By Barry Rubin
This is fascinating for a totally unexpected reason. It illustrates the law of unintended consequences, which is perhaps the single most important concept to keep in mind when examining the Middle East right now.
Abboud al-Zumar was a leader in the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (a group now associated with al-Qaida) who was imprisoned for more than two decades for his role in killing President Anwar al-Sadat. He was pardoned by the Egyptian Armed Forces Supreme Council on March 14. Since then, al-Zumar has been giving television interviews (translated by MEMRI).
He said something truly remarkable which is worth considering in full:
“I’d like to apologize to the Egyptian people [for the assassination of Sadat], because we did not intend to bring Hosni Mubarak to power. Our goal was to bring about change, and to deliver the Egyptian people from the conditions it found itself in. All we wanted was to rid the people of the Sadat regime. We were hoping that a better regime would replace it, but the outcome was that a worse regime came to power. For this, we apologize. Our intentions were to benefit this society….”
Now, of course, he is partly lying. The goal of Islamic Jihad was to organize a radical Islamist revolution and turn Egypt into a local version of Iran, Gaza under Hamas, and Afghanistan ruled by the Taliban. It’s no accident that the Islamic Jihad leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is now one of the top leaders of al-Qaida.
But leaving that aside, consider how his words apply to Egypt’s current situation and the recent revolution there:
“…bring about change…deliver the Egyptian people from [bad] conditions…rid the people of the [substitute Mubarak for Sadat] regime…hoping that a better regime would replace it, but the outcome was that a worse regime came to power.”
This is the dilemma that Egypt is now facing. Some readers (and a lot more non-readers) of mine are upset that I’m a spoil sport. They point to the courage of the demonstrators, the current happiness of most Egyptians (though not the Christian minority), their high hopes of freedom, and so on.
Yet that isn’t the issue, is it? The task for me is to point out the dangers and skewer the naïve wishful thinking that has so overwhelmed the West in viewing these developments.
Al-Zumar also said one other thing that bears repeating. He justified the assassination by saying that clerics issued a fatwa to get rid of Sadat, “We were not religious scholars ourselves but we followed the religious scholars.” This is how the Muslim Brotherhood and even more extreme Islamists promote violence, not by implementing it but by issuing fatwas which are to Islamists what ordering a “hit” is to organized crime.
And why did they put a price on Sadat’s head? Al-Zumar explains, because he was “attacking” Islam, opposing having Egypt governed by Sharia law, campaigning to let women dress as they pleased, and agreeing to peace with Israel at Camp David.
Now, if anyone takes such stances in post-Mubarak Egypt, there will be clerics calling on others to murder them. When Islamists seek to win elections, they do not dispense with the option of murdering their opponents. This is precisely what happened in Lebanon, where Hizballah whittled away the moderates’ parliamentary majority by assassinating members of parliament.
Al-Zumar wasn’t a pro-democratic idealist, but he set out to bring about change and, from his standpoint, made things worse. He might not be the last one to face such a situation. Will others be apologizing in twenty years?
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and a featured columnist for PajamasMedia. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is at http://www.gloria-center.org/. His PajamaMedia columns are mirrored and his other articles are available at http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com.