3. Students and politics…a special report: After the chains of the Jihad organization disappeared, the Brotherhood seeks to rule over universities

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Article summary: 

The article gives a brief historical overview of how the different Islamic groups spread their authority over the political activities of universities in Egypt. The Gama’at Al-Islamiya started in the 1970s, declined in the 1980s and disappeared in the 1990s. The Brotherhood concentrated on poor students and the Jihad tried to affect them through their different publications.

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There is no longer space for extremists in universities to hold an iron chain to prevent social, and study-related interaction between male and female students such as suspending lectures, disbanding a concert or the cancellation of a stage performance.

The extremists to the left and Islamists remained. Violent groups moved out but members of the Brotherhood stayed after they shaved their beards, wore expensive clothes and penetrated student groups.

In this way, the Brotherhood is staying due to someone’s interest; I mean the interest of the Guidance Office.

Certainly, Rashad Bayoumi, the representative of the student division of the Brotherhood, did not participate in the student demonstrations of Cairo University, but he was watching them closely and following up their developments second by second. It is well known among the Brotherhood circles that no student, belonging to the Brotherhood, can take part in a demonstration, lift a signboard or even make the sign of victory without clear instructions from Bayoumi.

Bayoumi was imprisoned for three years by a ruling of a military court issued in 1996. He went out of the prison to resume his work in leading the students of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

Dissenters, who one day belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood, are jesting at the fact that the representative of the Brotherhood’s students is 71 years old. The reason why he assumed this critical position is that he had been a member in the student division of the Brotherhood in 1954.

They [dissenters] emphasize that Bayoumi has the first and the final word in regard to the Brotherhood’s student action all over the country. He is also to be obeyed by all member students.

Essam Sultan, a dissenter from the Brotherhood, mentioned that Bayoumi formulates the agenda of political action for each and every university. “Bayoumi and people like him stretched their hands inside universities stirring demonstrations, identifying seminar speakers and setting the times of meetings and exhibitions,” said Essam Sultan. Sultan added that the Guidance Office instructs university students belonging to the Brotherhood.

Bayoumi is not the focus of this report. The scope of this report extends to include the action of the so-called Islamic movement [with all its groups including the Brotherhood] in spreading their authority over the political action of universities. These actions started with the foundation conference of the Gama’at Al-Islamiya at the University City [student housing] of Cairo University in 1974. It continued till the latest demonstrations launched by university students to express their rage over the crimes of Sharon and his Israeli gang.

It seems that the 1970s were a hard time in the history of the Brotherhood’s dominance over universities.

Abu Al-Ella Maddi, one of the most prominent founders of Al-Wasat Party [the Center Party] that was rejected by the Party Committee [most likely of Shura Council] divides the 1970s into three stages or three thirds. During the first stage or third, Marxists dominated universities completely. At that time, Islamic groups came at the last place after the Nasserists who entered into a competition with Marxists over the leadership of the student movements.

In the second third of the 1970s, Nasserists dominated universities, while Islamists kept their position and continued to prepare for action themselves especially because they started their activities in the university from point zero and they did not have any history like Marxists or popularity like Nasserists.

Islamists became dominant in universities in the last part of the 1970s. They spread their authority to eight universities out of a total number of twelve universities all over Egypt, and formed the Union of Egyptian Students.

The only four universities that escaped the Brotherhood’s authority at that time were the Azhar University, Ain Shams University, Helwan University and Alexandria University.

Abu Al-Ella Maddi, who was the vice-chairman of the General Union of Egyptian Students in 1978, attributes this upswing to the atmosphere of freedom that prevailed at that time.

The Gama’at Al-Islamiya, and no one else, benefited from this freedom. The Gama’at Al-Islamiya combined their influence over students with activities to recruit them.

Abu Al-Ella Maddi mentions 1979, the year of the peace treaty [with Israel] and the visit of Sadat to Jerusalem, as the end of the Brotherhood’s dominance over universities. In 1979 Sadat stopped the activities of the Union of Egyptian Students in which the Brotherhood had eight seats out of the thirteen seats of the union’s Executive Bureau.

The decade of the Brotherhood:

The Brotherhood was obliged to work in secret during 1982 and 1983 in the form of a few, expandable groups.

Essam Sultan, one of the most prominent leading figures of the Brotherhood’s student division at that time, mentioned that the Brotherhood resumed their activities with the Nasserists’ return to universities in the 1983 demonstrations. Students demonstrated in 1983 demanding the modification of the University Code of 1979. These demonstrations resulted in a partial success of the Nasserists in excluding the votes of university professors in Student Union’s elections.

Sultan revealed that the Brotherhood started intensive activities among student groups [student families], especially in the faculties of medicine, law and engineering. Some leading figures of the Brotherhood came to the fore like Ahmed Abdullah in the Faculty of medicine and Yasser Abu Zeid in the Faculty of engineering.

Abdullah managed to win the election and became the head of the Student Union in 1984, and the Brotherhood assumed complete possession of the union’s seats until 1988. During that period, the Brotherhood applied a different approach from that of 1979.

