The Transformation of the Jihad-Doctrine in Sadat's Egypt

Scientific Study, 2009

40 Pages

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1. The Role of State Islam in Sadat’s Egypt

2. The Islamic movement under Sadat
2.1 The Conservative End
2.2 The Middle Spectrum
2.3 The Revolutionary Groups
2.3.a The ÉihÁd Doctrine of the Revolutionary Groups

3. The Function of the Azhar in Modern Egypt
3.1 The Azhar Reformers and the SalafÐ Theology
3.2 The Integration of the SalafÐs into the Modern State
3.3. The ÉihÁd Doctrine of the SalafÐ ÝulamÁÞ

4. The ÉihÁd Doctrine in Sadat’s Egypt
4.1 Stage I: “Signposts” between 1973 and 1975
4.1.a The October War 1973
4.1.b Until Sinai I
4.1.c Sinai I
4.1.d The 1st anniversary of the war in 1974
4.1.e Sinai II
4.2 Stage II: The Transformation of the Egyptian ÉihÁd Doctrine
4.3 Stage III: The Justification of the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty





On March 26, 1979 Egypt and Israel signed a bilateral peace treaty. Shortly afterwards, the religious establishment of Egypt justified this with an Islamic legal opinion (fatwÁ). Following, an international Islamic debate started around the permissibility of such a judgment. The debate was the last part of a development of three stages: the transformation of the ºihÁd doctrine in Sadat’s Egypt from war (Îarb) to peace (Òulh). The transformation of the ºihÁd doctrine in Sadat’s Egypt is the topic of this paper. In order to get a more complete picture, we will also discuss the ºihÁd doctrine of the Islamic movement as a whole under Sadat including the revolutionary trend. And we will look at the theology, structure and institution of the modern ÝulamÁ' (clerics).

The three main questions of this paper are:

- What role did State Islam play in Sadat’s Egypt and what was the discourse of the popular Islamic movement?
- On what theological basis did official clerics justify the ºihÁd doctrine and how were they integrated into the state?
- How did the transformation of the ºihÁd doctrine towards Israel take place (political circumstances) and what was the Islamic reaction?

The main sources of this paper are from the Egyptian and Arab daily press on the occasion of the October war 1973, the Sinai I and II disengagement agreements, the eighth conference of the Academy of Islamic Studies in 1977 and the Egyptian Israeli peace treaty in 1979. The transliteration of Arabic letters is done according to the principle that each Arabic letter has one according Latin letter with or without microns. For example, the Arabic letter ﺫ is not transliterated dhal, but ÆÁl, and so on. Popular and known names and names of places are given in their English version, such as Sadat and Mubarak. Lesser known names, however, and Arabic-Islamic technical terms, though they may be well-known, are fully transliterated. For example, ÑÁliÎ Sirriyya, Qur'Án, and HiÊra. This paper was inspired by the article “The Relevance of the Jihad Doctrine in Sadat’s Egypt” by Rudolph Peters.

1. The Role of State Islam under Sadat

The role of Islam for the Sadat regime must not be underestimated. The roots for Sadat’s manipulation of the Salafi ÝulamÁ' were laid under Nasir, and since the reform of al-Azhar in 1961 especially by his vice president colonel Íusayn aš-ŠafiÝÐ, who was responsible for the ideological reorientation of the clerics. As Günther Kassian has lucidly shown us, the Free Officers used the pulpit of al-Azhar and its magazine MaÊallat al-Azhar as forum to present their own position like statements of the clerics in order to create the impression that the Sheikhs were the keenest advocates of the revolutionary program.[1] Moreover, Nasir tried to reinterpret early Islamic history in a socialist sense. This means, he equalized the situation after the revolution of 1952 in Egypt with the situation on the Arabian Peninsula after the beginning of the Islamic mission. With aš-ŠafiÝÐ’s and the clerics’ support Nasir put himself into a position close to the Prophet MuÎammad and compared the implementation of his socialist program with the victory of Islam after the conquest of Mecca.[2] Egypt was supposed to become the ‘Mecca of the Arab revolution’ to which the revolutionaries of the Arab world would make their ‘pilgrimage’.[3] Closely orientated at the popular neo-SalafÐ outlook of the Muslim Brothers, the regime used such pictures as “ÊihÁd against the ÊÁhiliyya” to foster its own socialist policies and pan-Arab ambitions.[4]

