Caryle Murphy
Caryle Murphy
Blog
Passion for Islam: Shaping the Modern Middle East:  The Egyptian Experience
ISBN: 0743235789
Passion for Islam
—from the publisher's website

"Islam's revival is reshaping Egypt and other Arab countries in ways beyond violent politics. The yearning for personal solace, a just political system, indigenous lifestyles, and relevant theology all await satisfaction....Just as the Nile runs through Egypt for almost eight hundred miles, giving it life, so also the Straight Way, the way of Allah, runs through it, beckoning its people. The search by Egypt's Muslims for a modern understanding of the Straight Way is the essence of today's passion for Islam." -- from Chapter 1, "First Verses"

Written by a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, this authoritative and enthralling primer on the modern face of Islam provides one of the most comprehensive accountings for the roots of religious terrorism and Middle Eastern strife.

Over decades, a myriad of social, political, and religious factors has made today's Middle East a combustible region and has contributed to Islam's new power and turmoil. Passion for Islam uses one particular country, Egypt, as a lens through which to show how these forces play out across the area, allowing terrorism to gain a foothold.

Through the personal experiences and observations of individual Egyptians encountered during her five years as the Washington Post's Cairo bureau chief, veteran journalist Caryle Murphy explores how Islam's contemporary revival is unfolding on four different levels: "Pious Islam" highlights the groundswell of grassroots piety that has created more Islamic societies; "Political Islam" examines how Islamists, using both violent and peaceful means, are reshaping the region's authoritarian secular political order and redefining Islam's role in the public arena; "Cultural Islam" looks at Egyptian efforts to resist a ubiquitous Western culture by asserting an Islamic identity; "Thinking Islam" reveals how intellectuals are reexamining their theological heritage with the aim of modernizing Islam.

Representing years of exhaustive research, Passion for Islam also looks at how the tortured Israeli-Palestinian conflict has contributed to the region's religious ferment and political tumult. By revealing the day-to-day ramifications of all these issues through the eyes of Egyptian intellectuals, holy men, revolutionaries, and ordinary citizens, Passion for Islam brings an unparalleled vitality and depth to Western perceptions of Middle Eastern conflict.

TRANSCRIPT
Passion for Islam
Program Air Date: November 3, 2002

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Caryle Murphy, where did you get the title "Passion for Islam"?
CARYLE MURPHY (Author, "Passion for Islam: Shaping the Modern Middle East": It comes from a speech that one of the characters in the book gave after his conviction in a military court. Basically, he was convicted for organizing for the next elections. He was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and he mentioned that -- he said -- he was addressing the public, and he said, "I know there's a passion for Islam in your hearts." And I thought that was a nice phrase because I think it captures what is the feeling of most Muslims that they really treasure their faith.
LAMB: Right -- the little subhead here is, "The Egyptian Experience." When were you in Egypt?
MURPHY: I arrived there in November, 1989, and I stayed until June of 1994. So almost four years.
LAMB: Who did you work for there?
MURPHY: "The Washington Post."
LAMB: What's Egypt like?
MURPHY: Egypt is a fascinating country. First of all, it's very old. It's got about a 5,000-year history. It's very rooted in history and tradition. It's got a very conservative culture. It's got a very homogeneous population. And the Egyptian people are lovely people. I mean, they're funny. They're kind. They're generous. They're exciting. They're imaginative. But at the same time, Egypt has a lot of problems. It's got a very authoritarian government. It's got a lot of economic problems. Egypt now has almost 70 million people, and you know, they all have to live on that thin strip along the Nile because the rest of the country is all desert.
LAMB: Any way to describe how big it is in land mass?
MURPHY: Well, it's a pretty big country. I don't remember the square mileage, but it's probably, you know, as big or bigger than Texas, for sure.
LAMB: When you think back about your experience, what do you remember the most?
MURPHY: I remember working very hard. I remember the challenge of trying to find out accurate information because Arab governments are not very much into the mode of putting out accurate information. It was a challenge. It was difficult to get information. But at the same time, it was fun. I mean, I liked going out, meeting the people, talking to them, trying to understand their views on life, which were often so different from mine.
LAMB: What was, or what is the Muslim Brotherhood that you referred to?
MURPHY: Muslim Brotherhood is the largest political opposition organization in Egypt. It has a long history. It was started in 1928 by Hasan Al Banna. It really is the 20th century's first urban-centered mass political movement based on the political ideology of Islam. It is not legally recognized in Egypt, and a lot of its members who are very active in recent years have been prosecuted and jailed by the government.

