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Egyptian extremists in Army uniform?; Muslim group penetrates deep into Egyptian society: analysis

By Geoffrey Godsellstaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / October 13, 1981



The calm, speedy, and decisive way in which the succession to President Sadat is being handled in Egypt is impressive. Yet alongside this must be noted the tough official reaction to the violence of Islamic militants in the southern Egyptian city of Asyut two days after Mr. Sadat's assassination, and the unusual security measures attending the funeral of the late President at the weekend.

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The upspoken nightmare of the Egyptian authorities is that Muslim extremists of the kind who were apparently responsible for the murder of Mr. Sadat could conceivably have gotten a toehold, if not a foothold, among the younger generation in the Egyptian armed forces.

The immediate question for the authorities is: Has the Takfir Wal Hijra (Repentance and Holy Flight) movement, thought responsible for killing Mr. Sadat , dangerously penetrated the military services?

The Egyptian government announced Oct. 12 that 18 Army officers had been fired as religious "fanatics." Although it has tried to minimize the threat of the Islamic militants, they clearly are more than just a handful and are hardly the "deviants" they are sometimes made out to be.

In a major crackdown in 1977, interrogation and trials revealed that Takfir Wal Hijra was "a sizable movement of between 3,000 and 5,000 active members, highly organized and . . . spread horizontally and vertically throughout Egyptian society."

Those are the words of Saad Egdin Ibrahim, professor of sociology at the American University in Cairo. They are taken from a paper he gave last November at a Middle East Studies Association meeting in Washington, D.C. In the late 1970s, Professor Ibrahim was allowed by the Egyptian authorities to interview jailed Takfir Wal Hijra members, as part of a sociological study.

Professor Ibrahim said, "It is sometimes assumed in social science that joiners of 'radical movements' must be somehow alienated, marginal, anomic, or posses some other abnormal condition. Most of the ones investigated would be normally considered as ideal or model young Egyptians. If they were not typical at all, it was because they were significantly above the average in their generation."

They had, he observed, "high achievement motivation, [and were] upwardly mobile, with science or engineering education and from a normally cohesive family."

In other words, they were obvious candidates -- when it came to compulsory military service -- for the NCO and junior officer jobs demanding higher education and technological aptitude.

The authorities are cautious in what they are disclosing about President Sadat's suspected assasins. But the information officially released establishes as a key figure in the murder an Army lieutenant, Khalid Ahmed Shawki Istanbuli. He is said to have borne a grudge because his brother had been arrested in Mr. Sadat's crackdown on religious extremists last month. The arrested brother is identified as a member of Takfir Wal Hijra.

The immediately ensuing violence in Asyut last week would tend to confirm Takfir Wal Hijra involvement in the assassination. Asyut was the hometown of Shukry Mustafa, founder of Takfir Wal Hijra, who was executed in March 1978 while still in his 30s. He was modern-educated in Cairo, with a BS in agricultural science, but the maintained strong ties with Asyut, and his movement has always tended to be based on kinship and regional association.