Early History of Islamism in Egypt

(L) Hassan al-Banna, (R) Sayyid Qutb

Egyptian presidential campaigns have entered the mudslinging stage. Ahmed Shafiq has been on the defensive since his entry into the race, in which he is accused of being a member of the former regime and seeking to reconstitute it. He has also faced charges of financial corruption during his time as Minister of Civil Aviation.

In recent days he has hit back, especially against the Muslim Brotherhood. He has accused them of working with Qatar to sell/lease the Suez Canal to the Gulf state, and working with Mubarak to make secret deals in exchange for a proportion of parliament seats. In terms of the revolution he said they are the often-touted third party who killed protestors and burned police stations.

As best I can follow, no conclusive evidence has been issued to support his charges. Yet the political climate reminded me of a project I have been working on to establish a chronology of Islamism in Egypt since the dawn of the Muslim Brotherhood. The following list is disputed in points, and is compiled from a book entitled ‘Islamic Fundamentalism in Egyptian Politics’, by Barry Rubin. It outlines moments in history where Islamists have been violent, and others where they have shied away.

Shafiq asserts we are now in another violent period. I have significant doubts, but as with all things revolutionary, anything is possible, even plausible.

  • 1929 – Muslim Brotherhood founded by Hassan al-Banna
  • 1930-39 – MB grows to tens of thousands of members, including in police, army, and government institutions, and includes a Secret Organization for militant activity and terrorism
  • 1948 – MB raises funds, buys weapons, runs training camps, and sends volunteers to Palestine
  • 1948 – Egypt’s government dissolves the MB using emergency law from Palestine war
  • 1949, February – MB member shoots Prime Minister Mahmoud Nuqrashi, regime retaliates by assassinating Hassan al-Banna
  • 1951 – MB supplies many fighters during the Suez Canal crisis, links with Free Officers in the army including Anwar Sadat
  • 1952, July – Gamal Abdel Nasser overthrows monarchy during revolution/coup d’etat
  • 1952 – Sayyid Qutb returns from America horrified at its society, becomes a leader in the MB and was involved in meetings with Nasser
  • 1952-54 – al-Banna’s successor Hassan al-Hudaybi works as a reformist to prevent consolidation of Nasser’s power, while Qutb plays hardball and promotes seizing power
  • 1954, August – al-Hudaybi opposes Nasser’s treaty with the British over the Suez Canal and is arrested
  • 1954, October – MB member (allegedly) opens fire on Nasser; he survives and takes over as head of state, 6000 arrested as organization is outlawed
  • 1954 – Qutb arrested and sentenced to 25 years in prison, after he developed theory of jahiliyya­, which describes Egyptian society as non-Islamic
  • 1954-64 – Nasser establishes Muslim credentials as mosque building flourishes, Islamic radio is established, the Azhar is incorporated into the state and modernized, and religion is made a compulsory subject in schools
  • 1961 – Nasser undermines Azhar authority and introduces new, non-religious faculties
  • 1964 – Nasser frees MB members in prison in an effort to counter Egyptian Marxists
  • 1965, August – Nasser accuses MB of assassination plot, 27,000 arrested, 26 tortured to death, Qutb, Yusuf Hawash, and Abdel Fattah Ismail hanged
  • 1967 – Egypt suffers humiliating defeat against Israel, undermining Nasser’s legacy and legitimacy
  • 1970-85 – Government supported mosques double their religious programs, with triple student enrollment
  • 1970, October – Anwar Sadat becomes president
  • 1970 – First Islamist association founded in Qasr al-Aini Hospital among doctors and interns who treated Islamists released from prison
  • 1971, May – Sadat purges socialists and frees MB prisoners to combat them, including al-Hudaybi and future leader al-Tilimsani
  • 1971 – MB works with Sadat on new constitution making ‘the principles of the Islamic sharia a principle source of legislation’, but complain it does not make it the sole source of authority
  • 1971 – Shukri Mustafa breaks with the MB following his release from prison, sets up Takfir wa Higra
  • 1971-77 – MB cooperates with Sadat and his ‘Corrective Revolution’, until splitting over his peace initiative with Israel
  • 1973 – al-Tilimsani becomes Supreme Guide of the MB, was a close associate of al-Banna
  • 1974, April – Islamic Liberation Organization, led by Salah Sariyya (a Palestinian) fails in coup d’etat at the Military Technical Academy in Heliopolis, 92 people indicted, including 18 cadets; 30 officers and 100+ soldiers discharged for sympathy
  • 1975, July – Sadat issues full pardon to MB members still in prison
  • 1976 – Sadat creates Arab Socialist Union to open up political life, MB supports him during parliamentary elections; wins right to publish al-Da’wa journal
  • 1977, January – riots breakout over Sadat’s policy to trim food subsidies, MB mocks government for blaming the communists
