The Emergence of Ex-Jihadi Political Parties in Post-Mubarak Egypt

By Drevon, Jérôme | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 2015 | Go to article overview

The Emergence of Ex-Jihadi Political Parties in Post-Mubarak Egypt


Drevon, Jérôme, The Middle East Journal


Following the overthrow of Husni Mubarak, al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya and members of Egyptian Islamic Jihad created two political parties. This article investigates these groups' organizational dynamics and internal dialogues in order to uncover the rationale of their political participation after the January 2011 uprising and its internal ideational legitimization. Based on interviews with leaders and members of these two groups and their political parties, this article argues that these formerly violent insurgent groups embraced nonviolent participation in democratic politics through an internal reassessment of the political opportunities afforded to them by Egypt's brief political opening.

After decades of opposition to former president Husni Mubarak's authoritarian regime, two of Egypt's most famous armed Islamic movements, al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya (the Islamic Group) and Egyptian Islamic Jihad (known officially as the Jihad Group, Jama'at al-Jihad), partially joined the political process in Egypt after the January 2011 uprising. Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, which led a low-level insurgency in the 1990s, created the Building and Development Party, while an agglomeration of individuals formerly affiliated with Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which carried out various assassinations before some of its members helped form al-Qa'ida, created the Safety and Development Party, later renamed the Islamic Party. While the study of the political inclusion of mainstream and armed Islamist movements has been widely covered in the literature, the transformation of a former jihadi organization into a political party is rare.

The study of armed and mainstream Islamist movements' political participation has primarily explored groups' rationales for doing so and the ramifications of their ideological and behavioral evolution. This new case study in Egypt represents a third pattern, namely the participation of former militant groups in the political process after their partial or comprehensive rejection of armed violence. This development is a striking contrast with previous cases, which raises many questions regarding the groups' rationales, internal negotiations and legitimization, and impact on the construction of these groups' ideological outlook and political behavior.

This article covers the two-year period from the January 2011 uprising to the aftermath of the July 2013 military coup. It does not endeavor to uncover the long-term ramifications of this unprecedented participation in the political process. Instead, this article investigates these groups' rationales for this shift and then explores the internal debates and decision-making processes that legitimized political participation in the eyes of these groups' members and followers.

In this article, I argue that al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya and Egyptian Islamic Jihad joined the political process primarily because of their interpretations of the new political opportunities available to them, and that this decision was not preceded by an acceptance of democracy or party politics in Islam. This research then explores these groups' internal debates in order to demonstrate that this choice was not initially unanimous among either group's leaders or members. A comparison between al-Gama'a alIslamiyya and Egyptian Islamic Jihad shows that the former had institutional arrangements before 2011 that promoted debates within the organization. This facilitated the group's internal democratization, which led it to fully endorse the decision to create a political party. Conversely, the 2011 uprising caused prior divisions between Egyptian Islamic Jihad leaders and members to widen, preventing the group from endorsing a unified position over the legitimacy of the political process. Finally, this article analyzes the internal legitimization of political participation inside al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya and factions of Egyptian Islamic Jihad that endorsed the political process, arguing that these groups strived to reinterpret their original missions to demonstrate the continuity between their past commitments and the decision to create a political party after 2011. …

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