London, Asharq Al-Awsat – Two days after the Iranian parliament expressed its support for “the Egyptian nation’s uprising and movement against tyranny” the Egyptian Islamic Jihad group issued a statement supporting the explosive protests that have been taking place in Egypt and calling for “the elimination of the pharaoh and his lackeys” in a reference to Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his regime. The Egyptian Islamic Jihad was implicated in the assassination of late Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat, who was succeeded by Mubarak.
Sources close to the Egyptian Islamic Jihad group have informed Asharq Al-Awsat that this statement was issued from the Iranian capital Tehran, where a number of the group’s leadership sought refuge approximately two decades ago after being sentenced to death in Egypt. Dozens of senior members of Egyptian Islamic Jihad are also currently being detained in Egyptian prisons, whilst dozens of other are living in exile, particularly in Iran which welcomed the group for the part it played in the assassination of Sadat, in retaliation for his signing a peace agreement with Israeli in 1979. This statement, which was issued by the lawyer Tharwat Salah Shehata on behalf of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, was “in solidarity with the proud people of Egypt…and their steadfast bravery and courage in the face of tyranny. We stress that they must complete their journey and eliminate the pharaoh and his lackeys.”
The Egyptian Islamic Jihad statement also said “we, in the Islamic Jihad group, in solidarity with our Muslim brothers in Egypt humbly pray to Gold Almighty to accept their dead as martyrs and heal their wounds. We wish we could be in the forefront of their ranks and share in their honor…however we have been prohibited” in reference to the detention of many Egyptian Islamic Jihad members in “Tora [prison], Al-Aqrab high security [prison], and Abu Zaabal [prison].” The statement said that these prisons “are overcrowded with mujahedeen who reject unjust sanctions for life, whilst the rest of us have been forced to leave the country following the regime’s war against us.”
After the Egyptian Islamic Jihad group issued this statement, sources close to the group told Asharq Al-Awsat that “this statement was issued from Tehran where Shehata is currently residing.” The source revealed that Shehata traveled to Iran after he moved closer to what the source described as “Iranian Shiite [tendencies]” during the mid-eighties. The source also revealed that Shehata had been arrested a number of times in Egypt, including in 1981, 1984, and 1986, and that he moved closer to Iran and Iranian Shi’ism after he left Egypt and was sentenced to death in absentia. The source also told Asharq Al-Awsat that Shehata was a well-known lawyer in Egypt’s Al-Sharqiya province before he became involved with the Egyptian Islamic Jihad group and the Al-Jamaa Islamiya.
As for whether the Egyptian Islamic Jihad members are capable of operating in Egypt from Iran, or whether Iran is capable of utilizing them to fuel the chaos in Egypt – as predicted by some observers – the source close to the Egyptian Islamic Jihad group said that in his opinion that these figures do not possess this capability. The source told Asharq Al-Awsat that “what we know is that they do not have known supporters in Egypt, they may have followers in the Islamic trend that we do not know about due to the disruption of communication between these senior members and the old Islamist trend that is present in Egypt. Even those observing the Islamist situation [in Egypt] do not know.”
Another source who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, and who – along with Shehata – was implicated in the 1981 trial surrounding the assassination of President Sadat, said that “despite his Shiite tendencies and his presence – with others from the Egyptian Islamic Jihad – in Iran, I think that his appearance today issuing this statement must be viewed in light of the race by different trends and currents to issue statements [commenting on the protests in Egypt]. He was sentenced to death, and left for Iran. He is a lawyer who was with us in the 1981 Sadat assassination trial. He was a normal person in the Egyptian Islamic Jihad group…however the Egyptian Islamic Jihad group no longer has a genuine presence in [Egyptian] society.”