  • 1977, July – Takfir wa Higra kidnaps and murders former Endowments and Azhar minister Husain al-Dhahabi, who criticized their idea of jahiliyya and isolation from society in preparation for violent overthrow of the government
  • 1978, March – Takfir wa Higra leader Shukri Mustafa hanged with four others, many imprisoned
  • 1978, September – Sadat crafts Camp David Accords with Israel
  • 1978, December – Parliament forms committee to study if current laws comply with sharia
  • 1979, March – Egypt signs peace treaty with Israel, MB opposes it and Camp David harshly, but al-Tilimsani calls on Arab League not to ostracize Sadat
  • 1979, June – Sadat suspends publication of MB’s al-Da’wa journal
  • 1979, July – Sadat accuses al-Hudaybi’s successor Omar al-Tilimsani of trying to overthrow regime
  • 1979 – Islamist independent candidates Sheikh Salah Abu Ismail and Hassan al-Gamal elected to parliament
  • 1979 – Sadat cracks down on Islamic associations, especially in universities, arresting many and limiting freedom of association, criticizing them for Muslim-Christian clashes
  • 1979 – Asyut Islamic association succeeds in forcing university to segregate students by gender
  • 1980 – Army publishes religious magazine for soldiers to keep them from radicalism, increases mosque construction on bases; government publishes two religious magazines, al-Liwa’ al-Islami and al-Urwa al-Wuthqa
  • 1981, June – Muslim-Coptic riots in Zawiya al-Hamra, Cairo; al-Da’wa accuses Copts of slandering Islam and gathering arms to kill Muslims
  • 1981, September – Popular preacher Abdel Hamid Kishk accuses Sadat of betraying Islamic principles, following his sermon Muslims exit and attack neighboring church
  • 1981, September – Sadat arrests 1500 activists, 90% of whom are Islamists, including al-Tilimsani, MB spokesmen Saleh Ashmawi and Mohamad Abdel Qudus, as well as Kishk; also arrests Copts and secular activists; government assumes control over 40,000 privately owned mosques
  • 1981, September – Among the above Sadat arrests brother of Khalid al-Islamboli who was a member of an Asyut Islamic association
  • 1981, October – Sadat assassinated by Khalid al-Islamboli of al-Jihad
  • 1981, November – al-Tilimsani denies the MB ever used violence or terrorism
  • 1982, March – Investigation into Sadat assassination sentences al-Jihad leader Mohamed Abdel Salam Farag (author of ‘The Neglected Duty’ about jihad) to death with four others, five given life imprisonment, twelve long sentences, but Omar Abdel Rahman acquitted, though he authorized the assassination with a fatwa
  • 1982 – al-Tilimsani suggests violent Islamic groups were set up by the government to counter the MB
  • 1982 – Government sends Azhar and MB clerics into the prisons to instruct extremists about proper Islam, program mostly publicity and false reform
  • 1982 – Parliament committee finishes work finding most laws already comply with sharia, the rest should be reformed gradually
  • 1984 – al-Tilimsani secures MB-Wafd Party partnership with Fuad Sirag Eddin to elect MB members through Wafd’s legal structure, wins 15% of the vote with eight seats for MB
  • 1985, February – After Mubarak permits resumption of Islamic associations’ work, Egyptian University Student Federation reestablished
  • 1985 – Wave of bumper stickers spread through Cairo bearing Islamic slogans
  • 1985, June – Hafez Salama, popular war hero, tries to launch a demonstration from his mosque in Abbasiyya, Cairo in support of sharia law, relents, re-launches later, is removed from his pulpit and arrested; MB did not support his efforts
  • 1986, April – Four officers and 29 people arrested for stealing ammunition in a plot to take over the government, linked to al-Jihad
  • 1985, May – Parliament defeats law authorizing sharia as the law of the land
  • 1986, May – al-Tilimsani dies and is succeeded by Mohamed Abu al-Nasr
  • 1986, October – Police foil an armed effort to takeover an Alexandria radio station
  • 1986 – MB breaks with Wafd over internal power struggle, joins with Liberal Party instead; Salah Abu Ismail becomes vice-president and party drops support for Camp David
  • 1986 – Security forces arrest 2500 Islamic radicals, MB raises no protest
  • 1987 – Jihadist group Survivors from Hellfire fail to assassinate al-Musawwar magazine editor Makram Mohamed Ahmed and former interior minister Nabawi Ismail
  • 1987 – Mohamed Abu al-Nasr revises MB history claiming the regime made them out to be violent promoting myths of their earlier insurrection, though he took MB oath fifty years earlier on a Qur’an and a gun
  • 1987, April – Islamist Alliance wins 17% of seats in parliamentary elections with 36 seats to MB
  • 1987, July – MB agreed with ruling NDP to support Mubarak’s bid for second six-year term
  • 1987, Members of Islamic associations sweep student elections at all faculties in Cairo University
  • 1987, MB electoral program calls for ending military cooperation with the United States, but favors Western ‘People of the Book’ over Soviet Russia

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