Escalating Pressure for the Blind Sheikh

Omar Abdel Rahman, the ‘Blind Sheik’

On Thursday, July 26, the family of Omar Abdel Rahman ratcheted up their rhetoric in their awareness campaign to free their father. The family issued five demands to President Morsy and invited speakers to comment, some of whom threatened America harshly.

Otherwise known as the ‘Blind Sheikh’, Abdel Rahman is imprisoned in America for involvement in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. His family claims Abdel Rahman’s arrest was political, as the US yielded to Egyptian demands to silence him from criticizing Mubarak. The family has conducted an open-ended sit-in protest outside the American Embassy in Cairo since August of last year.

Abdullah Omar Abdel Rahman, one of the Blind Sheikh’s sons, called for a press conference and invited political leaders to speak on his father’s behalf. He desired to put pressure on President Morsy to intercede in the case, to fulfill his promise made during his inaugural address from Tahrir Square. Morsy identified Abdel Rahman as a ‘political prisoner’ and vowed to work for his release, along with hundreds of other prisoners in Egyptian jails, who were jailed for their revolutionary activity.

Morsy pardoned or otherwise freed over 500 Egyptian prisoners on the eve of Ramadan. He has backtracked, however, on promises to secure Abdel Rahman’s release.

Abdullah issued five primary demands:

  • For President Morsy to form an urgent committee to visit Abdel Rahman in his American prison and check on his health and the state of his confinement
  • For President Morsy to immediately authorize legal advisors to challenge the Justice Department’s use of an antiquated law to keep Abdel Rahman in solitary confinement for 19 years
  • For President Morsy to give the green light to the Foreign Ministry to begin diplomatic efforts to return Abdel Rahman to his country
  • To apply the principle of reciprocity on every American prisoner in Egypt and subject them to solitary confinement as is done to Egyptian prisoners in the US
  • For the presidency to allow some of Abdel Rahman’s family members continual visitation rights in America until he returns to his country

Political leaders in attendance were mostly from al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Abdel Rahman’s original group which is designated a terrorist organization in the United States. In the 1990s al-Gama’a formally forswore violent methods. Following the Egyptian revolution it has created a political party, called Building and Development, which cooperated with Salafi parties during the recent parliamentary elections.

Abbud al-Zumur

Abbud al-Zumor was the keynote speaker. A leader in al-Gama’a, he is unapologetic for his role in assassinating President Sadat in 1979.

‘Abdel Rahman was among the strongest to call against Mubarak and it resulted in his being exiled from Egypt,’ he said. ‘Eventually he went to America where he found no human rights, let alone the rights of a domesticated animal.

‘The matter is now in Morsy’s hands and he must move quickly to return Abdel Rahman safely to his family, as he is very sick.’

Mohamed Shawki al-Islamboli

Mohamed Shawki al-Islamboly is also a leader in al-Gama’a, whose brother was the actual assassin of Sadat. He recently returned to Egypt after spending many years abroad in Iran as a political refugee.

‘Abdel Rahman exposed the Egyptian regime so it pressed the US to arrest him in violation of its proclaimed human rights,’ he said. ‘This is a shame upon America.

‘We say to Morsy it is your responsibility to seek the freedom of every Egyptian who opposed Mubarak, whether inside or outside Egypt.’

Nasr Abd al-Salam

The most incendiary comments, however, were issued by Nasr Abdel Salam, president of al-Gama’a’s Building and Development Party.

‘Americans spend millions of dollars every year to improve their image in the Muslim world, but it has only gotten worse,’ he said.

‘If anything happens to Abdel Rahman, America and its people will pay the price. The criminals in the administration and the embassies will pay the price.

‘Abdel Rahman’s dignity is the dignity of every Egyptian.’

The final al-Gama’a speaker was Ezzat al-Salamony. He spoke of the need to ‘lay siege’ to the American Embassy, but Abdullah, the Blind Sheikh’s son, clarified these remarks afterwards.

Next Thursday, Abdullah said, there will be an open Ramadan fast-breaking meeting at the sit-in at the US Embassy. At that time he said they would announce the date for a massive demonstration at the complex, but there were no intentions to permanently close the embassy.

Salamony, meanwhile, clarified Abdel Salam’s remarks about ‘paying the price’. Speaking with him afterwards, he stated there were all sorts of means to pressure the American administration. Specifically he mentioned an economic boycott and sending fighters to Afghanistan to oppose the US military there. The objective would be to do to the US what was done to Russia, resulting in America’s loss of dignity in the world. This is the ‘price’ the American people would pay.

Salamony emphasized nothing would be done to American civilians, as this was against sharia law.

Other speakers outside al-Gama’a included Hanny Hanna, a Copt known as the ‘preacher of the revolution’ for leading Christian prayers from Tahrir Square.

‘The only way for Abdel Rahman to return to his children and grandchildren is to establish Egypt as a national regime,’ he said. ‘We must strive to return all Egyptians from foreign prisons as a humanistic demand.

‘As I love the Messiah I must also love the prisoner.

‘President Morsy has not dealt with his situation in wisdom. When he mentioned it at Tahrir he made the US think it was at the top of his agenda, and he made them aware of the importance of this issue. If he had been quiet and waited two years and asked then it would have been much simpler to secure his release quietly.’

Kamal al-Helbawi

Kamal al-Helbawi is a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood who resigned when the group nominated a candidate for president, believing they had betrayed the revolution.

‘We as Muslims must defend the right in every place, whether it is for a Muslim or a non-Muslim,’ he said. ‘I helped defend Nelson Mandela in South Africa, so how can I not defend our sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman?

‘We must mobilize Muslims and non-Muslims, Islamists and seculars, so as to make Abdel Rahman a national cause.

‘America is not a democratic nation; it is a nation of criminals. What they are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan was not even done by the Mongols or the Tartars. But we do not fear America, we fear God.’

Finally, Yahya Ismail is a religious scholar from the Azhar university.

‘We must support Abdel Rahman from every mosque, every institution, every political party, and even the Azhar itself,’ he said. ‘We must put his picture everywhere and host seminars and raise awareness. What have we done for him so far? He is being persecuted by the Zionists and Crusaders.

‘God has permitted war in the case of aggressing against religious scholars. A nation’s peace rests in the peace of its religion, and the peace of its religion rests in the peace of its religious scholars.’

Chants issued during the press conference included:

  • Oh al-Gama’a, oh al-Gama’a, we want a million-man demonstration!
  • Oh America, collect your dogs, we are tired of your terrorism!

But the microphone for the chant leader malfunctioned shortly afterwards and chants were abandoned.

Following the conference I spoke with Safwat Kamal, an unaffiliated Islamist from the neighborhood of Imbaba, Cairo. With Abdullah Omar Abdel Rahman standing beside, he spoke of the need to escalate the cause.

‘It has been a year now, and the people are getting angry,’ he said. ‘I have told Abdullah many times already, we must storm the embassy or kidnap a few Americans. But every time he says no.’

 

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