After the breakdown of the ideology of pan-Arabism following the 1967 war and the death of Nasir in 1970 the new president Anwar Sadat had no ambition to present Egypt as a socialist Mecca. Yet, he took up the role of al-Azhar as pulpit for his policies and presented himself as the believing president (ar-ra'Ðs al-muÝmin), who governed his nation according to the slogan “Science and Faith” (al-Ýilm wa-'l-imÁn). Driven by the calculation to open Egypt to the world market with a liberalization of the foreign trade sector and structural reforms of the market economy, he reversed Nasir’s socialist-popular policies and returned to a traditional-patrimonial leadership style typical of the historic Islamic monarchy.[5] The economic benefits from a separate peace treaty with Israel from a position of strength after the October 1973 war were clear at hand, and he harnessed the ÝulamÁ' to support his peace policy as well as his capitalist open door economy (infitÁÎ). This went so far that Sheikh al-Azhar ÝAbd al-Íalim MaÎmÙd excommunicated communists (takfir), declared communism a form of ÊÁhiliyya, and confirmed that someone who died defending his property was a martyr, even if he killed a communist.[6]

At the same time the regime claimed to revive the integrative and reformist Salafi spirit. Under Sadat “a certain Islamization of political vocabulary and symbolism in political discourse took place”[7], and he fortified the manipulation of religious discourse of the Nasir era. But the depletive use of religious language was also a result of the growing financial influence on Egypt by ultra conservative financial patrons like Saudi Arabia. For example, Sadat began and ended every of his speeches with Muslim benedictions. The new institution of 1971 stated “the principles of ŠariÝa are a principal source of legislation.[8] Thus, Sadat played the chords of popular Islamic sentiment, tried to please the ÝulamÁ' and reduced the division between mosque and state. Moreover, the regime re-published the journal al-ÝUrwa al-Wu×qa (“The Firmest Tie”) as a pro-regime publication, and, hence, claimed to continue the tradition of the classical Salafis AfÈÁni and ÝAbduh.[9] However, the two uses of state Islam against regime critics and parallel (in the quest for regime-legitimacy) the opening and widening of the religious sphere for Islamic agitation was “the play with the fire” (al-laÝb bi-'n-nÁr)[10] that finally killed Sadat.

2. The Islamic movement under Sadat

The Islamic movement under Sadat is inextricably connected to the ordeal of the Muslim Brotherhood under Nasir. As Paz illustrates:

“Although, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood does not engage in political violence, as the largest Islamic opposition movement in Egypt and the Arab world, it has been second to none in creating an Islamist atmosphere to promote Jihad through a small but vociferous group of highly educated youngsters affected by the regime’s suppression of the Brethren.”[11]

Ironically, the isolationist and anti-royalist wing of the Muslim Brotherhood supported the Free Officers coup in 1952.[12] However, after an attempt on Nasir’s life in 1954 the Brotherhood was banned. The heavy suppression under Nasir installed the Brotherhood with an air of martyrology. Inside and outside observers use the term “concentration camp” (muÝtaqal) to describe the political prison-camps in which many Brotherhood members were interned.[13] The leading Brotherhood ideologue Sayyid QuÔb, who was executed in 1965, wrote the manifesto “Signposts” (MaÝÁlim fi-'Ô-ÔarÐq) under the harsh conditions of these camps. His Islamic analysis of the secular Arab state became the basic manifesto for many radical MB splinter groups in the 1970s.

After the defeat of the Arab states in the 1967 war, an ideological vacuum prevailed in the Arab world and Islamism became an attractive popular alternative to pan-Arabism.[14] The most useful definition of Islamism is encapsulated in the synonym 'Political Islam', which refers to those political movements that treat Islam as their political ideology. In Egypt, President Sadat’s rectification revolution (×awrat al-taÒÎÐh, since 1971) and his de-Nasirization campaign supported this trend including the expulsion of Soviet military advisers; the removal of the pro-Soviet faction in the state apparatus; and the crackdown on Communist and Nasserist students. Therefore, the regime allowed Islamist groups to reconsolidate or freshly constitute themselves as counterweights against the secular leftist groups.[15]

The Islamic movement under Sadat split into four trends, which had different ideologies and tactics to Islamize the society and the common aim to create an Islamic state. The doctrine of ºihÁd is one tactic to achieve this aim and therefore offers itself for the analysis of these trends. Those were the Azhar ÝulamÁ' and their affiliated clerics and neighborhood leaders; the Neo Muslim Brotherhood; the university and community based ÊamÝÐyÁt (clubs and associations); and finally the revolutionary ÊamÁÝÁt (groups).[16] The categories were not stringent, for they overlapped at times. But broadly speaking, the ÝulamÁ' and parts of the neo-MB had a predominantly elderly, traditional-conservative membership from the upper-middle class. They benefited from Sadat’s economic opening policy since 1974 (infitÁÎ) and, hence, were not overtly regime-critical.[17] In contrast, the same policy caused a feeling of collective status incongruity among many young and economically poorer university graduates from the middle and lower middle classes, who were drawn from the countryside to the cities by the prospect of education.[18] Kepel calls them the “new Islamist intellectuals”, who articulated their discontent with Islamic concepts, were not traditionally educated in Islamic sciences and constituted the university associations and revolutionary groups.[19] Since they were laymen in religious matters, they created a sharp tension with the regime clerics, who claimed to be the sole interpreters of Islam.

