Al-Ahram Weekly Online   17 - 23 March 2011
Issue No. 1039
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Three decades on

After 30 years in jail for their involvement in the assassination of Anwar El-Sadat, the El-Zomor cousins are out and want to form a political party, reports Mona El-Nahhas

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On Thursday, the Higher Council of the Armed Forces ordered the release of 60 political prisoners who served 15 years or more of their jail terms. Aboud and Tarek El-Zomor, convicted in 1982 for their involvement in the assassination of former president Anwar El-Sadat and for their belonging to the militant Islamic Jihad group, are arguably the most notorious of those released.

The two cousins had already completed their jail term in 2001 and should have been released then. However, despite the dozens of court rulings passed in their favour, the former regime kept them behind bars. Mediation by El-Sadat's wife Jihan who called for their release, did not succeed. The former interior minister Habib El-Adli used his ministry's authority to hold prisoners for extra periods of time on security grounds.

The eldest, Aboud El-Zomor, 64, is a former army officer at the Military Intelligence apparatus. He received the Order of Merit for his performance during the 1973 October war. Tarek, 49, while in prison studied for a doctorate in constitutional law.

During their jail term and specifically in 1991, Aboud and Tarek joined Al-Gamaa Al-Islamia. In 1997, they were the first to back the initiative presented by Al-Gamaa to forsake violence. But they said they never lost sight of the idea of ousting "the corrupt ruler".

At the time of the assassination of El-Sadat, the two said they were convinced that the ruler who does not apply Islamic law, or Sharia, should be killed. However, during Mubarak's era, which saw a ferocious suppression of Islamists, it was safer for Islamist militant groups to change tactics.

It was on Saturday afternoon when the two were released after 30 years behind bars.

From the early hours of the morning, a large number of family members and leaders of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamia gathered in front of Tora Prison's main gate raising banners that hailed the release and waiting for their "victorious heroes".

Although convicted in a criminal case, the two are viewed by many as heroes. The fact that they, like all Islamists, were opponents of the former regime, may explain the public's welcome of them now.

Amid cheers, Aboud and Tarek met the gathering, among whom was a large number of the world's media. Upon their release, they held two separate press conferences in front of the prison cell of each one of them.

They told reporters that they would soon thank the Higher Council of the Armed Forces for their release. They called for cooperating with the new cabinet of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, as the current period requires total coordination between all political powers, they noted.

The idea of founding a new political party was the major announcement made during the press conference.

However, Aboud denied his intention to run in parliamentary or presidential elections. In 2005, Aboud intended to run for president against Mubarak, but his nomination papers were not accepted.

Talking to Al-Ahram Weekly on Monday, Tarek El-Zomor noted that the broad lines of founding such an entity are not yet clear. "We have not decided whether it will be a big party including representatives of Islamic trends or whether it will be several parties representing several Islamic groups," El-Zomor said, adding that this will be defined within one or two weeks. "We are now in the process of rearranging our papers and restructuring the group, bearing in mind the new political climate Egypt is undergoing," El-Zomor added.

According to Tarek El-Zomor, the policy of excluding Islamists from the political scene is no longer acceptable. "It's a kind of dictatorship. All Islamic powers should be invited to take part in politics."

In this connection, El-Zomor called upon the Muslim Brotherhood to field a presidential candidate in the September polls, noting that this is the group's duty in the coming period.

El-Zomor said he viewed the 25 January Revolution as reviving the nation.

Asked if he ever felt guilty for his part in the assassination of El-Sadat and for causing Egypt's suffering from a dictatorial regime for 30 years, El-Zomor said: "I'm dead sure that El-Sadat was better than his successor from the humanitarian aspect. However, El-Sadat set Egypt's policies, which Mubarak later followed. It was El-Sadat who signed the peace treaty with Israel, and he was the one who caused the humiliation of all Arabs."

A military source recently revealed that a legislative amendment is about to be introduced which would allow the establishment of new political parties. The amendment, due to be drafted immediately after the 19 March referendum on the amended constitution, will allow parties to be registered simply upon notification.

Political analysts predict the current period may witness the presence of no less than 60 parties. With existing liberal and leftist parties too weak to muster a serious challenge, parties on fertile Islamic ground may easily jump into the political fray.

According to political analyst Amr El-Shobaki, the issue of founding new parties should be subject to certain rules. He suggested that the Higher Council of the Armed Forces should appoint a group of prominent legal experts and politicians that would draw up a new set of rules organising the foundation of political parties.

"Party founders should present a programme which does not violate the principles of the state. The number of party members should be defined in order to lend it credibility," El-Shobaki said, noting that founding parties upon notification does not mean the absence of rules, "otherwise chaos will prevail".

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