Rifai Taha, the former president of Gamaa Islamiyya’s Shura council in Egypt, said that al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri should be praised and called on Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi to allow Zawahiri’s return to Egypt.
In an interview with Al-Hayat, Taha spoke of his relationship with late al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Taha said that bin Laden refused to target Americans in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Bin Laden said to some of his companions — among them Taha — who were preparing a strike against the United States to force it to release Gamaa Islamiyya’s “emir,” Dr. Omar Abdel Rahman, that “preserving security and stability in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the Arab states serves Islam and the nature of the battle with the United States.” Taha considers al-Qaeda members mujahideen [holy Islamic warriors].
Taha rejects any armed action in Egypt “at this stage.” He criticized what happened in the Sinai and refused to call the perpetrators of the recent attacks “jihadists.” He called on all Islamists to rally behind President Morsi so that the Islamic project is achieved. He said that Morsi “will implement God’s rule on Earth.”
Taha insisted on the application of Shariah [Islamic] law in Egypt and divided the liberals who refused Shariah into two groups. The first reject Sharia because they don’t know what it is, he said. For those, Taha said there is a duty to introduce them to Shariah.
The second group know that Shariah law is right. He called the latter group “recalcitrants who have deviated from God’s religion,” but that dialogue should be held with them before such a judgment is passed. He said Al-Azhar scholars should be the ones responsible for implementing Shariah.
He criticized relations with Israel as “abnormal,” but chose to leave the matter to public opinion.
Taha led the armed struggle against Hosni Mubarak’s regime in the 1980s and 1990s. Taha said that imprisoning Mubarak is better than killing him and that the decision to kill late President Anwar Sadat was proper.
Taha said that Syrian intelligence arrested him in 2001, after US intelligence intercepted a telephone conversation he conducted from Syria with his wife in Iran and gave her the phone number at which he could be reached. Seven hours later, Syrian authorities arrested him and handed him over to Egypt.
Taha traveled to Afghanistan — during the “Afghan jihad” — and also to Sudan, Yemen and other countries. He is one of Gamaa Islamiyya’s founders and led its military wing and Shura council for years. He rejected Gamaa Islamiyya’s new manifesto and resigned from the Shura council’s presidency. A few weeks ago, he was released from prison pending investigation into several cases that carry the death penalty.