2.1 The Conservative End

The official ÝulamÁ' were at the conservative end of the Islamic spectrum and clustered around the Azhar University, the Ministry of AwqÁf and al-Azhar affairs and the state-Mufti of Egypt. As we will see, Sadat’s clerics termed the October War 1973 “Operation Badr” and created an Islamic-political mythology around it, which was filled with religious expressions that explained the “victory”. The battle cry “Allahu akbar” epitomized the war ideology.[20] Religious terms and symbols were prevalent in the context of the 1973 war.

Toward the center of the spectrum, but still considered conservative, was the once powerful Muslim Brotherhood (MB) that had been broken, jailed and exiled under Nasir. However, after Nasir’s death Sadat released the old-guard of the MB from jail and allowed it limited political maneuverability and expression.[21] As a result three Neo-Muslim Brotherhood factions emerged. The least activist was the “Murshid Éadid” faction led by RaÎman al-MaÒri that argued that the MB was in a period of weakness (istiÃÝÁf) during which God did not demand ÊihÁd. The second faction gathered around Mrs. Zaynab al-ÇazÁli, was regime critical and rejected passivity. However, the main cluster of the Neo-MB flocked around Supreme Guide ÝUmar Tilmisani (since 1973) and the magazine al-DaÝwa (The Call), which was allowed to republish on a monthly basis between 1976 and 1981.[22] With this step, the regime wanted to gain popular Islamist support. But in contrast to the old MB, whose membership was chiefly drawn from the lower and middle classes, the DaÝwa group represented the section of the bourgeoisie that profited from the infitÁÎ .[23]

Tilmisani continued the policy of his predecessor Íassan al-ÍuÃaybi, who in 1969 wrote “DuÝÁ, lÁ quÃÁ'” (Preachers, not Judges”) to distance the moderate MB from the revolutionary trend represented in Sayyid QuÔb’s manifesto “MaÝÁlim fÐ -Þl-ÔarÐq” (Signposts). Initially, the al-DaÝwa group was not regime critical, although it rejected the separation of religion and politics under Sadat in favor of an Islamic state with a single Islamic party based on the šarÐÝa.[24] It directed its polemics against outward enemies. This was an externalization of the internal problems of Egyptian Islamic society that were projected on Jewry, the Crusades, communism and secularism. However, after Sadat concluded a peace treaty with Israel, al-DaÝwa’s pendulum swung against the president and harshly criticized him.[25]

2.2. The Middle Spectrum

Between the center and radical end of the spectrum were the ÉamÐÝÁt IslÁmiyya, the Islamic student associations. Founded around 1972 with active support from the government as part of the rectification revolution (×awrat taÒI:iÐI:i) and de-Nasirization campaign, they became the only genuine mass organization of the Islamist movement. They were supposed to counter the dominant and regime critical Nasserist and communist student groups on the campuses. In 1976-7, government backing allowed them to take over the student unions and until 1977 they represented together with the Neo-MB the reformist trend in the Islamist movement.

Their strategy was to Islamize the campuses by preaching, providing services to students, attracting a large following, and creating a truly Islamic society. After 1977, however, they fell out with the government over the social inequality raised by the infitÁI:i and the new peace policy toward Israel and were banned in 1979.[26] The ÉamÐÝÁt IslÁmiyya were influenced by both the moderate views of al-ÍuÃaybÐ and the revolutionary ideas of QuÔb.[27] Oftentimes, they served as recruiting pools for the revolutionary ÊamÁÝÁt.[28]

