US embassy cable - 87ALEXANDRIA290

ISLAMIC TRILOGY, PART I: AN OVERVIEW OF THE ISLAMIC RIGHT IN ALEXANDRIA

Identifier: 87ALEXANDRIA290
Wikileaks: View 87ALEXANDRIA290 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Consulate Alexandria
Created: 1987-02-25 15:18:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: KPRP PINS PGOV PHUM ECON PINR SOCI EG
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
R 251518Z FEB 87
FM AMCONSUL ALEXANDRIA
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 6518
INFO AMEMBASSY CAIRO
AMEMBASSY AMMAN
AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV
AMCONSUL JERUSALEM
AMEMBASSY RIYADH
USCINCCENT MACDILL AFB FL
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ALEXANDRIA 00290 
 
USCINCCENT FOR POLAD HOWELL 
 
E.O. 12356: DECL: OADR 
TAGS: KPRP, PINS, PGOV, PHUM, ECON, PINR, SOCI, EG 
SUBJECT: ISLAMIC TRILOGY, PART I:  AN OVERVIEW OF 
         THE ISLAMIC RIGHT IN ALEXANDRIA 
 
REF:  ALEXANDRIA 00289 
1.  (CONFIDENTIAL - ENTIRE TEXT.) 
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ALEXANDRIA'S RADICAL PAST... 
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2.  PERHAPS IN KEEPING WITH ITS REPUTATION AS A 
CENTER OF DISSENT, IN THE 1970'S, ISLAMIC RIGHT 
ACTIVITIES IN ALEXANDRIA WERE FOCUSED ON THE 
POLITICAL:  THE RADICAL "SHIBAB MUHAMMAD" 
ORGANIZATION, WHICH TRIED TO OVERTHROW SADAT 
IN 1974, AND THE FIRST RENDITION OF "AL-JIHAD" 
WHICH WAS ACTIVE IN 1979-81, DREW MANY OF THEIR 
LEADERS AND ADHERENTS FROM ALEXANDRIA AND LARGE 
DELTA TOWNS--IN CONTRAST TO "AL-TAKFIR W'AL-HIJRA" 
AND LATER RADICAL ORGANIZATIONS WHICH WERE ORGANIZED 
AND FOCUSED ON CAIRO AND UPPER EGYPT.  MORE VISIBLY, 
TWO ALEXANDRIA-BASED RELIGIOUS LEADERS, SHAYKHS 
MAHALLAWI AND EID, GALVANIZED A LARGE, VOCAL, AND 
YOUTHFUL FOLLOWING BETWEEN 1977-81 THROUGH THEIR 
POLEMICS (ALBEIT NON-VIOLENT) AGAINST SADAT 
AND CAMP DAVID AND THEIR EXHORTATIONS IN FAVOR OF 
AN ISLAMIC-STYLE REPUBLIC. 
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... AND LOWER PROFILE PRESENT 
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3.  THE SITUATION IN ALEXANDRIA IS CONSIDERABLY 
DIFFERENT IN 1987.  IN CONTRAST TO THE DAYS WHEN 
MAHALLAWI AND EID WERE IMPORTANT FIGURES ON THE 
NATIONAL POLITICAL SCENE, NO CURRENT LOCAL FIGURE 
CAN BE SAID AT PRESENT TO HAVE SUCH AN INFLUENCE 
OR A FOLLOWING.  EXTREMIST ISLAMIC ORGANIZATIONS 
SUPPORTING VIOLENCE PROBABLY HAVE ADHERENTS, BUT 
THERE IS NO EVIDENCE THAT ALEXANDRIA IS A PARTICULAR 
CENTER FOR THESE GROUPS. 
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4.  HOWEVER, RADICAL (BUT NON-VIOLENT) ISLAMIC 
ORGANIZATIONS (AND ESPECIALLY THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD 
AND THE VARIOUS ISLAMIC GROUPS OR "GAMAAT") 
RETAIN UNTESTED BUT CONSIDERABLE POLITICAL CLOUT. 
THIS IS BEST EVIDENCED BY THE LATTER'S SUCCESS IN 
RECENT UNIVERSITY STUDENT UNION ELECTIONS (86 
ALEXANDRIA 1341) AND THE CAREFUL AND SUCCESSFUL 
ORCHESTRATION OF THE MASS PUBLIC PRAYER SERVICES 
IN ALEXANDRIA BY SUPPORTERS OF THESE ORGANIZATIONS 
AT THE END OF RAMADAN AND AT THE BEGINNING OF THE 
FEAST OF SACRIFICE (86 ALEXANDRIA 899).  IN 
THIS SENSE, THE ISLAMIC RIGHT'S LOWER POLITICAL 
PROFILE IN ALEXANDRIA COULD BE MISLEADING.  WHILE 
THERE ARE DOUBTLESS MANY DIVISONS BETWEEN VARIOUS 
FACTIONS, THERE ARE ALSO SUGGESTIONS THAT THE 
ISLAMIC RIGHT, HOWEVER AMORPHOUS, IS BETTER 
ORGANIZED, DISCIPLINED, AND FINANCED THAN SOME 
OBSERVERS SUGGEST.  THE BIG QUESTION MARK IS 
