Radicals Reborn

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, a new round of assassinations, car bombings, and other attacks threatened the secular nature of the state. As the masterminds of Sadat's assassination, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad group worked alongside another cadre of militants called Jamaat al-Islamiyya (meaning “the Islamic Group”). With separate leadership and distinct modes of operation, both movements desired to overthrow Egypt's secular government and replace it with a “pure” Islamic regime. While these Egyptian extremists were made up almost entirely of Sunnis, they were inspired by Iran's Shi'ite revolutionaries, who had ousted the shah and his secular government in 1979 and established an Islamic state.

Both the Egyptian Islamic Jihad group and Jamaat al-Islamiyya were the result of a rift between the members of the Muslim Brotherhood who wanted to continue their armed resistance and the brotherhood's leadership, which agreed to work peacefully within the Egyptian political system. Under the leadership of a medical doctor named Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad group waged war on the state by targeting high-level Egyptian officials and other political interests. Guided by a blind cleric named Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, Jamaat al-Islamiyya staged attacks on anyone and everyone, including tourists, hoping to destabilize the economy and, in turn, the government of Egypt.

Since 1993, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad group has not carried out attacks on Egyptian soil. Instead, it has joined forces with al-Qaeda and other groups to wage a global war against nations they view as a threat to Islam. While the Egyptian Islamic Jihad group has turned its attention away from Egypt, Jamaat al-Islamiyya has continued its struggle in North Africa, as well as other parts of the world. In 1993, members of the organization bombed New York's World Trade Center, while in 1997 they carried out several attacks in Egypt, including the massacre of fifty-eight tourists near the city of Luxor.

Egyptian Islamic Jihad leader Ayman al-Zawahiri partnered with Osama bin Laden throughout the 1990s and served as al-Qaeda's number-two man, while Jamaat al-Islamiyya leader Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman is serving a life sentence in the United States for his involvement in the 1993 attack on New York's World Trade Center. Even though U.S. Navy Seals killed bin Laden on May 2, 2011, in a surprise raid on his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, after a nearly ten-year search, al-Zawahiri remained in the number two position until a permanent leader was named. Bin Laden was buried at sea within twenty-four hours of his death by U.S. Navy personnel.

As planned, these attacks dissuaded travelers from visiting Egypt, bringing the nation's vital tourist industry to a standstill. (Tourism accounts for approximately 11 percent of Egypt's gross domestic product and employs about 12.6 percent of the country's work force.) While extremists wanted to undermine the secular government by crippling its economy, their plan backfired. With hundreds of thousands out of work, Egyptians didn't turn their anger toward the government; instead, they blamed the militants. Due to this outcry, Jamaat al-Islamiyya signed a cease-fire with the Egyptian government in 1999. Since this agreement, they have not carried out major attacks within Egypt, though Jamaat al-Islamiyya remained a threat to President Mubarak, who resigned in 2011, and others around the world.

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