Speaking to the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi (Arab Jerusalem), Moussa Al-Abdilat, a Jordanian lawyer for Islamist groups, passed on a statement by leading jihadist authority Assem Al-Barkawi, aka Abu Mohamed Al-Maqdisi, calling for “the unification of efforts in the region and the world between jihadist Salafist movements, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Liberation Party in order to confront the project that targets Islam and Muslims in this difficult phase”. Al-Maqdisi, who has been jailed since 1994, also called on Salafis to support “the legitimate president in Egypt Mohamed Morsi in the battle against the military coup”. It is a message with clear ramifications for turbulent conditions in Sinai, the actions of Al-Qaeda-affiliated organisations there and the connections between such extremist jihadists and the Muslim Brotherhood.
A second message was delivered by the Muslim Brotherhood Secretary-General Mahmoud Hussein who accused the Egyptian press of blaming his group for everything that is happening in Egypt. He cited incidents for which the Muslim Brotherhood had been held responsible but in which he claimed they had no hand, including the drive-by shooting attack against a church in Warraq and earlier assaults on churches in Upper Egypt.
“We stress, as we have stressed many times before, that the Muslim Brotherhood does not, and has never used, violence. We condemn violence in all its forms and whatever its source,” he said.
The two messages may appear unrelated but according to one Muslim Brotherhood source they are connected. Hussein’s statement was a response to both the second part of Al-Maqdisi’s message and the minister of interior’s statement during a recent press conference linking the Muslim Brotherhood and jihadist Salafist groups which, the minister said, the Muslim Brotherhood has been using to carry out acts of sabotage.
“The Muslim Brotherhood has no objections to any party joining them, even Salafis” says the source, “but it is not responsible if they carry weapons.”
Developments in Sinai, he argued, did not constitute proof of a connection between the Muslim Brotherhood and the terrorist attacks there. He added that Hussein’s message was understood in Muslim Brotherhood circles as voicing “an element of the peaceful opposition which could accept the [post-3 July] roadmap if it were put to a public referendum”.
“There is no link between the two messages,” argues prominent Islamist lawyer Mokhtar Nouh, a breakaway member of the Muslim Brotherhood. “What Mahmoud Hussein’s is about is pre-empting the investigations in some ongoing legal cases in which he may well be involved.”
Nouh was more concerned by Al-Maqdisi’s words. The climate for a jihadist Salafist-Muslim Brotherhood tactical pact is “ideal”, he told Al-Ahram Weekly, referring to the security environment the Muslim Brotherhood created for jihadist Salafist organisations in Sinai, both during its alliance with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in the first interim period that followed the 25 January Revolution, and after it came to power through the election of Morsi and a Muslim Brotherhood dominated parliament.
“In spite of ideological difference between the two camps — the jihadist Salafis see Muslim Brotherhood thought as a brand of murji’a [an early Islamic theological school holding that judgement of others’ beliefs should be deferred to the hereafter because only God has the authority to judge who is and who is not a true Muslim] and therefore heretical, the Muslim Brotherhood, by virtue of its Islamist affinity, naturally furnished them with a safety net that afforded them freedom of movement. Al-Maqdisi’s call for the unification of efforts and support for Morsi is a call to actively champion the Muslim Brotherhood’s return to power militarily so as to restore the ‘ideal climate’ or to sow chaos and tension through violence and terrorism, which is what is taking place and which is also an ideal climate for them,” says Nouh.
Former Brotherhood leader Abdel-Sattar Al-Meligui believes there is a more intimate relationship between the two camps and Muslim Brotherhood leaders are directly connected to incidents of violence and terrorism. He points out that Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie spent 10 years in the mountains in Yemen, and asks, “what was he doing there if not training and organising Muslim Brotherhood cadres?”
Al-Meligui also blames Mahmoud Ezzat, a Brotherhood leader who has fled the country, for violence in Egypt which “also extends to those Brotherhood membership bases who are ordered out to stage demonstrations that turn to burning and sabotage”, while Brotherhood second-in-command Khairat Al-Shater, he says, “knows nothing except how to turn everything into a tradable commodity”.
