Asharq Al-Awsat Interview: The Jihadist from Mubarak’s Family
Sheikh Abdul Rahim Abdul Ghaffer, former leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, offers backing to the Brotherhood.
Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Sheikh Abdul Rahim Abdul Ghaffar, former leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, claims that the downfall of President Mohamed Mursi’s regime would plunge the country into chaos. Abdul Ghaffar’s mother is the cousin of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who ruled Egypt for almost 30 years. During Mubarak’s Abdul Ghaffar spent over 15 years in several Egyptian prisons, harshest of which was the Scorpion Prison in southern Cairo.
Abdul Ghaffar was first sentenced in 1981 for attempting to impose sharia law during the notorious trial against Egyptian Islamic Jihad for the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. He received his second sentencing during the 1993 trial against the group known as the Vanguards of Conquest.
He rejected Mursi’s capitulation to the pressure from the opposition to appoint non-Brotherhood members to his cabinet. He believes that the opposition wants to undermine the Islamists’ plans to establish a theocratic state by claiming that the Supreme Guide, the Muslim Brotherhood’s top official, is running Egypt.
He said that, “In the Egyptian countryside, Mubarak is considered to be my uncle. My mother is Ihsan Mahmoud Mubarak, cousin of the former president. My grandfather was the brother of Mubarak’s father.” He pointed out that the Mubarak family in the village of Kafr Meselhh rejects the validity of his trial.
The following are highlights from the interview:
Q: Two years after the January 25 revolution, how do you see Egypt?
A: The revolution has not yet achieved its goals. Mubarak and the deep-rooted corruption which he instilled still pervade all state institutions.
Q: From your standpoint, what prevents President Mursi from achieving the goals of the revolution?
A: The corruption from the previous regime underlies all government ministries and agencies. They still operate in the same manner as they did pre-revolution.
Q: But the eliminating the underlying corruption, as you say, is the job of the president and his government; Why do they not do this?
A: Quite frankly, the presidency is nothing but the army and the police, and the dozens of advisers and ministers around him are merely for show. If police and army officials turned against the president he would be without power.
Q: What is your take on the oft-repeated notion that Mursi is only interested in making the state a reflection of the Muslim Brotherhood?
A: This is not true. People become upset when a competent minister is appointment to the cabinet just because he happens to belong to the Muslim Brotherhood. Therefore the president should not cave under the opposition’s pressure and appoint incompetent non-Brotherhood members just to appease public opinion. The president must choose honorable people who will benefit the country and ignore the demands of a few biased groups.
Q: Some claim that the Supreme Guide of the Brotherhood holds the reins of power in Egypt; How do you see this?
A: This is a lie. It is one of many allegations made by the opposition to undermine the Islamist project.
Q: Do you feel that it is accurate to say that some Islamists view all those who oppose them as infidels?
A: This is mistaken, and whoever says it is a liar. No one can make that claim. We are talking about political issues. Whoever rejects sharia law as the way of life or considers common law a better model than sharia, then they can be categorized as infidels. However it is not possible to accuse someone of being an infidel because they oppose the draft constitution. A cleric may have said this but he does not represent all Islamists, and generalizing such things is wrong.
Q: What is your take on the current violence in Egypt?
A: Those committing the acts of violence are paid mercenaries. Society is in desperate need for the application of sharia law. For example, it would be better if we cut off the hand of a thief than imprisoning him for a long time.
Q: So you believe that applying the restrictions of sharia law is way out of the current cycle of crises in which Egypt finds itself?
A: In all honesty, if one of God’s restrictions were applied justly to society we would be blessed, but that does not mean that we can be complacent and not work.
Q: Do you expect that the Islamists will win a majority of seats in the House of Representatives?
A: Islamists will win more seats that they did the previous parliament, but I admit that their image in the street has declined recently. However everyone is now realizing the falsehood in that. The street knows now that the Islamists are not power hungry. We left the secularists to govern us (in the past), and that brought nothing but corruption to Egypt.
Q: How do you see Egyptian Islamic Jihad now?
A: Some members of Egyptian Islamic Jihad have tried to establish political parties and participate in political life, and others have preferred to stay away from politics, but they offer advice if asked.
Q: Do some Islamists distance themselves from politics and media because of an inability to operate in these realms?
A: No, not at all. Political participation and establishing political parties is not a religious obligation incumbent upon jihadists. There are thousands of jihadists more knowledgeable and influential than those currently in the media, but they prefer to maintain a low profile.
Q: Do you feel jihadists should stay away from politics?
A: Islamists have given up their entire lives in order to establish sharia law and a decent society. They do not seek media recognition; they seek a good society and participating in politics is their choice.
Q: Some Islamists, however, say that their preoccupation with politics prevents them from spreading the word of God; How do you see this?
A: This again is up to the wisdom of the individual. If a jihadist is immersed in politics, he will rid society of corruption. I cannot tell him to leave his job and so he can proselytize in a mosque.
Q: What do you think of the government’s initiative to reconcile with some of the figures of the Mubarak regime?
A: I agree with reconciling with those who embezzled funds, provided that they return all of the money. However, I reject reconciling with those who have the blood of the demonstrators on their hands. This is because only the families of the martyrs and the entirety of Egyptian society have the right to forgive these individuals.
Q: You belong to Mubarak’s family; How do you all perceive the situation now after the court ruled for a re-trial of the former president and his two sons?
A: The family of former the president in his home town of Kafr Meselhh in the Monufia Governorate (about 60 kilometres outside of Cairo) has rejected the prosecution of Mubarak from the start and is still having trouble coming to terms with his imprisonment. However, I feel that if my son did something wrong, he must be punished.
Q: Are you in touch with your siblings (Mubarak’s cousins)?
A: I opted to distance myself from the Mubarak family, so that no one would accuse me of gloating considering that Mubarak was behind my years of imprisonment. My uncle, Dr. Omar Mahmoud Mubarak, my mother’s brother (cousin of the former president), and I share a decent relationship, especially considering that he has been bedridden since the state abandoned him. Meanwhile the state provides Hosni Mubarak with treatment in the best hospitals despite the fact that he is a prisoner. All Egyptians ought to be treated equally. Thus I demand that all prisoners who fall ill be given the same treatment as Mubarak.
Q: Some are now saying that the country was better off during Mubarak’s reign than it is now; How do you respond to this?
A: Utter nonsense. Even in the worst of circumstances, life now is better. The days of Mubarak were filled with thievery, corruption, and injustice. We jihadists were afraid to pass by the presidential palace, but now Egyptians have set fire to the presidential palace and camp out in front of it.
Q: What do you think of the opposition National Salvation Front’s refusal to enter into discussions with President Mohamed Mursi?
A: I call it the Front of Ruin. Salvation can only be preceded by integrity, selflessness, seeking to allay the concerns of others without any hidden agenda, and allowing others to have their own opinions, because their opinions could be correct. I only have one thing to tell them: There is no prophet or revelation telling us that one person’s views are better than another’s.
Q: Some are calling for the ouster of Mursi’s regime. What do you expect would happen if his regime fell?
A: If Mursi’s regime fell there would be no system, and the country would be plunged into chaos.