The Egyptian Islamic movement Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya revealed its new political party El-Benaa wa El-Tanmia (Building and Development) in a press conference on Monday. They gave a glimpse of their ambitions and views on several pivotal issues, including women’s rights, which they believe were pushed too far by the former regime. Calls for secularism were also met with flat refusal by the controversial Islamists.
The news conference was attended by many prominent figures from Al-Jamaa, including Osama Roshdi, a former leading member of the group who was recently detained for 24 hours at Cairo Airport by the Egyptian authorities upon his arrival. He has spent the last 23 years in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Albania, Holland and England but decided to return to Egypt shortly after the overthrow of the former regime, which had declared him persona non grata.
Essam Darbala, another eminent Al-Jamaa icon, was among those who represented the group during the conference, which was kicked off by a brief speech by Essam Abdel Maged, member of the movement’s Shura Council. “For many years Islamic entities were repressed by the power of tyranny as well as westernisation and secularism,” he said. “We are aiming to retain the Islamic identity of this country.”
Darbala, the head of the Shura Council, echoed the same sentiments by stating that, “Islamic forces have been persecuted and politically discriminated against since the constitution of 1923, but the January 25 Revolution has changed that reality, as freedom is one of its most valuable gains.
“Forming political parties is a legitimate right for Islamists and should not be perceived to be generosity. Communists and secularists have that right, and so do we.
“Islam is our frame of reference. I would like to stress that religion-based political parties are not harmful; Israel has religious parties and that did not lead to the destruction of their nation. In general, religions were sent to make the globe prosper.”
“In 1987, we refused to be politically involved because parties were fake back then. They were established just to trick people here and abroad that we were enjoying a democratic atmosphere. Parties with an Islamic frame of reference were also forbidden but that has changed now,” Darbala added.
Women’s “sufficient" rights
El-Benaa wa El-Tanmia founding member Tarek El-Zomor refused to answer a question about Al-Jamaa’s stance on women’s rights, but at the attendees’ insistence, Abdel Maged gave a reply. “Islam guarantees women their appropriate and sufficient rights. [Former first lady] Suzanne Mubarak gave the women [in Egypt] more than their lawful rights and that is not acceptable.”
Mahmoud Taha, another founding member, commented on the same topic. “I would like to ask those who use women as a weapon against us, who gave you the right to speak on their behalf? And what kind of women are you talking about? Are they women like my mother and my sister, or what?
“Eighty per cent of Egyptian women are veiled so they have no problems with Islamic principles. In general we will preach to women and I do not think that anyone sees anything wrong with this.”
Safwat Adel Ghani, a third founder, was no more lenient than his colleagues regarding women's rights in post-revolution Egypt.
“Disobeying the Islamic sharia (Islamic jurisprudence) is improper. In Europe, women were given too many rights so that now men are seeking equality with them. And before Islam, you all know what women were like. Islam stipulates suitable rights for women, who are of course part of the community.”
No Coptic president
Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya claimed that they have no problem in dealing with Islamic and non-Islamic parties with different beliefs from across the political spectrum. However, they believe that no Copt can assume power in Egypt, and nor should they.
“No Copt could be president even if we wanted them to, because 95 per cent of Egyptians are Muslim. Pope Shenouda said the same thing before,” Darbala said. “I just wonder why some people think of that possibility, although the fact that we will have no Coptic president does not contradict with democracy.
“In England for instance, the ruler and his partner must be Christians, and England is the mother of democracy. The same in Spain and other countries. The bottom line is we completely reject the idea of having a Coptic president.”
On the other hand, El-Benaa wa El-Tanmia welcomes Copts to join their ranks because “they believe in democracy”.
El-Zomor said Al-Jamaa respects democracy more than many other political forces. “We supported the constitutional referendum because we believe in democracy, although others have been objected to it,” he stated. “We have no candidate for the upcoming presidential elections. We will support whoever we think is best in the near future,” he added.
Al-Jamaa tended to resort to terror in the eighties and nineties to accomplish their objectives. They are most famous for assassinating President Anwar Al-Sadat in 1981 during the commemoration ceremony of the 1973 victory over Israel in the October War. They were also responsible for a number of bombings over nearly two decades.
Security forces eventually came down hard on them and their presence has been barely felt for over a decade. They eventually decided to choose the political route after “the popular uprising paved the way for a real democratic environment.”