Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya’s Insurgency in Egypt


The central activity of the Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya was the Islamization of the view and way of life of Egyptians. Its activists consisted of meetings with influential Muslim preachers, organization of Islamic summer camp for students, and insist on the mandatory wearing of the hijab – the Muslim headscarf for women. They paid great importance to the mixing of the sexes banned by Shariah as Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya sought by the administration separate benches in the classrooms for female students or special buses for them.

The government of Egypt was a representative of the England and constituted the opposite actor. Its principal aim was to establish the peace in the country and preserve the current political and social course.

Peaceful Period

In the middle of the 70s, Egyptian authorities demonstrated sympathetic attitude to the activities of the Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya: President Anwar Sadat’s regime saw a natural ally in the struggle against the organization in the youth environment (Lapidus 2002). The President Mohammed Osman Ismail appointed in 1973 by Governor of Asyut was considered the most active and consistent patron of the organization (Sullivan & Jones 2008). He repeatedly met with local leaders of the Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya and encouraged the organization. It played a significant role in the strengthening of its positions in central and southern regions of Egypt including Assiut, Aswan, and Minya.

Radicalization of the Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya

The end of the 70s was marked by the obvious transition of the organization in opposition to the regime. The main reason for that were Sadat steps for reconciliation between Egypt and Israel, namely, the business visit to Jerusalem and the signing of the Camp David Accords proclaiming Egyptian-Israeli peace (Wagner 2007). Sharp rejection of this policy caused the radicalization of the Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya (Hafez & Wiktorowicz 2008).

If supporters of violent methods were in the minority, their influence was quickly amplified after the event. Disagreements on the need to force methods of the policy have led to the fact that in 1979, the moderate activists joined to the Muslim Brotherhood while the faithful ones have taken radical positions.

In addition, for the first time since its inception, the Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya formed a clandestine armed wing with its own leadership separate from the dawa wing. The decision to form an armed wing marked a clear shift in strategy from earlier periods when the organization rejected clandestine work as both an un-Islamic innovation and a politically unsound strategy for building a mass movement. (Mubarak 1995, p. 188)

It demonstrates the strengthening of the opposition that might affect the country negatively.

By the middle of the 80s, the Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya finally took a course at a violent establishment of Islamic social and political order in the country (Moaddel & Karabenick 2008). Karam Zuhdi was the leader of the organization supported by such activists as Nageh Ibrahim Assem Abd al-Maged Osama Hafez, Isam Dyirbal, Fouad al-Davalibi, and others. Due to the efforts of this group, the military organization training the use of the weapon was formed.

Along with the strong rejection of the government and foreign policy, the radicalism of the Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya expressed a hostile attitude to the Egyptian Christians – so-called Copts. The Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya considered that Copts had too much freedom, whereas, according to the Sharia, their rights should be limited (Rubin & Rubin 2008). Since 1980, the attack of the organization on Copts acquired traits of the targeted terror. The ideological justification of that was the thesis of Copts’ aggressiveness against Muslims.

Attempts to Improve the Situation

In 1984, in the framework of the liberalization of the political life conducted by the new Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, plenty of radical Islamists left prisons. Moreover, until 1987, the Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya had the opportunity to provide legally propagandistic activities while remaining in irreconcilable opposition to the authorities.

The first attempt to put an end to this opposition was undertaken in April 1996 when the lawyer Muntasser al-Zayyat called the Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya to stop the violence. In spite of the fact that his initiative was supported only by one emir of Aswan Khaled Ibrahim, al-Zayyat continued his peacemaking mission, and July 5, 1997, six leaders of the organizations declared ceasing the violence. Such step provoked a split in the organization when moderate activists led by Mustafa Hamza argued for a ceasefire, but extremist part headed by Abu Yaser Rifai Ahmed Taha did not agree.

According to some reports, it was his supporters who have made the attack on foreign tourists in Luxor November 17, 1997 (Ahmad 2001). As a result of these bloody attacks, more than 60 people both foreigners (most of whom were Swiss tourists) and Egyptian citizens were killed.


One of the most significant areas of third party activity is the mediation. It seems appropriate to reveal the notion of the mediation to analyze the method more precisely. As a rule, the mediation is understood as a neutral party contributing to the optimization of the process of negotiations and finding a mutually acceptable solution. The third party means mediator and observer engaged in the provision of assistance in resolving relationship conflicts or issues between the other parties. It is rather significant to point out that the aim of the mediation is to promote the peaceful settlement of the conflict (Wiegand 2010).

Mediation is a sufficiently flexible way to impact on the conflict to resolve it by peaceful means. It is in most cases accepted by the population and does not cause adverse reactions that generate, for instance, the use of sanctions or the introduction of peacekeeping forces. Besides, another important point is that despite the fact that mediation does not exclude the use of means of pressure including threats, denial of economic assistance in the case of continuation of the conflict, and others, it is still focused on the dialogue between the conflicting parties.

In 1991, the army frightened by the dominance of the Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya on the parliamentary elections interrupted the electoral process between the first and second rounds in order to protect the democracy (Svensson 2015).

