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Book review: The rise and fall of three major Islamist organizations

Hamdi El-Batran, a police officer and writer, describes the experience of the renunciation of violence by Islamist groups in Egypt, and details their debates and revision of thought

Mahmoud El-Wardani, Wednesday 27 Jul 2011
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It is rare to have such combined characteristics in one single book, Ta'amulat fi Onf wa Tawbat El-Jamaat El-Islameya (Meditations on the Violence and Repentance of the Islamist Groups) by Hamdi El-Batran. The author is a writer as well as a police officer who lost his position defending the honor and rights of people, thus rendering the book's topic of major importance, especially after the 25 January revolution, although the author doesn't mention the revolution at all.

The book tracks the rise and fall of three fundamentalist Islamist movements, beginning in the early 1980s and covering the announcement of the renunciation of violence and revisions groups' principles by activists within these organizations, namely El-Takfeer Wa El-Hijra (Atonement and Migration), El-Jihad, and El-Jamaa El-Islameya (Islamic Group).

This took place in the early 2000s, after nearly twenty years of violence between the state and these organizations.

The author, Hamdi El-Batran, published his first well-known novel, Memoires of a Police Officer in the Rural Areas, whose title was inspired by the same book by the famous Egyptian late writer Tawfiq El-Hakim.

El-Batran lost his position after investigations conducted by the ministry of interior because of violence and torture, which was a known policy for the police system.

He was forced to retire in 2001, and thus witnessed and took part in the experience of these organizations and their fall, although he worked in the police force and not in the national security apparatus.

The writer's position on the organizations' revisions of thought is clearly refusal. He notes that El-Jamaa El-Islameya is very likely working through a secret organization and, as soon as its members are out of jail, will continue working underground; exactly like the Muslim Brotherhood, which had been working secretly since the decision by the state to formally ban the organization.

In addition, El-Batran refers to the discussions between the ministry of interior and the thinkers and journalists in jail, stating that there was nothing to indicate their intention to "convergence under the sate, accept its laws or even apologize to others for their practices, including the deaths, injuries or fear resulting from the violence."

They never deplored the incidents for which they were responsible. Despite their confessions, they mostly blamed bad ideologies that attempted to throw them in jail and detention. This he could not find in the four books that discussed the groups' revisions, published by a number of their leaders and thinkers.

In the same context, the author recalls the reaction of Karam Zohdi, a leader in El-Jamaa El-Islamey, when asked about the future of the group after the renunciation of violence, when he stated, "From a proper Islamic stance, we follow the Sunna and preach to people and teach them about their proper Salafi religion, and from a legal and organizational stance, we will be similar to any political party that is organized to teach people about their religion only."

El-Batran comments by saying, "This talk is very dangerous, as he reveals the continued existence of the organization and that it carries a political and organizational role in a state whose constitution and laws refuse the establishment of parties based on a religious basis."

The book is composed of four sections. The first tracks and analyzes the growth of these organizations after the assassination of President Sadat, indicating the threat on the statesmen and attempts to murder some of them. This in addition to the successful assassination of the Islamist writer and thinker Farag Fouda, and the attempts to murder Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz and the writer Makram Mohamed Ahmed, as well as the terrorization of intellectuals and thinkers at large.

In the second section, the author presents the reaction of the state, both the pursuits of the security forces internally and their external monitoring of terrorist groups beyond Egypt's borders.

He notes the date of the Sanbu Massacre of Copts in 1992 as the start of the organized reaction against the state, following which the assassination of the leaders of the groups began. The book includes all the cases that were transferred to military trials from 1992, beginning with the Afghanistan returnees, to the Waad organizations in 2001.

The third section is dedicated to the discussions between the ministry of interior''s officers and the members of these organizations in jail. It starts with the Muslim Brotherhood, then the minister of interior, Hassan Abou-Basha, followed by Sheikh Metwally El-Sharaawy and finally the discussions between Abdel-Halim Moussa, the newly-appointed minister of interior at the time.

El-Batran concludes the book with an analysis of the call for the renunciation of violence and the initiatives to organize jihad. He also discusses the four books written by Islamist leaders in jail to set the scene for their release, indicating that he's not a historian but rather a "monitor and writer; I monitored the events but failed to explain their indications. And the process of monitoring was quite difficult… I felt as if I'm writing a novel which I didn't create nor join in its events… I realized that nobody was killed due to religion, despite the events … All those whose lives were taken because of this debate, and the exchange of bullets between the state and the organizations was merely an attempt to steal power by these organizations, and the state was just fighting back."

 

Ta'amulat fi Onf wa Tawbat al-Jamaat al-Islameya (Meditation on the Violence and Repentance of the Islamist Groups) by Hamdi Al-Batran, Cairo: Al-Ain Publishing, 2010. pp.238.

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