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Egypt's minister of interior 'listens carefully' to former Jihad leader

The man who spent 30 years in jail for the assassination of former president Anwar Sadat talks to Ahram Online about his historic meeting with the interior minister and the changes as he sees them in Egypt

Mostafa Ali, Sunday 19 Jun 2011
Aboud Al- Zomor
Al-Zomor was released after the ouster of Mubarak to become a political figure in new Egypt
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Aboud El-Zomor, one of the founders of Islamic Jihad in the 1970s, told Ahram Online that he believes that the new Ministry of Interior leadership is serious about opening a new page with the Egyptian people in the post Mubarak era. El-Zomor was released from prison last March after serving 30 years behind bars for his role in the assassination of late president Anwar Sadat in 1981.

Last Thursday, El-Zomor met with Mansour El-Eissawi, Egypt’s minister of interior, to discuss how to ensure the full participation of all political forces in the electoral process, among other issues. He said that El-Eissawi listened carefully during the meeting to his points of view and demands, and that he believes that the minister is serious about changing the role and conduct of the Police.

The meeting between Aboud El-Zomor and Mansour El-Eissawi was a first of its kind between a leading Islamist figure who spent years in Mubarak’s jails and the top official of a ministry which had conducted widespread imprisonment and torture of tens of thousands of El-Zomor’s comrades in the not too distant past.

El-Zomor said that one of the issues he discussed with the minister was the demand for the repatriation of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, a prominent leader of El Jamaa El Islamiya (the mother organisation of Islamic Jihad) from the United States.

Abdel Rahman is serving a life sentence in the United States for his alleged role in the 1994 bombing of the World Trade Center building in New York City. His case has been a rallying point for thousands of his supporters and other Islamists in Egypt for years. In recent days, some of his supporters have picketed outside of the United States embassy in Cairo to demand the release of the ailing 73-year-old.

“Sheikh Omar has suffered greatly because of harsh conditions of imprisonment for 18 years. He is not allowed to even see his own family in person,” said El-Zomor.

El-Zomor added that he also demanded from El-Eissawi that he personally ensures that the Ministry of Interior finally honours previous court rulings that have mandated financial compensation for numerous members of El Jamaa El Islamiya who languished in prison cells for over two decades in dubious cases. The Ministry of Interior, in its part, had expressed in recent days its willingness to pay out as much as $73 million to settle many such cases.

The meeting was concluded by El-Zomor’s request that the government of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf issue a general pardon for all members of El Jamaa El Islamiya who were forced into exile because of their opposition to the regime of ousted president Mubarak. “The government should at least order new trials for those patriots in order to allow them to finally return to their beloved country,” he said.

Aside from the meeting with the minister, El-Zomor stressed his sense of excitement at the formation of the National Security Apparatus to replace the infamous, dismantled State Security Intelligence, which had repressed and tortured him and thousands more during the Mubarak era. “I feel that the newly formed Security Apparatus contains people who want to sincerely serve the country not those in power like the ones we used to see,” he told Ahram Online.

The meeting between El-Zomor and El-Eissawi highlights how the government of Prime Minister Sharaf is searching for ways to accommodate Islamist groups and individuals who once espoused armed struggle against the state as a means for change but are now yearning to engage politically in the post Mubarak era.

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