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Egyptian Islamist leader issues warning from exile

Cairo, December 1, 2013

A leader of a hardline Egyptian Islamist group that fought the state in the 1990s warned that the army had driven the nation to the "edge of a precipice" since he fled the country after President Mohamed Mursi's ouster in July.

The state and Islamists are old foes in Egypt, a strategic US ally which has a peace treaty with Israel and controls the Suez Canal. Egypt has been torn by the worst internal strife in its modern history since the army deposed the Islamist Mursi.

Assem Abdel Maged of the Gamaa Islamiya told the Qatar-based Al Jazeera network he expected the situation in Egypt to deteriorate, saying protests "will be what breaks this coup".

He is the first high profile Islamist who fled Egypt since Mursi's ouster to speak publicly from abroad.

Abdel Maged said the military made a "major mistake" by siding with "religious, political, and social minorities", an allusion to Christians and secular-minded Egyptians. The army deposed Mursi after mass protests against his rule on June 30.

Abdel Maged, who once shared a prison cell with al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri, was jailed for 25 years until 2006 for a role in the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat and other crimes. He now faces charges of inciting the killing of protesters.

Egyptian security officials said Abdel Maged fled to Qatar via the sea or the border with Libya. Qatar is one of the few Arab states that was sympathetic to the Islamists during Mursi's year in power, supplying Egypt with billions of dollars in aid.

Now relations are strained between Qatar and Egypt.

The Egyptian public prosecutor asked Interpol on Sunday to arrest Abdel Maged, a judicial source said. Photos of Abdel Maged eating at a luxury restaurant in Doha surfaced in Egypt last week, drawing criticism in media that is overwhelmingly hostile to the Islamists.

Speaking at a pro-rally Mursi ahead of his downfall, Abdel Maged said the Islamists would push for a pure Islamic state in Egypt were the Muslim Brotherhood toppled from power.

In his interview with Al Jazeera, he said: "Everything that happens in Egypt now is in the interests of the minorities. Therefore the situation cannot continue this way, and the army must review its position quickly because the country is on the edge of a precipice."

Gamaa Islamiya renounced violence more than a decade ago and entered mainstream politics after President Hosni Mubarak's downfall in 2011. It became a close ally of Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood during his one year in office.

"If the army leadership do not wake up and realize what is happening, then, unfortunately, matters will become worse in Egypt," Abdel Maged said in the interview. "They will find that in the end they'll have only the tanks and soldiers on their side in a confrontation with the entire Umma (Islamic nation)."

Since Mursi's fall, hundreds of his supporters have been killed in a police crackdown while bomb attacks and shootings targeting the security forces have become commonplace, killing around 200 soldiers and policemen, most of them in the Sinai Peninsula.

The Egyptian state has declared a war on Islamist militants.

In his last weeks in office, Mursi appointed a Gamaa Islamiya member as governor of Luxor, a city on the Nile south of Cairo where members of the group killed 58 tourists in 1997.

Gamaa Islamiya also targeted hotels and staged attacks on government officials during its campaign of violence.-Reuters




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