We would welcome al-Zawahiri back to Egypt - Abboud al-Zumar
By Mohamed Abdou Hasseinein
Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat - Aboud al-Zumar served 30 years in jail for his role
in the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. He was released just
weeks after the 25 January revolution - alongside other leading Egyptian
Islamists - having spent the entirety of Hosni Mubarak's presidency behind
Al-Zumar is a former Egyptian intelligence officer and a founding member and
first emir of the Islamic Jihad group which gunned down Sadat during a
military parade in 1981. He was succeeded by Ayman al-Zawahiri, with the
Islamic Jihad group later merging with Al Qaeda. Al-Zumar is a member of the
Egyptian Islamic Group's [Al-Gamaa al-Islamiya] Shura Council. The Islamic
Group renounced violence in the 1990s and is today part of the Egyptian
political landscape, having formed the Building and Development Party. The
Building and Development Party has 16 MPs.
In a telephone interview with Asharq Al-Awsat from Cairo, al-Zumar spoke
about his view and memories of the 25 January revolution, his take on the
political situation in Egypt today, and his hopes for the future of the
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] One year after the revolution, can you tell us your
impressions and memories of the Egyptian 25 January revolution? How did you
monitor the situation from prison?
[al-Zumar] The revolution started as a protest movement, and we monitored
this via Facebook. We were aware that the security forces were very
concerned about the situation. We would use the internet and satellite
television channels to monitor everything that was happening [in Egypt].
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Did you call on your colleagues in the Egyptian Islamic
Group [EIG] to take part in the protests?
[al-Zumar] No. We knew that the youth would play this role; we only provided
them with material support. I issued two statements. The first statement
called for everybody to support the Egyptian people and stand with this
protest movement as their demands are just. The second statement was
addressed to the Egyptian military and my army colleagues, and I warned the
Egyptian armed forces against clashing with the people.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Did you expect the revolution to be successful? Were you
expecting to be released from prison?
[al-Zumar] Earlier, I said this was a protest movement, nothing more, but
after people had been killed and injured over a number of days [by the
security forces], I expected the situation to escalate and to reach a
dangerous stage, and for comprehensive [political] change to take place.
This is because it is well known that when people are killed, the street
mobilizes. During the revolution, some people asked me: should we withdraw
from Tahrir Square. I said: if you withdraw from Tahrir Square you will find
yourselves next to me in Tora Prison, and so you must be steadfast in
confronting the regime.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] When did you realize that the Mubarak regime would fall?
[al-Zumar] When Mubarak began to make concessions...this is because I am
aware that Mubarak is unbelievably politically ignorant, and I knew that he
does not understand anything. I would tell people that Mubarak had one eye
on the palace and another on the airplane door [i.e. he was in two minds
about whether he should stay in power or leave].
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is this when you began to feel that it would be possible
for you to be released from prison?
[al-Zumar] We knew that when this regime collapses and is replaced, we would
have a good opportunity to be freed from prison as any new regime would give
us justice, particularly as we have served our sentences according to the
law. This is because any new regime will try to win over the enemies of the
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Were there any conditions attached to you release?
[al-Zumar] None whatsoever! I was released without any negotiations or
conditions. However there were indirect offers to release me - with
conditions - put forward prior to the revolution [by the Mubarak regime].
Since the 1980s the former regime offered us a number of things to secure
our release. They told us: if you join the National Democratic Party, we can
release you. Another time, they offered to release us on the condition that
we refrain from talking about politics. As for the last such offer, this was
just months before the revolution, and this offer had a very dangerous
condition attached. They said: if Aboud and Tareq al-Zumar accept power
being bequeathed to Gamal Mubarak, they can be released." We rejected this
saying: we do not accept somebody like Gamal Mubarak being responsible for
Egypt.and if we were to do accept this, we would be traitors to God, his
prophet, and the Muslim people."
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Have you been subject to harassment from the security
services following your release?
[al-Zumar] Not at all, I live my life normally with complete freedom, and I
have not been challenged by a single police or security officer, and I say
whatever I want to say at whatever conference without restriction.
Personally, I am amazed by this!
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The Egyptian Islamic Group's involvement in politics has
been met by strong condemnation by certain parties. How do you explain this?
[al-Zumar] This is because in the past phase the Egyptian Islamic Group has
been more involved with Islamic dawa [than politics], but we now have
[political] aspirations and are monitoring the political conditions and
working to quickly prepare our leaders for political work so that we can
regain our political position and restore our political leaders. We put
forward 28 candidates [at the recent Egyptian parliamentary elections],
which resulted in 16 of our members being elected as MPs; in other words 60
percent of our candidates were successful. Therefore the Egyptian people
choosing and voting for our candidates confirms that we are ready to enter
the political arena.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The youth who were the prime force behind the revolution
feel as if the revolution has failed and been hijacked by the Islamists.
What is your opinion of this?