At the same time, the government winks its eye at the fact that many members run for parliamentary elections as independents, not openly as Muslim Brothers. So that leads to the anomaly of right now you have about 17 members of Egypt's parliament who are widely known by everybody as Muslim Brothers.
LAMB: How many Copts -- Coptics -- are there in the country, and what does that mean?
MURPHY: Egypt has the largest Christian minority of any Arab country in the Middle East. The figures are disputed, but the generally accepted figure is about 10 percent of the population, which would make it now between six and seven million.
LAMB: How are they treated?
MURPHY: They face a lot of discrimination, official discrimination. None of the governors of Egypt's 26 provinces are Christian. No president or rector of a state university is a Christian. Sometimes they meet discrimination in universities, in jobs.

Having said that, you know, you visit with Christians, and they don't complain about their everyday relationships with their Muslim neighbors. On a personal level, relations are pretty good. The problem comes with, you know, official kinds of jobs or appointments they'd like to get.
LAMB: What's the average age of the Egypt -- Egyptian population?
MURPHY: Well, it's very young. I think the median age is somewhere between 15 and 21. There's a big youth bulge, and this is obviously a problem because all these people are guaranteed a free university education, so if they actually make it, find a place in the university, they're looking for jobs.
LAMB: What does the country make? What do they sell?
MURPHY: They sell cotton, textiles, and -- but their biggest source of revenue is tourism. And along with that is the remittances sent back by Egyptians working in other countries to their relatives.
LAMB: September 11 had something to do with your book, and it has something to do with some friends of yours. I know there's a dedication here in the book. I want to show it. Tell me who's on this list. Obviously, the first two, mother and father?
MURPHY: Right. I dedicate the book to my parents, my mother, who's still living in Massachusetts, and my father, who died in 1994. I also dedicate it to two people who died on September 11. One is Richard Keane. He was the husband of my cousin, Judy Keane. He was in the north tower at a business meeting. Francis Grogan is the other person I dedicate it to. He was a Roman Catholic priest, a very close family friend for many years, almost a member of the family. And he was in the United Airlines plane that crashed into the south tower.
LAMB: What's the relationship of September 11 to your book?
MURPHY: I've been working on this book for about six or seven years part-time. I had tried to get a publisher earlier, in 1995, when I was in New York as a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. But my agent, who was very diligent, wasn't able to get any publisher interested. They explained that there was sort of a fatigue with foreign affairs at that time. But I decided to pursue this endeavor and to write it, encouraging myself by seeing some pretty ridiculous books in book stores and thinking if they can get a publisher, I can, too.

When September 11 happened, the book was about three quarters done. So I wrote a new proposal. I got a new agent. And Scribner liked the proposal. So I asked "The Washington Post" for three months off to finish it, which they gave me. And I finished it in March of this year.
LAMB: How many Egyptians were involved, from what you know, in the September 11 story?
MURPHY: Mohammed Atta, who was supposed -- he's the purported ringleader of the 19 hijackers, came from Cairo. Ayman Zawahiri is an Egyptian, and by now many Americans know that he's -- if he's still alive, is the top political aide of Usama bin Laden. In the 22 most wanted men listed by the FBI shortly after September 11, I think 7 of them were Egyptian, and they comprise the largest national group. So Egyptians were involved in the attack on us September 11.
LAMB: So what's in the book that helps us understand why they were involved?
MURPHY: The book is centered on Egypt. I use Egypt as the boilerplate to describe the Islamic revival in the Middle East and to describe what I feel are the other factors that make the Middle East a place of turmoil. There are two other factors besides the Islamic revival. One is the enduring presence of authoritarian governments in the region, and the other is the failure of the United States to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Now, once you get all those factors, which are long-running historical forces, and you put them all together, you get a very disjointed, dis- -- a region in disequilibrium, which is what the Middle East is now.

But I focus -- I focus on Egypt as the example, the paradigm. And in this book, I explain the background. I try to give the big picture for all these forces. And the fact of the matter is that we don't have an environment in the Middle East that turns every Muslim into a terrorist, but we do have an environment that contributes to the conditions which allow groups like al Qaeda to get recruits because there's a lot of dissatisfaction. There's a lot of inner turmoil within -- within Islam itself. And there's a lot of economic dissatisfaction.
LAMB: What does the phrase, "There is no God but God" mean? Where does it come from?
MURPHY: This -- "There is no God but God, and Mohammed is his messenger," is the Islamic declaration of faith, the shihada. And this is what a person declares sincerely when he converts to Islam.
LAMB: What does that mean? What are they -- what are they pledging to do? What's the lifestyle like?
MURPHY: Well, that depends on what you -- how you interpret Islam. This is one thing that I think there's a big misconception about in the West. There's not one lifestyle that Islam prescribes. Islam is a very minimal credal religion. You must believe that there is no God but God and Mohammed is his prophet. Then you have five things you must do. You must say your prayers five times a day. You must pay alms, which is generally 2 percent of your net income. You must make the pilgrimage to Mecca once in a lifetime, if you can. And the last one is fasting during Ramadan. And the first one, of course, is the shihada, declaring your belief in one God. These are the five pillars if Islam. This is the minimal credal format or beliefs that you have in Islam.
LAMB: Some place in your book, I read where the government appoints the 70,000 imams in the country?
MURPHY: There are about 70,000 mosques in the country, and a lot of them were built by the government, and the government, you know, provided imams. After the rebel uprising of Islamist guerrillas in the 1990s, the government tried to assert its control over all mosques because a lot of them were built privately by individual citizens. And they declared that they, from now on, would name and appoint all the imams to all these mosques.

