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Saturday, 13 July, 2002, 15:42 GMT 16:42 UK
Egypt hails militants' truce
Gamaa says the Luxor killings were unauthorised

Leaders of the militant Islamic group Gamaa Islamiya, which was behind the 1997 Luxor massacre in Egypt, have again said violence is over.

Fighting is not in the interest of Islam and Muslims

Safwat Abdel Ghani, Gamaa leader
An Egyptian Government weekly, Al Mussawar, has run an unprecedented series of reports in which imprisoned leaders of group speak extensively about their renunciation of violence.

The Gamaa's leaders also announced a unilateral ceasefire five years ago.

But it is only now that the Egyptian Government has decided to turn the spotlight of publicity on the group's new stance.

New approach

Al Mussawar quotes the Gamaa leaders as saying the assassination of former President Anwar Sadat by a sister organisation, Jihad, was wrong.

The story was kept under wraps five years ago
They also denounce Osama bin Laden and the 11 September attacks.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the Gamaa assassinated the former speaker of the Egyptian parliament and killed scores of policemen, Christians and tourists.

It is also responsible for the Luxor massacre in November 1997 in which almost 60 European tourists were killed.

The imprisoned leaders say that was carried out by junior members to whom the new orders had not yet filtered down because the government did not take the ceasefire seriously and did not publicise it.

"Fighting is not in the interest of Islam and Muslims,"Al Mussawar was told by one of the leaders, Safwat Abdel Ghani.

Peace tour

"The fighting which took place [in Egypt] split the nation, damaged the interests of society, and brought no advantage to the people.

Osama Bin Laden
Osama Bin Laden: Renounced by Gamaa
"Therefore, it becomes meaningless, and prohibited under Islam, because it did not lead to guiding people to God's path, but rather caused a greater degeneration."

The front page of Al Mussawar showed 500 Islamists, bearded and dressed in white, holding a meeting inside a high security prison.

According to the paper, Gamaa's leaders have been touring the country's prisons to propagate their new peaceful message.

No-one knows exactly how many Gamaa prisoners are being held in Egypt, but estimates range from 10,000-20,000.

The Al Mussawar praised the leaders as having taken a brave decision and speaks respectfully of their efforts to convince others in the group of the new thinking.

It is a far cry from the time when the same men were never mentioned without the word "terrorist" preceding their names.

Governments nervous

The articles were written by the editor of Al Mussawar, Makram Mohamed Ahmed, himself the target of Gamaa assassination attempt 13 years ago.

Luxor: Scene of the 1997 massacre
He says he is convinced they have changed.

"I can't tell what's in people's hearts, but from what I heard from them I believe they are sincere," said Mr Ahmed.

America's war against terrorism is making Arab governments nervous.

Highlighting the Islamic groups' change of heart may be Egypt's way of telling the US that it no longer has an Islamist problem.

Diaa Rashawan an expert on Islamic groups at the Al Ahram Centre for Strategic and Political Studies, said: "I think the Egyptian Government now wants to prove to the world, especially to its big ally the United States that it has succeeded in fighting terrorism.

"And also the Egyptians want now to prove that there are no links between any internal Islamic groups and what the Americans call al-Qaeda network."

As for the Egyptian people, they can only rejoice that no violent attacks have taken place in the last five years.

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See also:

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