[al-Zumar] This is not true. This revolution is the result of a cumulative
effort and long struggle that cannot ignore and exclude the efforts of the
previous generation. I say, this revolution was carried out by 50,000 people
who were the first group to take to Tahrir Square. However many other things
contributed to the revolution, such as the previous activities of the Muslim
Brotherhood, and the mobilization carried out by the honourable opposition,
as well as the newspapers, media, and human rights organization. More
importantly than this was Mubarak himself; one of the major reasons for this
revolution. The youth began the revolution, and they were followed by the
Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists and all other Islamist groups, who
supported them in the resilience stage.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] However even if everybody did take part in the later
stages of the revolution.isn't it true that it is the Islamists and the
Islamist political parties who have made the most gains?
[al-Zumar] That is their rights, because these gains have been made
democratically. The revolution opened the scene to freedom of expression,
and the people chose who they wanted to choose. It is the [Egyptian] people
who chose the Islamist trend.nobody hijacked anything.it is the people who
decided, saying: they [the Islamists] are the ones who best represent us.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some people are very concerned about the Islamists
reaching power in Egypt. How do you view this?
[al-Zumar] This is an illusion. They say: we fear the Islamists will do this
and that. However this is nothing more than fears being provoked by the
remnants of the Mubarak media. We must understand that the Islamists have
not solely come to power, there are others forces in parliament with us, and
we are operating by [political] accord and listening to everybody, so there
is no reason to fear. I say: the man who believes in God should not be
feared.for he himself fears God.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There are reports that Building and Development Party MPs
will seek to enact Islamic Sharia law immediately. Is this true?
[al-Zumar] Everybody who voted for the Islamist trend voted for them for
this reason, for Islamic Sharia law to be applied [in Egypt]. We should not
be afraid of Islamic Sharia law because it protects people's rights.and we
will seek to apply this because Islamist MPs elections are based upon this,
and the popular force is behind it. The [Egyptian] people are saying: I
chose you to implement Islamic Sharia law, and this does not mean killing
Christians or opponents or opposition.
However Islamist Sharia law is not the primary issue today, rather we must
seek to complete the [political] reform and the trials of the former regime
officials, as well as solve the economic and health-care problems that
Egyptian society is suffering from.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the reports claiming that your party intends to
put forward a draft law in parliament granting amnesty to all political
prisoners? Is this true?
[al-Zumar] This is very important; there are people who were treated
unjustly during the Mubarak era who are affiliated to the Egyptian Islamic
Group or the Islamic Jihad group. They did not kill anybody; they were
imprisoned because they had a different political opinion [than the
government] and because they support the implementation of Islamic Sharia
law. It is not logical for this situation to remain the same [under the new
regime] and so they must be pardoned. In addition to this, we are asking for
Dr. Omar Abdel-Rahman to be returned to Egypt from US prison, as well as all
members of the Egyptian Islamic Group abroad.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What if Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, former Emir of
the Islamic Jihad group, wants to return to Egypt? Would you accept this?
[al-Zumar] I do not think he will return.but I have no problem with all such
figures returning to their countries on the condition that security is
provided for them. I have no problem with al-Zawahiri returning to his
country in safety and with honor. We would welcome his return with our heads
held high, after the end of the battle with the Mubarak regime; there is one
problem which is that the US will not accept this [al-Zawahiri's return],
and will exert pressure on Egypt not to accept his return.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Don't you think his return would be a risk?
[al-Zumar] His return would not be a danger for Egypt, for figures like
al-Zawahiri were opponents of the former regime and their threat was solely
against this regime, not Egypt. As for today, he [al-Zawahiri] is working to
liberate Afghanistan and Iraq.but I do not believe that he will return.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you in contact with members of the Islamic Jihad group
[al-Zumar] No, I have avoided this because I am taking the political line; I
have turned the page on the past, and opened the door to peaceful action.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you view Egyptian relations with the US and Israel
in the future?
[al-Zumar] Relations with the US must be balanced and in the public
interest, and so long as there is popular will for this, I believe that
Egypt will have good relations with the US. However if there is conspiracy
on the part of some countries to disturb parliament or handover power, this
will have an impact on our bilateral relations with any country. As for
Israel, there is a second peace agreement that is present and which nobody
is speaking about.but this must be developed in the interests of Egypt and
with the agreement of both sides.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about relations with Iran? How do you view this,
particularly as tension has been caused over Iran naming a street after
Sadat's assassin Khalid Islambouli?
[al-Zumar] The former regime took an illogical position against Iran; it is
politically stupid to take a position opposing Iran, and it was possible for
us to deal with Iran in a better way in the interests of the region. It is
not necessary to cut off ties with Iran because of a street being named
after Khalid Islambouli, whilst as the same time Egypt was silent about a
huge mural on the side of the Israeli Knesset which said that Israel is from
the Nile to the Euphrates. I think these are historical instances that Egypt
should not ignite an unnecessary crisis and battle over. Egypt should not
demand the removal [of this street name].why should Egypt be angry about
Khalid Islambouli being glorified in Iran? Let us assume that a state names
one street or institution after Mubarak, will the revolution take a stance
on this and demand Egypt cut its ties with this country?
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Received on Sat Jan 28 2012 - 17:09:03 EST