In addition to the logistical difficulties in Egypt’s strict security environment, the mujahideen are also facing ideological attrition. Egypt’s Islamist militant parties are proving troublesome for al-Qaeda. Last July, the Gama’a Islamiyya and al-Jihad group openly accused al-Qaeda in Iraq of having as its aim the destruction of the Shiite and Kurdish communities in Iraq, rather than removing Western forces from the country. On March 2 came an intriguing report in the Egyptian newspaper al-Misri al-Yawm, analyzed by Shafaf al-Sharq al-Awsat (https://www.metransparent.com), which detailed how al-Jihad groups in prisons had renewed legal consultations covering the repudiation of their previous policies of takfir (“declaring as infidel”) of society and the government, the assassination of prominent figures and prejudicial treatment of the minority Coptic Christians.
As part of this, the groups are to issue apologies to the Egyptian state for all their past acts of violence. The groups called on intellectuals, religious scholars and writers and civic society organizations to form a negotiations committee to activate this initiative, and mediate it to public opinion. They have defended their position in Islamic jurisprudence with their first publication, entitled al-Tasawwur (“The Concept”), declaring their intention to “re-examine some of what we were unable to reconcile with our experience or the conditions which drove us into a confrontation with society.” The text includes passages that repudiate takfir and recognize the legitimacy and powers of the government. It renounces their former claim to constitute an independent religious authority and recognizes the concept of the nation-state. It goes so far as to oppose the formation of secret organizations and guarantees the dissolution of jihadist groups.
While not all militant groups in Egyptian prisons have accepted the revisions, the al-Jihad group proposing the initiative is one of the more important formations of its type in Egypt. Headed at one point by Ayman al-Zawahiri, it carried out the assassination of President Sadat in 1981, blew up the Egyptian Embassy in Pakistan in 1995 and launched attacks on tourist locations in Egypt until practically repudiating violence against the government in July 1997. In 2002, the Gama’a Islamiyya prison groups undertook a similar exercise, publishing their resolutions in a series of booklets. Their work, titled “The Strategy and Bombings of al-Qaeda: Errors and Perils,” was serialized in January 2004 by the Arabic daily al-Sharq al-Awsat. If three such initiatives can constitute a trend, this represents a significant defeat for jihadism in one of its potentially most fertile grounds. It is highly likely that the al-Qaeda ideologues will be moved to respond to this latest statement since a major element of the jihad is fought in the arena of Islamic law.