“The most important characteristic that distinguished the Brotherhood at that time was their looks. At that time members of the Brotherhood were not bearded. They changed the image of the gloomy bearded person that has been frightening students.

The members of the Brotherhood moved within a wide space through seminars, conferences and exhibitions. This was done in parallel with another service-oriented approach through reducing the prices of university books, keeping the fees of the university city within the limit of 5 L.E. and getting student discount for the tickets of public transportation buses and assigning a number of these buses for university students,” Sultan added.

The collapses of the Left with all its divisions, the disappearance of the National Party and the withdrawal of the Gama’at Al-Islamiya and the Jihad from Cairo University helped the Brotherhood in spreading their authority. The Gama’at Al-Islamiya and the Jihad remained existent in the universities of Upper Egypt [after being involved in the assassination of Sadat and then being pursued by security authorities].

Sultan did not mention that the three Islamic groups [the Gama’at Al-Islamiya, the Jihad and the Muslim Brotherhood] involved in violent actions like besieging theaters and concerts, beating students with iron chains in Assiut, prohibiting interaction between male and female students, particularly in Cairo University and Ain Shams University. This is in addition to suspending lectures and reciting the Azzan [call to prayer] loudly during lectures.

The Gama’at Al-Islamiya did not exclude the Brotherhood from the siege after disagreements started between them. The two parties got involved in bitter frictions. A conflict took place in 1986 over the name of “The Gama’at Al-Islamiya” [the Islamic group], which the Gama’at Al-Islamiya assumed exclusive possession of it in Upper Egypt, while the Brotherhood was using it in Cairo. At the end, the Brotherhood wad obliged to leave the name for the Gama’at Al-Islamiya and they disclosed the name of their group [Muslim Brotherhood] publicly for the first time.

The special System:

Sultan considered the eighth decade of the last century an identifying mark with regard to the Brotherhood’s action on university campuses. “The 1970s witnessed the breakaway of the leaders of student action of the Brotherhood from the mother group. Their organizational linkage to their group did not reach the degree of complete obedience and decision-making was not done outside the university.”

Sultan said that the 1990s witnessed just the opposite. The linkage [between the mother group and leaders of member student] became perfect and student action was taking the shape of the Brotherhood’s action with its sluggish reactions. The 1980s students who refused the interference of the leaders of the special system [of the Brotherhood] in witnessed an internal war between the leaders of the Brotherhood and their work.

The Brotherhood leaders were disturbed by the attitude of student leaders and called them “the rebels” to express rejection of their ideologies and attitudes.

“We were asking for a relation of coordination and action while they were asking for a relation of violence. We were not their soldiers. We were thinking and turning over our minds,” Sultan said.

With the illness of Al-Telmesany [Al-Telmesany was general-guide of the brotherhood in the 80ties] and then his death, the leaders of the special system, like Mustafa Mashhour, the late Dr. Ahmed Al-Malt, Ahmed Hassanin and Sheikh Muhammad Al-Khatib rushed to put an end to this conflict for their own benefit. They assumed leadership during the 1990s.

Sultan emphasized that the Guidance Office is directing the Brotherhood’s student division today. They do not take any action without receiving orders. It is to the extent that the participation of member students in the last demonstration had been put off till the Guidance Office ratified the demonstration plan. As a result, demonstrators belonging to the Brotherhood did not catch up with the first demonstration that set the Israeli flag at on fire the gate of Cairo University.

Dr. Muhammad Hassan Abdullah, professor of literary criticism at Cairo University, emphasized the comments of Sultan about the way the Brotherhood seeks to gain grounds in universities.

“The Brotherhood applies successful penetration methods. The most remarkable among these methods is approaching students through their colleagues as old students influence new ones. Moreover, they choose the language that suits those students most of who are rustic young men of alert religious conscience,” Dr. Abdullah said.

“Those students belong to poor segments and they are in need for the aid offered by the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood offers every student a shirt and a trouser, plus some books for lower prices.”

This affects provincial students and if they fall into the trap, it will be difficult for them to give up their commitments.

“All circumstances over the last 12 years were in the favor of the Brotherhood in all aspects; security hits gave them the people’s sympathy. The exclusion of members of the Brotherhood from unions’ election lists brought them more sympathy, that is why they win unions’ elections in spite of these measures,” Dr. Abdullah added

Dr. Abdullah said that the Brotherhood manipulated the inadequacy of freedom inside universities in order to achieve some gains. “The solution is to widen the scope of freedom allowed and not to oppress members of the Brotherhood. I am saying so in spite of my rejection of the Brotherhood,” Dr. Abdullah added.

I asked Dr. Essam Al-Erian [a prominent Brotherhood leader] about the capacity of the Brotherhood to stir up demonstrations and penetrate universities politically. Dr. Al-Erian said that after all the attempts to dry out the resources of the Brotherhood, it still survives. “It may be the only active trend in universities today, and it is not challenged except by the non-belonging who represent the majority,” Dr. Al-Erian added

Concerning a question on how the Brotherhood has been able to remain at the forefront of the university ‘s political scene, Dr. Al-Erian answered that the Brotherhood has been able to harmonize between study and politics on one hand and between modernism and religiousness on the other hand.

