Bin Ladin was killed. Al-Qa'ida and Taliban confirmed that and all evidence corroborate this. He was taken alive before he was killed. Throwing his body into the sea is a sign of fear and cowardice.
[Imbabi] How do you see the future of the organization after his death?
[Al-Sharif] Al-Qa'ida emotionally and spiritually is linked to Usama Bin Ladin, which means that the organization is now closer to be dissolved.
[Imbabi] Cannot Ayman al-Zawahiri or any other leader run the affairs of the Organization?
[Al-Sharif] Ayman al-Zawahiri is not cherished by the Yemenis, Saudis, or members from the Gulf countries. In their perception, the Egyptian Jihad Group tends to be strict in the issue of Takfir [holding other Muslims infidels]. Therefore, they will not welcome the leadership of Ayman Al-Zawahiri or anyone else. Also, there is a state of mistrust in the existing leadership that prevents them from supporting him or others.
[Imbabi] What was your relationship with Usama Bin Ladin?
[Al-Sharif] He was a man of morals and I met him many times and I sat with him in Saudi Arabia. The Al-Qa'ida Organization became extremist and embraced violence when Egyptian jihadists joined it. There was a time when some Saudi scholars wanted to join Al-Qa'ida but they backed out after those Egyptian jihadists joined it. That was told to me by the leader of Al-Qa'ida in Yemen.
[Imbabi] And who are the most prominent among those scholars?
[Al-Sharif] I remember Nasir al-Umar and Sa'd al-Awdah.
[Description of Source: Kuwait Al-Ra'y Online in Arabic -- Website of independent, liberal, pro-government daily; URL: http://www.alraimedia.com]
Former leading figure in Egypt's Jama'ah Islamiyah denies return to violence
GMP20110628950018 Cairo Al-Yawm TV in Arabic 2030 GMT 28 Jun 11
Part of Cairo Today on 27 June 2011 was dedicated to an interview former leading figure of Jama'ah Islamiyah in Egypt Usamah Rushdi who returned to Egypt after having spent 23 years in London.
Rushdi formed the "Front to Save Egypt" in London which, according to the programme, was closely watched by security bodies before the revolution.
Prior to the interview, the programme broadcast a report on the Jama'ah Islamiyah and its history from its formation in the early seventies in Egyptian universities, its assassination of former Egyptian President Anwar Al-Sadat and later repentance and rejection of violence when the leading figures were in prison.
The programme started with a debate with Rushdi about how far the members may go in order to impose what they believe is the true interpretation of Islam.
The presented Amr Adib asked Rushdi if the Jama'ah intends to return to its previous state of controlling mosques, universities and rejecting the opinions of any religious scholars from outside the Jam'ah.
Rushdi denied this was the intention noting that this was mainly caused by an oppressive regime "which left no other way for people who want to create change".
Rushdi seemed to be accepting of other political currents on the Egyptian scene.
"The Islamic current is an existing current in Egypt. We have practiced political exclusion for sixty years and it did not work. Egyptian political parties have to learn co-habitation," he said.
Rushdi stressed that advocacy of any religious group has to be separated from its political activity and practice.
Rushdi concluded by stressing he had not yet decided to return permanently to Egypt but if he does he will join an existing political party
[Description of Source: Cairo Al-Yawm TV in Arabic --Private satellite channel]
Egypt: Former Islamic Group's Usamah Rushdi on Islamists Political Future
GMP20110628825005 London Al-Sharq al-Awsat Online in Arabic 28 Jun 11
[Interview with Egyptian Islamist Usamah Rushdi, by Abd-al-Sattar Hutaytah, place not given: "Founder of the Front for the Salvation of Egypt to Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: A Woman or a Copt Has the Right to Occupy the Post of President, and the People Are Capable of Making the Right Decision"]
After a long journey of diaspora across the world that continued for some quarter of a century, Shaykh Usamah Rushdi, the former leading member of the Islamic Group [IG] who has been known for his opposition to the regime of former President Husni Mubarak since the beginning of the eighties as a spokesman of the IG, has returned to Egypt. He has come back to undertake a tour of the Egyptian governorates after the 25 January revolution that toppled Mubarak. During that long period, he had undertaken several activities, the most prominent of which was his founding of the opposition Front for the Salvation of Egypt in London in 2005.