THE EXTENT TO WHICH VARIOUS GROUPS IN ALEXANDRIA 
HAVE LINKAGES AMONG THEMSELVES OR WITH NATIONAL 
ORGANIZATIONS LIKE THE SEMI-LEGAL MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD. 
THIS ISSUE WILL BE ADDRESSED IN PART II. 
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ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL IN-ROADS 
---------------------------- 
5.  WHERE THE ISLAMIC RIGHT IS MORE READILY HAVING 
ITS INFLUENCE FELT (AND RAPID GROWTH OBSERVED) IS 
IN COMMERCE, SOCIAL AND WELFARE ACTIVITIES, AND 
PHILANTHROPY.  FOR THE TIME BEING, THIS HAS NOT 
TRANSLATED INTO ANY DIRECT POLITICAL SPOILS, BUT 
THE IMPACT OF ISLAMIC ACTIVISTS IN THESE AREAS HAS 
BECOME AN IMPORTANT PART OF THE LOCAL SCENE.  WHILE 
IT MUST BE CONCEDED THAT SOME PEOPLE AFFILIATE 
THEMSELVES WITH SUCH ORGANIZATIONS OR ACTIVITIES 
BECAUSE IT IS CHIC TO DO SO, IT IS NEVERTHELESS 
EQUALLY TRUE THAT THESE INDIVIDUALS AND THEIR 
ORGANIZATIONS ARE INCREASING THEIR SHARE OF THE 
LOCAL WEALTH, CREATING JOBS IN AN OTHERWISE 
STAGNANT ECONOMY, AND RESPONDING TO SOCIAL NEEDS 
THAT AN OTHERWISE OVERBURDENED CITY GOVERNMENT 
CANNOT PROVIDE. 
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6.  THIS THREE PART REPORT PROVIDES A FIRST TENTATIVE 
MICROSCOPIC VIEW OF THE ISLAMIC RIGHT IN ALEXANDRIA: 
ITS LEADERS, ITS ACTIVITIES, AND ITS IMPACT. 
SOME OF THE PERSONALITIES HAVE BEEN MENTIONED IN 
EARLIER REPORTING; OTHERS HAVE NOT BEEN AND ARE 
STILL RELATIVELY UNKNOWN TO US.  VARIOUS OBSERVERS 
ASSESS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THESE PEOPLE AND THEIR 
ACTIVITIES IN DIFFERENT WAYS:  SOME ARE GENUINELY 
SCARED, FEARING THAT THESE ACTIVISTS, LOADED WITH 
SEEMINGLY LIMITLESS FUNDS, WILL EVENTUALLY HAVE 
A SIGNIFICANT (AND NEGATIVE) POLITICAL IMPACT ON 
EGYPT'S FUTURE.  OTHERS ARE MORE SANGUINE AND ARGUE 
THAT THE UPSURGE IN ISLAMIC ACTIVISM IS MERELY REFLECTIVE 
OF POPULAR OPINION IN FAVOR OF INCREASED RELIGIOSITY. 
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7.  BOTH OF THESE VIEWPOINTS ARE HEARD FREQUENTLY 
IN ALEXANDRIA.  OUR ASSESSMENT IS THAT THERE ARE 
INDEED POSITIVE ASPECTS TO THE CURRENT ACTIVISM 
OF THE ISLAMIC RIGHT IN ALEXANDRIA:  IN A CITY WHERE 
THERE ARE MANY PROBLEMS AND LITTLE PROSPECT FOR 
EARLY IMPROVEMENT, THE ISLAMIC RIGHT, NOT INFREQUENTLY, 
IS HELPING TO FILL THE VOID AND, IN THIS MANNER, 
CREATING A MORE STABLE ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT. 
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8.  AT THE SAME TIME, THERE ARE TOO MANY UNANSWERED 
QUESTIONS AS TO WHO IS FINANCING VARIOUS ISLAMIC 
ENTERPRISES AND UNDERTAKINGS AND ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIPS 
BETWEEN VARIOUS ISLAMIC ENTREPRENEURS AND PHILAN- 
THROPISTS AND NATIONAL OR LOCAL ISLAMIC PERSONALITIES 
AND ORGANIZATIONS WHO HAVE A POLITICAL AGENDA WHICH 
IS DIFFERENT FROM THAT OF THE GOE.  UNTIL THESE 
QUESTIONS ARE ANSWERED, ONE MUST CONTINUE TO VIEW 
THE ISLAMIC RIGHT AND ITS PROPONENTS WITH CONTINUED 
CAUTION AND CURIOSITY. 
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9.  PART II IN THIS SERIES WILL IDENTIFY SOME OF 
THE PRINCIPAL SPIRITUAL AND (POTENTIALLY) POLITICAL 
LEADERS OF THE ISLAMIC RIGHT IN ALEXANDRIA.  THE 
THIRD AND FINAL PART WILL LOOK AT REPRESENTATIVES 
OF THE GROWING ISLAMIC BUSINESS COMMUNITY AND 
ASSESS THEIR ROLE IN COMMERCE, SOCIAL WELFARE, 
AND PHILANTHROPIC ACTIVITIES. 
 
 
HAMBLEY 

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