2.3 The Revolutionary Groups

The revolutionary ÊamÁÝÁt (groups) at the radical end of the spectrum were offshoots of the old MB. They split into several dozens. However, three groups representatively stood out. They justified their strategies by the doctrine of takfÐr (excommunication). Moreover, each group committed a major act of violence.[29] Those were:

a. MunaÛÛamat al-TaÎrÐr al-IslÁmÐ, but later also referred to as the Military Academy Organization (MunaÛÛamat al-Fanniyya al-ÝAskariyya), henceforth abbreviated as MA. MA was led by ÑÁliÎ Sirriyya, a Haifa born Palestinian with a doctorate degree in science, who started the organization when he came to Egypt in 1971. In April 1974 the group carried out an attack on the Military Academy in Heliopolis. The attack failed and its members were caught and brought to trial.
b. The Association or Society of Muslims (JamÁÝat al-MuslimÐn), through the media better known as JamÁÝat al-TakfÐr wa-Þl-Hijra (Excommunication and Holy Flight), henceforth abbreviated as EHF. It was founded in 1971 after his release from prison by ¡ukrÐ MusÔafÁ, an agricultural engineer. In July 1977, the group kidnapped and assassinated the former minister of AwqÁf, MuÎammad Íusayn al-ÅahabÐ.[30]
c. The ÉihÁd Organization (TanÛÐm al-Jihad). The group assassinated Sadat. It was not fully organized before 1980. Some of its members were soldiers like KhÁlid al-IslÁmbÙlÐ, who participated in the assassination.

The MA group copied the strategy of the Islamic Liberation Party, which was founded in 1953 by ÓÁqÐ al-DÐn al-NabahÁnÐ in Jerusalem. NabahÁnÐ held “that political power had first to be seized in a coup de force. Islamicism [sic] would then be instituted from above.”[31] Accordingly, the MA group saw only the government as pagan and the society as victimized.[32] ÑÁliÎ Sirriyya saw the attack on the Military Academy in Heliopolis as the first stage in a planned coup d’état to establish an Islamic state. He was in contact with al-ÍuÃaybÐ as well as Zaynab al-ÇazÁlÐ, and a guest-speaker at student camps, where he collected his followers.[33] Al-ÇazÁlÐ probably instilled Sirriyya with QuÔbian concepts, for she was a close follower of QuÔb in the 1960s .[34]


[1] Günther Kassian, Die Orientierung an der frühislamischen Geschichte in der Ideologie des arabischen Sozialismus in Ägypten unter Nasser (Bonn: Rheinische Friedrich Wilhelms-Universität, 1991), p.231.

[2] Ibid. pp. 207-51, 255-258, 339-52.

[3] Ibid., p.347.

[4] Ibid., p.218.

[5] ( See Hinnebusch, p.84; Handbuch der Dritten Welt Band 6, p. 565; al-Ahram, 20 Oct 1977, p1.

[6] From ÝAbd al-Íalim MaÎmÙd’s book FatÁwa Ýan aš-ŠuyuÝiyya (Fatwas on Communism, Cairo: DÁr al-MaÝÁrif, 1976), quoted in Fouad Ajami, „In the Pharao’s Shadow: Religion and Authority in Egypt”, in James Piscatori (ed.), Islam in the Political Process (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), pp. 14-15.

[7] Rudolph Peters, “The Relevance of the Jihad Doctrine in Sadat’s Egypt”, in: Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam ( Princeton: Marcus Wiener, 1996), p. 150.

[8] See § 1 (2). In 1980 Further hopes among the ÝulamÁ' who strove for influence were raised when the provision “the principles of ŠariÝa are a principal source of legislation” was changed into “the principal source”. In Skovgaard-Petersen, pp.199-200.

[9] See C.C. Adams, p.8; Rubin, p.20; Skovgaard-Petersen, p.69; Schulze, p. 301. In respect to the Salafis, the date 1884 counts as the beginning of the movement, for it was also the year when al-ÝUrwa al-Wu×qa was published.

[10] The expression “play with fire” pretty much fits for Sadat’s use of regime policy in combination with state religion that spoke to the religiosity of the Egyptian society. See in ÝAbd al-LaÛim RamaÃÁn, MaÒr fi ÝaÒr as-SadÁt (Cairo: Maktabat MadbÙli, 1986), p. 275.

[11] Reuven Paz, “Al-Qaeda’s Search for new Fronts: Instructions for Jihadi Activity in Egypt and Sinai”, in PRISM Occasional Papers, Volume 3 (2005), Number 7 (October 2005),, p.3.

[12] Reinhard Schulze, A Modern History of the Islamic World (London: I.B. Tauris, 2000), p. 138.

[13] The French expert on the MB, Gilles Kepel, uses this expression. One of the typical MB publications, which focus on the “concentration camp” is, for example, AÎmad RÁ'if, ÑafÎÁt min tarÐÌ al-iÌwÁn: at-TarÐÌ as-sirrÐ li-'l-muÝtaqal “Pages from the History of the Brothers: The Secret History of the Concentration Camp” (Cairo: al-MuÌtÁr al-IslÁmÐ).