Shaykh Usamah Rushdi has spent the years of the beginning of the eighties in prison where he was with Ayman al-Zawahiri, who later on became the successor of Usama Bin Ladin in leading Al-Qa'ida Organization. In an interview with Al-Sharq al-Awsat Rushdi predicts that Al-Zawahiri will fail in leading the organization. Rushdi says that his knowledge of Al-Zawahiri makes him say that Al-Zawahiri is not a man for leadership, and he expects him not to succeed, the same as he did not succeed before in leading the Jihad Organization. Rushdi denies that he had ever traveled to Iran, or known any of the leading members of Al-Qa'ida who might have taken asylum in Iran.
With regard to the IG practicing political action in Egypt after the fall of Mubarak's regime, Rushdi says that this new experiment is a healthy sign, and it requires the rest of the new groups to develop their media political address, absorb many of the variables, and not to be hasty in entering this field. Rushdi expresses his belief that any political tendency in Egypt cannot on its own accomplish the program of change. He also denounces the current debate among some Islamists about the candidacy of women and Copts to the post of president of the republic.
At this stage, Rushdi does not consider himself to be affiliated to any specific political tendency in Egypt. Rushdi says that he has preserved his position as independent, and developed his relations during the past years with Egyptian political and youth powers abroad and at home. Rushdi points out that Egypt currently witnesses a great deal of vitality that requires the politicians to go down to the people, and to refrain from criticizing the people or disparaging their ability to make the right choice, "because we ought to deal with the Egyptian people as they are now," and "we cannot export them and import another people, for instance, from Korea."
The following is the text of the interview:
[Hutaytah] Some people think that you have spent a period in Iran. Is this true?
[Rushdi] No, I have never visited Iran, and I do not have any relation with Iran.
[Hutaytah] It is said that some leading members of Al-Qa'ida Organization are in Iran. Do you have any information about this?
[Rushdi] I have nothing to do with this, and I can neither confirm nor deny it. I am just a man who is interested in the cause of intellect and writing; other than that I do not have any real information.
[Hutaytah] You knew Ayman al-Zawahiri. Do you think he is suitable to be a leader of Al-Qa'ida as a successor of Usama Bin Ladin?
[Rushdi] Yes, I knew Dr Al-Zawahiri. We were together in prison during the period between 1981 and 1984; however, after that we separated and disagreed when they started the issue of founding the so-called Egyptian Jihad Organization, and after that Al-Qa'ida, which has taken the course of international action since 1998 and started to fight the entire world. I had my contributions, my writings, and my viewpoints, which certainly differ from the work method and thinking of the Al-Qa'ida brethren.
Al-Zawahiri is not a leader, and I do not expect him to succeed, the same as he did not succeed in the past in leading Jihad Organization, which disintegrated and whose members had split, before he decided to join Al-Qa'ida in February 1998.
I believe that Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri is an intellectual, who can think or write, but he is not a leader. Therefore, I consider that the entire Al-Qa'ida has become an image now that constitutes a concept more than an organization. Perhaps this concept might find supporters here and there in a random manner, or in a way that does not have the pyramid organizational hierarchy.
I believe that the revolutions now taking place in the Arab region confirm that if these peoples want to introduce change, they are capable of introducing popular peaceful change; the actions such as explosions, assassinations, and so on only serve the tyrannical and dictatorial regimes, and give them the support they need to consecrate violence and consecrate oppression.
I believe that violence is a project that serves oppression, and does not at all serve the Arab and Muslim peoples. Therefore, I hope that all will now move toward political, peaceful, and popular action to lift the injustice, if there is any, and to fulfill their visions and aims for which they aspire. This is the way that has been proved to everyone that they can achieve their aim, and lead to fruition. This is my call on Dr Al-Zawahiri or anyone else.
[Hutaytah] Do you consider that the Islamist tendencies, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, the IG, and the Jihad, which have started to establish parties and to join the political action, are really serious about the issue of democratic alternation of power?
[Rushdi] With regard to the practice of political action by the Islamist groups, I believe that we have to distinguish between the Muslim Brotherhood and the rest of the new powers now on the arena of the Islamic political action. The Muslim Brotherhood is a big group that has its project and has its vision; therefore, it is not new, and it will compete strongly in this field. As for the rest of the Islamist groups, which now have started to establish political parties, and to join the political action, I consider that this is a beautiful development, a development that confirms that the climate of freedom and democracy, and the periods in which the people can express themselves will be able to absorb the energies of all powers, guide them, and create legitimate ways for change and fulfillment of political demands.