The President sticking to the flexible line within the constitutional framework was removed from power in a quiet palace revolution (Ashour 2007). The division between the Islamized part of activists under the influence of the Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya and the rest of the population of Muslims and Christians, who were not receiving the Islamization of social and political life, resulted in the opposition. Both recognized the army as an arbiter relying on its support. As a result, generals considered their moral and patriotic duty to return to the forefront of politics in order to prevent a slide toward civil war and sectarian strife, and to avoid the collapse of the state institutions (Fisher 2001).

With the escalation of the internal conflict, the Army has made every effort to ensure to restore bridges of understanding, but the search for a dialogue and subsequent compromise formula of national reconciliation have failed. Together with non-Islamist activists, the secular opposition of liberal and leftist forces held massive popular actions putting forward the requirement of the resignation of the Islamist head (Uppsala Conflict Data Program n.d.). In turn, he made concessions and has ignored the call first to both sides an ultimatum to the military relying on his forces. After that, the army demanded to start a political dialogue, in other words, negotiations.


Considering the basic direction of the Egyptian authorities’ policy towards the Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya’s activists of various kinds, it should be noted that the actions of radical Islamic opposition wing made the government use different means to combat it ranging from legal regulation, political dialogue and cooperation with the organization, prosecution, and ending with repression. Realizing the threat posed by the Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya, the authorities have begun negotiations.

Negotiations are also an important tool for resolving conflicts not only between individuals but also between countries. Negotiation is the process of communication between two parties in which a decision of certain issues should be reached (Fisher et al. 2000). Negotiations have an ambiguous goal as follows: to resolve the dispute and to provide the cooperation. Thus, negotiations should bring two parties to the peaceful decision. According to Cronin (2010):

Negotiations with terrorist groups are best approached as long-term, managed processes demanding patience, resilience, extensive intelligence, and steady determination, rather than the kinds of intensive meetings and well-publicized signing ceremonies that follow civil war cease-fires or the endings of conventional wars. (4)

In response to the refusal to fight, authorities guaranteed freedom for activists of the organization. Since the beginning of negotiations with the organization, several attacks were conducted by activists. Victims were mostly civilians denying their assistance as well as officials and journalists. However, the government preferred to use negotiations as the key means to establish the peace. Due to such measures, the Egyptian government has made some progress in trying to counter the threat of the Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya. At the same time, it constantly emphasized that terrorism is a global phenomenon and has nothing to do with religion (Esposito 2002).

The government also attempted to establish a dialogue with the leaders of radical Islamic organizations that sometimes ended with the arrest of the latter. The above fact suggests that there was a struggle within the ruling elite between different approaches to the problem of relationships with the Islamic opposition, and, perhaps, it was security forces and services that were key opponents of compromise.

It is also should be noted that separate attempts to weaken the appeal of the organization were undertaken by the government through social rehabilitation of its members. Various aspects of the negotiation are in direct correlation with the basic principles of the international law including respect for human rights, the principle of equal rights, and self-determination of nations and peoples. Therefore, in conditions of that time, only the negotiation with the organization leaders could promote achieving the social stability. In the case of the establishment of such dialogue, the majority of conflicts between the government and the Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya significantly weakened.

The peaceful way of the resolution negated the need for the use of violent methods to demonstrate the opposition sentiment. Naturally, plenty of problems remained, but the chosen method lead to the success in resolving some of them. Above all, it resolved the principal armed opposition between the government and the Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya.

Results of the Conflict

In March 1999, the group unilaterally announced a ceasefire with the government of Egypt. As a result of the complex of undertaken measures, the Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya not only stopped the violence but also revised its religious beliefs (Blaydes & Rubin 2008). What is more, Islamists apologized for their actions and reorganized in the peaceful organization (Gunaratna & Ali 2009). It seems that the outcome of the conflict is rather fair as the government of Egypt won. It occurred due to the strong administrative and military capacities (Comparative perspectives on the evolution of JAS Insurgency and its future scenarios 2015).

It seems unlikely that activists of the Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya might come to power in Egypt. However, that does not mean that their role in the political life of the country is negligible. The role of the organization is defined not only by its ability to seize political power but also the ability to destabilize the regime (Rabasa, Pettyjohn & Ghez 2010). For instance, it might help to overthrow the regime and deprive of the religious legitimacy that plays an important role in Muslim countries.

Speaking of measures that might be done, it seems necessary to mention that a complex of the discussed methods such as negotiation and mediation might be the best solution of the conflict. It goes without saying that the implementation of the complex might cause some difficulties as it requires plenty of efforts. However, it is worth trying to achieve high results. At the same time, the absence of the above measures or their untimely implication might lead to negative consequences such as armed attacks and death of plenty of people or even the introduction of the state of emergency. Therefore, the agreement was the main criterion of the successful resolution of the opposition.


In conclusion, it should be stressed that activities of the Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya opposition undermining the political stability in the country since the middle of the 1970s until the mid-late of the 90s reduced to a minimum by the efforts of the Egypt government. Precisely speaking legal settlement, negation, and mediation played a crucial role in the peace establishment. In XXI century, the Al-Gama’a Al-Islamiyya is still a threat to the existing political order. However, it is armed with the adoption of democratic rules of the game in the political arena of the country but not with military attacks.


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