[14] The Egyptian sociologist SaÝid al-DÐn IbrÁhÐm in “Al-ÉamÁÝÁt al-IslÁmiyya” (The Islamic Groups), Rose el-Youssef, 28 September 1981, pp. 23-5.

[15] The rectification revolution entailed other concrete measures to please the bourgeoisie and opposition, which had suffered under Nasir’s assault on its property and freedom in the sixties. For example, the return of property, and personal rights, the closing of detention camps, the lifting of ‘political isolation’, etc. See Raymond A. Hinnebusch Jr., Egyptian Politics under Sadat. The Post-Populist Development of an Authoritarian-Modernizing State (London: Cambridge University Press, 1985),

[16] Barry Rubin, Islamic Fundamentalism in Egyptian Politics (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), p. 91.

[17] Hinnebusch Jr., p.200.

[18] Collective status incongruity is strong achievement motivation coupled with justified high aspiration, yet little economic and political opportunity. See Saad Eddin Ibrahim, “Anatomy of Egypt’s Militant Islamic Groups: Methodological Note and Preliminary Findings, in International Journal of Middle East Studies, 12 (1980), p. 447.

[19] Gilles Kepel, Muslim Extremism in Egypt: The Prophet and the Pharao (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), p 14. Generally, mass education is a phenomenon of the modern nation state!

[20] Peters, 150; AÎmad Lutfi IbrÁhim, “Al-insiÎÁb al-jahÙdi fi at-tÁriÌ al-islÁmi” (Jewish Resignation and Retreat in Islamic History), al-Éumhuriyya 8 February 1974. “Operation Badr” and ar-ra'is al-muÝmin were frequently used in the Egyptian newspapers al-Ahram and al-Jumhuriyya, like on al-Jumhuriyya’s religious page “Religion for Life” (al-din li-'l-ÎayÁt). The term “Operation Badr” started during and after the October 1973 war, and then on its anniversaries in 1974, 1975, and 1976 etc. The term “the believing president” accompanies Sadat’s ascendance to power, especially on those pages of the newspapers that deal with official state Islam. The secret battle cry (kalimat sirr an-naÒr) became an important illustration in the discourse on the October 1973 war.

[21] Jakob Skovgaard-Petersen, Defining Islam for the Egyptian State (New York: Brill, 1997), p.199 and Kepels, pp. 103-124.

[22] Hinnebusch Jr,, p. 200.

[23] Peters, p. 153-4.

[24] Hinnebusch Jr., p.200.

[25] See Kepels, pp. 113-124.

[26] See Kepels, p. 129; Peters, p.152-3, Dieter Nohlen and Franz Nuscheler, Handbuch der Dritten Welt, Band 6, Nordafrika und Naher Osten (Bonn, Verlag J.H.W. Dietz Nachf., 1993), p.159.

[27] Rubin, p. 64.

[28] Ibid, p.41.

[29] The categorization and terminology leans on Rubin, p.41, and Saad Eddin Ibrahim, “Anatomy of Egypt’s Militant Islamic Groups: Methodological Note and Preliminary Findings, in International Journal of Middle East Studies, 12 (1980), p. 427.

[30] ShukrÐ was arrested in 1965 at the age of 23 for distributing leaflets of the Muslim Brotherhood at the University Campus of Asyut. He belonged to the young imprisoned Islamist militants who opposed the moderated old guard supporters of Hudaybi, who defended established dogma against heresies by publishing ‘Preachers, not Judges’ against the backdrop of Nasser’s crackdown on the Brothers. In contrast, the younger militants were inspired by Qutb’s signposts and his terms mufÁÒala, or Ýuzla (‘separation’, or ‘withdrawal’). In prison, two radical groups emerged, which both held that the jahiliyya society had to be excommunicated (takfÐr). One group concealed its views, similar to the Shiite practice of kitmÁn, and preached spiritual detachment from society (JamÁÝa al-ÝUzla al-ShuÝuriyya, ‘Spiritual Detachment Group’). ShukrÐ belonged to the other group which preached mufÁÒala kÁmila, or ‘total separation’. The latter sect soon fell apart, but the remnants of its radical ideology were successfully revived by ShukrÐ when he founded the Society of Muslims after his release in 1971 (see Kepel, 2003, 74-6).

[31] Kepel, p.93.

[32] Saad Eddin Ibrahim, “Anatomy of Egypt’s Militant Islamic Groups: Methodological Note and Preliminary Findings, in International Journal of Middle East Studies, 12 (1980), p. 431.

[33] According to the al-Qaeda ideologue and leader of the Egyptian Jihad Organization Ayman al-ÚawÁhirÐ in Asharq al-Awsat, 4 December 2001, p.6.

[34] See Kepel, p.42

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