I believe that what we are going through now in Egypt is an important experiment that is worthy of contemplation and of learning from it. However, naturally the rest of the Islamic groups need to develop their media political address, and need some time to be able to absorb many of the variables that have passed as a result of the circumstances from which these groups have suffered during the past years. Therefore, I call on them not to be hasty in entering this field, and to take sufficient time so that their experiment in political action will be fruitful. However, this is something that ought to be encouraged, as I said, and should be considered a healthy sign and not a negative one.
[Hutaytah] What is your opinion of the controversy that erupts every now and then among the Islamist tendencies about the women and the Copts?
[Rushdi] The presidency here does not mean grand imamate, Caliph, or any similar position. Imposing conditions about women and Copts for the post of president of the republic is in itself an inaccurate imposition. I believe that the president will be an employee at the grade of president of the republic; this post does not have absolute powers, but it will have some powers that will be under the supervision of the parliament, the society, and the political parties. Therefore, to consider that the president of the republic needs special conditions is - in my opinion - incorrect. Therefore, I consider that a woman is qualified to be a president, the Egyptian Copt is qualified, and any one that the people choose will be qualified to undertake this role.
[Hutaytah] There are other issues that arouse controversy every day about a paragraph in Article 2 of the Constitution, which stipulates, "The Principles of Islamic Shari'ah are the main source of legislation." What is your opinion of this?
[Rushdi] The battle over Article 2 of the Constitution is a losing battle. All the powers that call for the so-called civil state, or call for a constitutional state, which I consider to be the accurate description of the state we aspire for or we want, ought to avoid conflict over this article, because the Egyptian people will be provoked to a great extent when we try to encroach upon this article. This article has an interpretation, which was given by the Supreme Constitutional Court in a famous ruling in 2004; the ruling says that the article addresses the legislator and not the judge.
By the way, this article is similar to articles in the constitutions of other Arab countries; even the Iraqi Constitution, which was drafted under occupation, could not bypass stipulating that it is inadmissible to legislate laws against the Islamic Shari'ah. Therefore, we ought to understand that we reflect the Egyptian people, and we should not consider ourselves to be above the culture, religion, and belonging of this people. Therefore, we should not reduce the cause of political action to the issue of Article 2 of the Constitution; Article 2 should remain as it is, and we should try to introduce the political and constitutional guarantees that protect the rights of all Egyptians in Egypt.
[Hutaytah] You were the spokesman of the IG. When did you resign from the IG?
[Rushdi] I resigned from the IG at the end of 1998. At that time this was related to the selection of other individuals to assume this duty, and was within the framework of agreements and arrangements within the IG. After that I started to work as an independent, I established the Al-Mahrusah website in Holland, and in 2005 we established the Front for the Salvation of Egypt in London.
I left Egypt in 1989. The reason behind my departure was the impossibility of continuing under the grave violations committed by the interior minister at that time, and by the state security investigation authority; this was related to the large numbers of detentions, the torture, the threats of murder, and the extreme encroachment. All these pushed me to leave Egypt and go abroad. I spent 23 years outside Egypt. In the beginning, I went to Saudi Arabia for a number of months, then I traveled to Pakistan, Albania, and Holland, where I spent 10 years, and after that I went to Britain. It was a long journey of diaspora.
[Hutaytah] What is the reason of the decision to return to Egypt?
[Rushdi] The return has come after Egypt was liberated from the regime of the tyrant Mubarak, and after Egypt started to regain the vitality of the civil and political society. We, as the Front for the Salvation of Egypt in London, have been part of this political activity, and all along the past years we have worked for change. It was natural that I return to my country, my family, my brethren, and my friends after all these police restrictions that were imposed on us have been removed. This is particularly true as I have been awarded judicial rulings stipulating my right to return, my right to obtain Egyptian travel documents, and my right to have my name lifted from the lists of those prevented from traveling, and from surveillance of my arrival, and also lifting my name from the lists of the so-called individuals dangerous to public security, on which former Interior Minister Habib al-Adili had placed me. Therefore, I have the right to return the same as any Egyptian citizen returning to his country, and who is not subject to any court rulings.
[Hutaytah] In your opinion, what did the security organization consider to be dangerous about you?
[Rushdi] I believe that the security organizations considered that the danger was focused in that I was a political and media activist. I was the first to manage an Internet opposition website from abroad in the nineties. This activity annoyed them, and hence they plotted a number of schemes against me in Holland, and exerted pressure on the Dutch Government to expel me; indeed I was expelled in 2003 when they considered me a persona non grata who harmed the Dutch international relations. These things represent continuous harassment by the Egyptian security organizations.