The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Iran hands over Islamist to Egypt

According to some news reports -- basing their stories on the London-based Islamist cabal -- Iran has handed over Mustafa Hamza, a former member of the Gamaa Islamiya who was involved in the 1995 attempt on Hosni Mubarak's life in Addis Abeba. This story says it was confirmed by an Egyptian security official, but this one says Iran is denying the reports.

Hani el-Sibaie, a former leader of the outlawed Egyptian group Islamic Jihad who now runs an Islamic affairs research center in London, said by telephone that he'd been informed by people he trusts within al-Gamaa al-Islamiyya that Hamza was handed over to Egypt by Iran "a few weeks ago."
El-Sibaei, of the research center in London, claimed Iran had handed over Hamza in exchange for security information about Iranian opposition members in Egypt.
"Iran now is not like Khomeini's Iran," el-Sibaei said, referring to the late Iranian spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. "Now, Iran is like any secular country. It's just using Islam as a slogan. This is a low deal," he said.
Egyptian authorities first arrested Hamza in 1981. He served three years in prison in the case of the assassination of former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. On his release, he went to Afghanistan. He's believed to be the alleged mastermind of a 1995 assassination attempt on Mubarak in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

This is interesting for several reasons. First, Hamza has agreed along with most if not all Gamaa Islamiya leaders to renounced violence. That process, begun in 1997 and continuing today, had led the group's leadership to apologize to the Egyptian people for their campaign of terrorism in the 1980s and 1990s and publish a series of books explaining their decision. Only a few former members who are now exiled in Europe have dissented from that decision. It's not clear what the Egyptians would want with Hamza at this stage if only to punish him for the assassination attempt.

Secondly, it marks yet another small rapprochement between Egypt and Iran, a pattern that emerged since December 2003 when the leaders of both countries agreed to renew relations. There have been some steps taken, and bilateral investment is growing, but after an early enthusiasm in 2004 full relations are still restored. One would assume that the US is ambivalent on this one, if not dead against. But it could be a useful back channel to Tehran. In any case, it would only make sense for two of the most powerful regimes in the region to talk to each other. It also shows Iranian pragmatism in agreeing to renew relations to one of the Arab governments that is closest to the US and Israel.

Finally, there have been stories that have made the appalling mistake of calling Hamza a Muslim Brotherhood leader rather than a Gamaa Islamiya leader. This Jerusalem Post story is particularly bad, saying the Brotherhood was responsible for all kinds of terrorist attacks and so on. They also call him the head of the Brotherhood, which he is not (and he isn't the head of the Gamaa Islamiya, either). The Muslim Brotherhood is an Islamist movement in Egypt that renounced violence in the mid-1970s and whose history of violence in Egypt is, I believe, limited to a few political assassinations in the late 1940s. Its leader is quite free and works from their headquarters in Cairo. They are banned but tolerated. I know one shouldn't expect too much out of a Conrad Black publication, but still...