GAMA’A AL-ISLAMIYA LEADER SAYS EGYPTIAN REVOLUTION BELONGS “ONLY TO THOSE WHO IGNITED IT”
An ideological leader of former Egyptian militant group al-Gama’a al-Islamiya (GI – The Islamic Group) recently told a pan-Arab daily that the revolution in Egypt belonged not to the Islamists, but to the “youths of Facebook” (al-Sharq al-Awsat, February 11). Based in Alexandria, Dr. Najih Ibrahim describes himself as “an Islamic thinker or a preacher calling for Islam,” adding that he is not a politician, nor does he wish to be. Shaykh Ibrahim spent two decades in Egyptian prisons on charges related to the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat.
Ibrahim insisted that the Islamist movement’s role in the revolution had been small and movements such as his own could take little credit for the events that brought down President Mubarak: “This revolution belongs only to those that ignited it. These are the "youths of Facebook". They called for it, sacrificed for it, and achieved victory. All the others without exception came to the Al-Tahrir Square after the police had left.” In the past, Shaykh Ibrahim has warned of the dangers of the internet, noting the presence of “scattered individuals” who do not take religious instruction from shaykhs, mosques or reputable Islamic groups, finding inspiration instead on the internet, which is now “not only a source of extremist ideology, but also information on how to implement such ideology, providing information on how to manufacture a car bomb or turn normal chemicals into explosives…” (al-Sharq al-Awsat, January 15).
According to Ibrahim, the Islamic Group’s involvement was limited largely to helping provide security at Tahrir Square and guarding public and private property. “We do not wish to take credit for a victory that we did not achieve or to hijack the efforts of others.” On the question of reneging on the 2003 peace initiative that ended his movement’s violence against the state, Ibrahim replied that such a suggestion was “absolutely out of the question. We are committed to the initiative to stop violence regardless of what the coming regime will be.”
In his assessment of how the revolution succeeded in rapidly creating conditions in which the resignation of the president became inevitable, Ibrahim noted how demonstrators remained focused on a single message that had broad appeal across a spectrum of political opinions and religious beliefs:
"As soon as it erupted, [the revolution] did not raise a religious slogan in order not to be aborted and not to be rejected by many forces in society. It did also did not raise any political slogan in order not to cause differences among the political forces participating in it. It also did not discuss foreign policy. It did not chant against the United States and Israel and did not ask for the abrogation of the Camp David Accords. All this neutralized the foreign forces [that might have supported Mubarak]."
Ibrahim’s assessment of the revolution contrasted his earlier remarks made on February 3, when the shaykh insisted protests should end as President Mubarak had granted 90% of the demonstrators’ demands: “What do we want after that? Do we need chaos or to humiliate the president? This man fought for Egypt for 30 years. I am saying this though I was jailed under his rule with the brothers in the Gama’a Islamiya for more than two decades” (al-Sharq al-Awsat, February 3).
In viewing Mubarak’s rule, Ibrahim credits the ex-president with keeping Egypt out of any major conflicts during his term, particularly avoiding U.S. pressure to participate in the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Mubarak had also agreed to the 2003 sulh (truce) that resulted in the release of 12,000 Islamist detainees, many of whom had spent more than a decade in prison without trial.
On the other hand, the GI ideologue pointed to the more than 100 Islamists executed by Mubarak’s regime, claiming their dispute with the government could have been solved in a simpler way: “Despite this, we do not absolve some Islamic movements that adopted violence against him of some responsibility.”
Ibrahim went on to remark that Mubarak’s tenure was “characterized by stagnation and inflexibility in the political, economic, social and religious domains. Mubarak excluded everyone; that is, all the political current… There was a kind of marriage between the regime and the wealth that generated corruption and bribery… Mubarak’s regime adopted the policy of suppression and oppression, particularly of the Islamists, for long periods of time. The only exception is the initiative to renounce violence that was a smart model in solving the problems between the state and the Islamists.”
DEMONSTRATIONS ERUPT IN MOGADISHU AGAINST AL-SHABAAB AND THE TRANSITIONAL FEDERAL GOVERNMENT
Following the lead of demonstrators in Egypt and Tunisia, hundreds of Somali youth took to the streets of South Mogadishu on February 13 to denounce both the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of President Shaykh Sharif Shaykh Ahmad and the Islamist militant movement al-Shabaab, their opponent in the struggle for Somalia’s capital.
Under the watchful eye of African Union peacekeepers, the protestors waved Somali flags, chanted slogans expressing their unwillingness to be recruited by either al-Shabaab or the TFG and vowed to continue daily demonstrations “until we achieve our anti-war goals” (Daily Nation [Nairobi], February 14; Shabelle Media Network, February 13). TFG security forces tried to abort the demonstration by arresting seven organizers a day earlier, but the march occurred as planned.
Mogadishu civilians suffered greater losses in the battle for the city than either of the contesting groups of gunmen. The protest did not appear to have any effect on the warring parties; more than nine civilians were reported killed and 35 injured the next day in the deadly daily crossfire in Mogadishu. There are reports that leaflets condemning both the TFG and al-Shabaab have begun appearing in parts of the city (Radio Gaalkacyo, February 13).
Perhaps confusing a pro-government demonstration for another anti-TFG/al-Shabaab march, a pickup truck full of TFG troops wheeled up to a pro-TFG rally the following day (February 15) and opened fire on a crowd of hundreds of people carrying pro-government banners, killing four and wounding at least 17 more. The rally had been organized by the Banaadir regional administration and the mayor of Mogadishu, Muhammad Ahmad Tarsan (Mareeg.com, February 15; Somaliweyn, February 15).
The TFG’s mandate is set to expire in August without having established its writ over any area larger than a few neighborhoods of Mogadishu, but the Somali parliament has taken a unilateral decision (without consultation of its international partners and supporters) to extend the government’s mandate for another three years (Mareeg.com, February 12).
A press release from the Somali Affairs Desk of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi said parliament’s decision to “ignore the African Union’s request for wide consultation and instead to unilaterally extend its term beyond the end of the transition period is a disservice to the people of Somalia and a setback to the establishment of legitimate and effective government… It serves only to further undermine the credibility of the Parliament and risks strengthening al-Shabaab (Somaliweyn, February 4; CNN, February 5). 
Al-Shabaab is also seeking to exploit the spirit of recent demonstrations elsewhere in the Islamic world. An al-Shabaab leader, Shaykh Jama Abdusalam, appealed on local radio for Somalis “to carry out Egyptian and Tunisian style uprisings in Somalia… It is good to take up such revolution against all governments that serve the interests of Western countries. We have to follow Muslims who are fighting for their dignity and religion in Tunisia and Egypt” (Alfurqaan Radio, February 14; Daily Nation, February 14). So far, no pro-al-Shabaab demonstrations have been reported in areas controlled by the movement, where most residents are trying to cope with a massive drought and an al-Shabaab ban on international relief efforts.
1. Matt Goshko, Public Affairs Officer, Somali Affairs Unit, U.S. Embassy, Nairobi – Press Release, February 4, 2011.