Concerning the bribes given to students by the Brotherhood, Dr. Al-Erian said that it is necessary to support poor students, “we provide students with aid in case they are arrested”. Dr. Al-Erian concluded with an extremely significant statement: “The weak feeling of belonging to the nation as a whole reinforces the feeling of belonging to the group”

The group of Upper Egypt:

In the late seventies, the Gama’at Al-Islamiya divided itself into groups. A group that included prominent leading figures such Essam Helmy Al-Gazzar, Abu Abdel Moneim Abu Al-Foutouh and Essam Al-Erian, joined the Muslim Brotherhood at Cairo University. Ibrahim Al-Zafarany joined the Brotherhood at Alexandria University while Mohei Al-Deen Eissa and Abu Al-Ella Maddi joined them at Minia University.

A group [of the Gama’at Al-Islamiya] in Minia University and the majority of the Gama’at Al-Islamiya of Assiut kept working under the name of the Gama’at Al-Islamiya.

The Jihad group did not have any existence in universities because it was working in secret and the proof to this fact is Ayman Al-Zawahry who was a student in the faculty of medicine but he did not take part in any student activity.

In the early 1980s, Islamic groups had more obvious presence in universities than that of the Brotherhood. While in other universities the Brotherhood’s presence was more obvious. During the 1990s, all Islamic groups disappeared completely from universities. This disappearance is a real one as it was due to the absence of all effective members from the public work arena with the absence of active members. Consequently, recruitment operations that had been carried out in Upper Egypt on a large scale till the assassination of Sadat stopped.

Regarding the Jihad organization, its dependence on secret way of action and avoidance of publicity limited their Jihad-related appearance in universities.

Al-Jihad group admits a Jihad-involved member if he owns any volume of the twenty volumes of “Al-Umda Fi Aidad Al-Udda” [the basis of preparing ourselves for action], which the Jihad organization used to distribute inside university in volumes for low prices.

According to Mamdouh Ismail, the lawyer who was arrested in 1981[his first year in the faculty of arts] on charge of belonging to the Jihad, 60 % of the suspects of the Jihad lawsuit no. 462, Higher State Security, which is the most famous lawsuit in the record of Islamic groups in Egypt were university students like Ayman Al-Zawahry (faculty of medicine of Cairo University) Ahmed Salama Mabrouk and Tarek Al-Zomor (Faculty of agriculture of Cairo University).

The same percentage of university students was repeated in the four lawsuits of Tala’i Al- Fatah [the vanguards of the conquest].

Mamdouh mentioned that university students are considered the basis of jihad actions.

“The Jihad organization selects its members from the large segment that was ideologically exceeded by the Gama’at Al-Islamiya and the Muslim Brotherhood and uses the contradictions between them,” Mamdouh added.

Mamdouh Ismail pointed out that the Jihad organization modified its methods in the 1980s and tended to act with some publicity in an attempt to face the extremely public actions of the Gama’at Al-Islamiya and the Brotherhood.

The Jihad organization flooded big quantities of its publications, the most remarkable of which is “Falsafat Al-Mowagaha” [confrontation philosophy] by Tarek Al-Zomor.

The Jihad abandoned publicity and returned to secret ways of action in the 1990s.

University scene:

Explaining the continuous authority of the Brotherhood in universities, Dr. Mustafa Kamal Al-Sayyed, a famous political researcher in the Faculty of Political Science and Economics, said that today the Brotherhood is at the front of the political scene of the political street and consequently it is at front of the university scene.

Moreover, admitted political parties are banned [from working in universities] or its activities don’t target university students.

Consequently, the university is an empty theater for the Brotherhood with some weak attempts of the National Party.

The third reason [for the authority of the Brotherhood in university], according to Dr. Mustafa, is that the Brotherhood is more capable, than political parties, of mobilizing people for the issues of the confrontation with the West. “The Brotherhood makes use of the anti-Israel atmosphere in mobilizing students for the benefit of the Brotherhood’s project in the first place,” Dr. Mustafa added.

Dr. Mustafa explained how far the Brotherhood is spread in universities. “The Brotherhood is active in many faculties like Dar Al-Ulum [House of science, a faculty that teaches Arabic language and literature], faculties of medicine, engineering sciences. Their numbers are small in the faculties of arts and economics. Their number is also relatively small in the faculty of law,” Dr. Mustafa added.

Dr. Mustafa believes that the reason for that is that students of Dar Al-Ulum usually come from provinces and humble segments [of society]. Such an environment fits for the cultivation of the Brotherhood’s ideologies.

In the faculties of engineering and medicine, students are frustrated because in spite of being the best students, their job opportunities are almost non-existent. In addition to the nature of their study, which is based on the imagination that there are easy solutions of social problems.

Dr. Mustafa concluded his analysis saying that the circumstances that led to the increasing authority of the Brotherhood in universities have not changed and as long as these circumstances last, the Brotherhood will remain at the front of the university scene.

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