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Egypt Index

The main organization advocating the establishment of an Islamic government in Egypt was the Muslim Brotherhood (Al Ikhwan al Muslimun; also known as the Brotherhood). The Brotherhood, founded in 1928, was closely linked to groups that opposed the British and the monarchy in the 1940s. It also provided some of the ideas that inspired the Free Officers' coup in 1952. The government suppressed the Brotherhood after some of the organization's members were suspected of involvement in an assassination attempt against Nasser in 1954. In an attempt to offset the strength of Egypt's political left, Sadat permitted the reemergence of the Brotherhood. He freed hundreds of Brotherhood members who had been jailed for political reasons. Shifting to nonviolent tactics, the dominant elements of the Brotherhood sought respect and attempted to permeate the government and its institutions with Brotherhood adherents. Because it was a religious party, it could not participate directly in elections. Still, it ran a number of candidates in the 1984 and 1987 elections in alliances with other opposition parties. The Brotherhood's successful campaign in 1987, in which it captured thirty-eight seats in the People's Assembly, indicated an intensifying pro-Islamist sentiment in Egypt (see Islam , ch. 2; The Limits of Incorporation: The Rise of Political Islam and the Continuing Role of Repression , ch. 4).

The Brotherhood represented the mainstream of the Islamic movement, in comparison with the estimated fifty more radical Islamic groups, collectively known as the Jamaat al Islamiyah (Islamic Associations), that operated clandestinely. Most of these other groups sought to overthrow the state and to reorder society in accordance with the sharia (Islamic law--see The Judicial System , this ch.). They also sought to renounce Western political and social influence and to promote Arab militancy against Israel. In 1981 the followers of Al Jihad (Holy War) in the armed forces were responsible for the assassination of Sadat during a military parade. As a result of the assassination, the military dismissed 30 officers and 100 enlisted men because of their extreme religious views. An offshoot of Al Jihad, Baqaya Jihannam (Survivors of Hell), attempted in 1987 to assassinate the former minister of interior and a prominent editor. Religious extremists, some of whom were military officers, also set fire to video rental shops, movie theaters, pharmacies, shops selling alcohol, automobiles, and Coptic churches (see Coptic Church , ch. 2). Some soldiers had stolen arms and ammunition from military stocks. Nonetheless, the government insisted on the ability of the intelligence services to keep radical groups from infiltrating the military.

Radical Islam drew adherents from various social classes and particularly among university students. By the 1980s, Muslim student organizations started to dominate campus life and have a strong influence over faculties and university administrations. The total number of activists was believed to be several hundred thousands, but the membership in clandestine organizations was small, with estimates ranging from 3,000 to 20,000. Activists involved in violence were thought to number as few as 1,000.

The government was fairly successful in controlling underground movements in a series of crackdowns during each of which authorities arrested as many as 1,500 activists. Most of these activists were released after interrogation. The government did, however, prosecute some of these activists on charges ranging from undermining the security of the state to terrorism. Police carried out an effective surveillance program that included infiltration of campus groups and monitoring the activities of extremist leaders in Egypt and abroad. The police also closely watched twenty-five mosques that were suspected of being the headquarters of outlawed political groups and storage places for arms.

Data as of December 1990

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