Full Text of the editorial in the Daily Times on July 25, 2005
Egypt ’s luxury resort at Sharm al-Sheikh on the Red Sea has been bombed, killing 88 and injuring 200. This surpasses the 62 killed at Luxor in 1997, after which President Hosni Mubarak had successfully suppressed the radical Islamists in the country, with the main Islamist organisation Ikhwan al-Muslimoon publicly abjuring terrorism. The resort attack was carried out by three suicide-bombers who were quickly owned by an organisation calling itself Al Qaeda, "as response to the global evil powers which are spilling the blood of Muslims in Iraq , Afghanistan , Palestine and Chechnya ". It appears that the reprieve from terrorism that began in the wake of the 1997 killings is now over and Egypt , which earns $6 billion a year from tourism, is in for more trouble.
In many ways Egypt and Pakistan form the two poles of the same movement. The former produces the guides, the latter provides the training grounds and shelter. The blind orator Omar Abdul Rehman of Gama’a Islamiyya caused the greatest stir when he planned the 1993 attack on the World Trade Centre through Ramzi Yusuf who was of Pakistani origin. Indeed, if Pakistan had been Arabic-speaking the power of the blind men of Saudi Arabia (Bin Baz) and Egypt (Kishk, Omar Abdur Rehman) would have doomed its population forever. However, money worked almost equal wonders, when Khalid Sheikh Muhammad sat in Karachi and guided all sorts of killer operations in Pakistan through Pakistani operatives — while Omar Abdur Rehman’s son was ensconced comfortably in Quetta organising the murder of Hazara Shias there on behalf of Osama Bin Laden, who in turn was supporting his son’s father-in-law, Mullah Umar.
Egypt produced the fiery exponents of violent change in Sheikh Umar Abdur Rehman, Sheikh Kishk and Shukri Mustafa. The mastermind of Al Qaeda today is Ayman Al Zawahiri whose grandfather was once head of the Al Azhar University in Cairo . It is no surprise then that the leader of the Hamburg Cell that attacked the World Trade Centre on 9/11, Muhammad Atta, was also an Egyptian. In all, over 500 Egyptians died fighting in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the highest tally among the Arabs. In fact, as we witnessed the soul-searing attack on London ’s subways on July 7, we recalled that London ’s Finsbury Mosque cell of Al Qaeda was run by Abu Hamza Al-Masri, an Egyptian who had lost an arm and an eye fighting in Afghanistan . Al Masri published al-Ansar, the lethal weekly of the murderous GIA in Algeria , and got his son to abduct British tourists in Yemen for the sake of jihad. Al Masri has been in a British jail since 2004. Another Egyptian, Yasser al Sirri, headed the London-based Islamic Media Observatory, the news agency that provided letters of accreditation to the two fake journalists who killed the Afghan leader, Ahmad Shah Massoud, in the north of Afghanistan three days before 9/11.
Egyptian Islamists were persecuted by President Jamal Nasser but befriended by President Anwar Sadat in the 1970s after Nasser ’s death. In 1984, Hosni Mubarak released them from jail and sent them for hajj from where they boarded connecting flights, mostly to Peshawar . Many lingered in Saudi Arabia before going to Pakistan . It was Faraj, the theoretician of Sadat’s assassination after Sadat normalised relations with Israel in 1981, who laid down that although the enemy was abroad his supporters had to be attacked at home first.
Terror in Egypt was renewed after a number of mujahideen returned to Egypt from Afghanistan and began targeting the tourists to deprive the country of its foreign exchange earnings. After numerous attacks, it was the mindless massacre of innocent tourists at Luxor in 1997 that finally turned the Egyptian people against the Islamists and allowed President Hosni Mubarak to clamp down on them. Egypt ’s salafist Islam of the Ikhwan has mixed well with Saudi Wahhabism to create the explosive chemistry unleashed by Al Qaeda on the world. Many scholars now think that the poison of violence is not sown in the Muslim mind by the madrassa but by the mosque. Not only the Finsbury mosque in the UK and the Al Quds mosque of Hamburg in Germany, but mosques all over the United States too are using hate literature penned by the late blind chief mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Bin Baz, and have attracted all sorts of middle class Muslims to suicide bombing.
The Sharm al-Sheikh bombings should alert us to the changing view of the Islamists in Egypt and Al Qaeda’s new strategy. Al Zawahiri had not only attacked Gama’a for going quiescent after the 1997 massacre at Luxor; earlier in his book, The Bitter Harvest, he had also attacked the Ikhwan for giving up violence. He held the view that Egypt had to be attacked because that was where the West had to be fought first. Sitting in Peshawar he repeatedly tried to assassinate Egyptian ministers and civil servants suspected of persecuting the Islamists. His recruits narrowly missed two government figures in Cairo but killed one informer. He tried to destroy the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad in 1995, succeeding only partially. He was however more successful in fulfilling Osama Bin Laden’s agenda against the Americans after the setting up of Al Qaeda in 1998. He blew up the US embassy in Nairobi (partially) and tried but failed to blow up the one in Daresalam. These attacks were followed by more successful hits in Yemen and Saudi Arabia .
Egypt’s policy of defusing Islamism by being tough on the modernist-secularists is now likely to come under challenge, just as the British policy of affording civic rights to the Islamists has finally come apart. In Pakistan too the period of quiescence about the madrassa and mosque extremism must come to an end. With the UN’s Kofi Annan denouncing the Sharm al-Sheikh attack, a global consensus about tough domestic laws against Islamic extremists in general is clearly going to gel. America will likely renew its PATRIOT Act and lend a hand to the European Union in framing new laws that will infringe on what were earlier known as civic rights. After that happens, countries like relatively "democratic" Pakistan will have to get ready for the next Islamist onslaught even as the united Western pressure for getting rid of "extremism" increases. Is President General Pervez Musharraf ready for that? If not, God help him and us.
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