“Did he not threaten General [Abdel-Fattah] Al-Sisi before the June Revolution that violence would break out throughout the country” if Morsi was ousted?
Al-Meligui continues: “Didn’t the Muslim Brotherhood support Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood’s backbone in Gaza? And there are others, such as Mohamed Beheiri, a member of the International Muslim Brotherhood Organisation, who was expelled from Yemen and who then accompanied Badie to Sudan. What was he doing there?”
The breakaway Muslim Brother believes the group’s leaders at the level of the organisation’s Guidance Bureau and Shura Council continue to pose a threat, not so much from Egypt, where many of these leaders are in jail, but from abroad.
That Al-Maqdisi is a major jihadist Salafi ideological authority augments the potential danger of his message. He has a long history of involvement with Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan where he was hired as a teacher at the Al-Qaeda-run Islamic Law Institute on the recommendations of Sheikh Sayed Imam, known as “Dr Fadl”, current Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahri, Abu Hifs Al-Masri and Abi Mossab Al-Suri. He taught Abu Mossab Al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq who was killed in an American raid in June 2006. More significantly, he is the author of “Gratifying the sight in exposing the errors of contemporary murji’a,” which jihadist Salafis in Gaza and Sinai see as their most authoritative ideological tract and in which they find justification for branding the Egyptian army as heretic and inciting the murder of soldiers.
The Islamic Liberation Party that Al-Maqdisi mentions in the statement Moussa Al-Abdilat conveyed to Al-Quds Al-Arabi was founded in Jerusalem in 1953 and calls for the re-establishment of the Islamic Caliphate. The party also advocates the defence of Islamic holy places in Palestine. In including this party in his “unification” call, the jihadist Salafi ideologue seeks to frame jihadist Salafist operations in Sinai as part of the battle to defend Islamic sanctities, leading analysts to believe that elements of these forces will attempt attacks against Israel in order to drive the point home. In a news bulletin last week, Radio Israel claimed a missile had been fired from Sinai towards Israel, but landed within Egypt’s borders.
Even on the question of the revival of the caliphate, the jihadist Salafis differ with the Muslim Brothers. The former envision a model that harks back to the early Islamic era as opposed to the Ottoman model which inspired both the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Liberation Party.
“They cannot unite in view of the vast ideological differences between them but they are manoeuvring,” says Ali Bakr, an expert on radical Islamist groups. “The space for this manoeuvring is to be found in temporarily shared goals between the Muslim Brotherhood and the jihadist Salafis which include wreaking attrition on the Egyptian army in Sinai and elsewhere. The Muslim Brotherhood operates on the principle, ‘Buying a slave is better than raising one.’ As most Brotherhood ranks are not trained in the use of firearms the group’s leaders take advantage of jihadist Salafi fighters who trained in combat. As for the Islamic Liberation Party, it has more in common with the Muslim Brothers. It, too, organised itself around proselytising activities, used political and intellectual action as its means of operation, and avoided what it called ‘material acts’, meaning military actions, to achieve its ends. On the other hand it is remote from the Muslim Brotherhood and its current conflict in Egypt.”
Jihadist Salafist aims, as signalled by the Al-Maqdisi message, are, says Bakr, “to generate an environment of violence and terror in Sinai at a time when other centres of ‘global jihad’, such as Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq are being squeezed. They now see Sinai as a place of refuge and a new base for their activities.”
Egyptian security officers are certain that an alliance between the jihadist Salafis and the Muslim Brothers exists. The minister of interior stated this explicitly in a press conference on Sunday in which he said that the International Muslim Brotherhood supported the jihadist Salafis in Egypt and has funded them since 30 June. Military experts believe the Muslim Brotherhood is closer to armed groups loyal to them in Gaza, Hamas in particular. Nevertheless, military sources agree that the Muslim Brotherhood benefits from jihadist Salafist activities and uses them to promote its propaganda line that Egypt has been unstable since the fall of Morsi.
This artcle was published in Al-Ahram Weekly