Al-Jama’a Al-Islamiya: Egypt’s ‘Other’ Islamists Stake Their Claim

Like the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Jama’a Al-Islamiya is looking to carve out a political niche in post-revolutionary Egypt. Reformists have reshaped the once violent-prone organization, but continue to be challenged internally by a powerful militant faction

Cairo (jonworth-eu)
Cairo (jonworth-eu)
Ashraf El-Sherif

CAIRO -- The meteoric rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis in Egyptian politics has drawn attention, rather unfairly, away from another Islamist group with a real bent for innovation and ideological revision. Al-Jama'a Al-Islamiya (The Islamic Group) is a formerly militant group that has renounced violence and attempted to merge into the political mainstream, all the while maintaining its distinct character.

For now, it's still too early to know exactly where Al-Jama'a fits in the Islamist political spectrum, between the two poles of extremism and moderation. It has long been engaged in a process of soul-searching, beginning with its famous non-violence initiative in 1997. The process has intensified since the revolution as two factions – revisionists and militants – grapple with fundamental questions about the group's mission and its strategies in the new Egypt.

The revisionists, led by veterans Najih Ibrahim and Karam Zohdi, champion self-critique and political re-orientation. The two leaders are responsible for much of the group's non-violence literature in the last decade and a half. Since their release from prison in 2002, Ibrahim and Zohdi have scaled up their activities. Although they are weaker than the militants, they do retain some control over the group's presence in the Islamist public sphere.

The Al-Jama'a website, administered by Ibrahim himself, has become one of the most sophisticated Islamist forums in Egypt, featuring discussions – with both Islamists and non-Islamists – about issues like Copts, women, cooperation with secularists, and arts and literature. Ideologically, Ibrahim and his followers are pioneering some of the most far-reaching revisions to Islamist doctrine in ages, heralding self-critique as a forgotten Islamic duty. Topping their agenda are things like institutional legalization, the creative revision of spent doctrines and a move towards gradualist, peaceful activism. Ibrahim cautions against traditional Islamist failings, like fanaticism, improper proselytizing and the wrongful application of Islamic sacred texts.

Al-Jama'a revisionists are quickly moving towards the center of the Islamist political spectrum, not far from Muslim Brotherhood reformists. They are eager to cooperate with other Islamists and have a keen interest in learning from the Turkish AK party's experiences in government and economic development.

But the revisionists' ideas do not hold much sway within the wider Al-Jama'a base (which numbers anywhere between 20,000 and 50,000 according to unofficial estimates). Many among the rank and file continue to find the approach of the more orthodox militants more reassuring. Except for their decision to renounce violence, the militants have shifted little since the 1990s. Their confrontational "old-style" of politics has proved quite appealing to Al-Jama'a members uneasily searching for a role in the unfamiliar political terrain of post-revolution Egypt.

Leading voices in the group's militant wing include Essam Derbala, the leader-elect; Safwat Abdel-Ghani, an increasingly popular figure among the group's grassroots; and Al-Gama'a spokesperson Assem Abdel Maged. Their reservations about Ibrahim and Zohdi's leadership style over the last few decades have occasionally prompted them to question the merits of the non-violence initiative, though never abandoning it wholesale.

Like the revisionists, the militants support political participation. But their unsavvy political language walls them off from the Egyptian revolutionary mainstream. Over the last few months, many have chosen to play the game of ideological polarization that has left Egyptian politics deeply divided between Islamists and non-Islamists.

Overall, Egypt's Islamists are closer to reform than revolution. In the long run they will be most concerned with issues like the relationship between religion and state, the reform of Al-Azhar (Egypt's leading Islamic institution), and re-structuring the religious public sphere. These are all important issues that Islamists will begin to take up as the revolutionary dust settles and the transitional period draws to a close. In the process, Egyptian Islamists are likely to engage in new revisions. Al-Jama'a Al-Islamiya will be no exception.

Read the full version of the article in Al-Masry Al-Youm

Photo - jonworth-eu

Ashraf El-Sherif teaches at the American University in Cairo. He is a specialist on political Islam.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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