Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 06/2010

From Violence to Moderation: Al-Jama'a al-Islamiya and al-Jihad

Amr Hamzawy, Sarah Grebowski

April 2010

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


Recognition by Egypt’s leading Jihadists that violence has failed to achieve political change and in fact has been counterproductive has led them to a remarkable change of course. After years of violent confrontation with the Egyptian government and society, and defeat by the country’s security forces, al-Jama‘a al-Islamiya and, later, segments of al-Jihad have accepted their failure to radically change society and politics, and to recognize the harm that their violent activities—formerly justifiied using religious concepts—have inflicted on Muslims and non-Muslims alike. These developments have given rise to a Jihadi revisionism that renounces violence and redefines attitudes toward the state, politics, and society. The same Islamic concepts that once were used to justify violence have been redefined to sanction and urge nonviolent social and political activism. Revisionist documents outline a careful cost-benefit analysis that effectively rules out the use of violence to achieve the groups’ goals. A variety of factors prevent al-Jama‘a and al-Jihad from fully implementing these reformed views, such as the Egyptian regime’s refusal to allow members of either group to reintegrate into the country’s political and social fabric and al-Jihad’s specific challenge of disseminating revisionist ideas throughout its fragmented movement that still largely condones violence. However, Jihadi revisionism has led both groups to forego violence and has shifted Egypt’s Islamist spectrum toward moderation.