I don't think they've ever been able to do that. First of all, they don't have enough money to pay them all. And secondly, I don't think they have enough imams to supply every mosque with a prayer leader. This was an attempt to assert control over the mosques because the mosques have typically been a place of free speech, and the young Islamists who are active in Islamic Group, which was the rebel group that -- that caused the problems in the 1990s -- they used the mosque to organize around. They appointed their own imams to some mosques. That's where they preached their ideas.

So it was an attempt to, you know, get control of a platform which had been a platform of free speech, which had been used by people to get around other restrictions on free speech in Egypt.
LAMB: The prophet Mohammed lived when?
MURPHY: He lived in the early 7th century. He died in 632. And he was about 40 years old, living in southwest Saudi Arabia, when he began having these revelations from God, which he later recited to people, he told his friends about. And some of them wrote it down. Others memorized what he told them. And about 20 years later, after his death around 650, all these memories of what he'd told his friends were compiled into the Koran. The Koran is the holy book of Islam.
LAMB: Word of God?
MURPHY: Muslims believe this is the word of God, which makes it different from the Bible. Most Christians and Jews accept that the Bible are narratives written by human beings under divine inspiration. Muslims believe that what's written in the Koran is literally not Mohammed's words but the words of God passed through Mohammed.
LAMB: Can women go into mosques?
MURPHY: Oh, yes.
LAMB: Can they pray in mosques?
MURPHY: Oh, yes.
LAMB: Can they pray alongside men?
MURPHY: Generally, they pray in a separate section, but sometimes there's a screen between them, sometimes there isn't.
LAMB: What's the rule on veils?
MURPHY: There is no rule. The Koran tells women to dress "modestly." Now, this has long been interpreted by religious scholars of Islam that women should cover their hair in public. But as you know, there are plenty of Muslim women, especially in the West, in the United States, who don't cover their hair in public. They read the Koran as telling them to dress modestly, and by the modern terms of modesty in the United States, that does not require covering your hair in public.

Now, there are different kinds of veils. The veil is sort of a generic term. In Egypt, the most common veil is just a scarf over your hair. Now, in some parts of the Gulf, in countries like Saudi Arabia or United Arab Emirates, you see women covering their face from here down. And this special veil has a different name. It's called a nikab.

In Iran, you get a different style altogether. You get the chador, which is a veil that goes down like this. And again in Iran, most of the women don't cover their faces. And then you get Afghanistan, where they wear the burqa, which is another kind of veil. And as you've seen recently on TV, the burqa, the whole face is covered and the women have to look through a little slit.
LAMB: You say there are 1.3 million -- I'm sorry, billion Islamists or Muslims in the world?
MURPHY: Correct.
LAMB: Compared to about a million Catholics.
MURPHY: About a billion...
LAMB: I mean a billion Catholics.
MURPHY: Or 1.2 billion.
LAMB: So they're very similar in that -- how many Christians altogether in the world?
MURPHY: Oh, I think there's -- I don't know.
LAMB: I think there are about 2 billion overall, Christians.
MURPHY: I think so, yes.
LAMB: Out of a population worldwide of 6 billion.
MURPHY: Right.
LAMB: How do -- what do the Muslims think of Jesus and Mary?
MURPHY: The Muslims believe that Islam came to perfect, to complete the monotheistic revelations God gave to Jews and Christians. So they revere Moses -- they regard Abraham as their spiritual father, and they revere Moses and Jesus as holy prophets that received divine revelations from God.

Jesus is held in high esteem by Muslims. He's mentioned in the Koran. They respect his -- they believe he performed miracles. They don't believe, though, that he was the son of God. That's the crucial distinction. They also revere Mary very much. In fact, there's a chapter in the Koran named Mary.
LAMB: Your own background. "Washington Post" for how many years?
MURPHY: Over 20. I joined in the late 1970s.
LAMB: Where'd you come from? What city were you born in?
MURPHY: I was born in Hartford, Connecticut, but I grew up in Brockton, Massachusetts.
LAMB: And where'd you go to school?
MURPHY: I went to Trinity College here in Washington, D.C., a Catholic women's college.
LAMB: How did you get involved in journalism? Where'd you start?
MURPHY: It was a belated entry. I was kind of a vagabond when I was, you know, in my 20s. After I finished college, I was so sick of studying, I didn't want to see another book again. So I went off to Africa, and I was a teacher for two years in Kenya. And then I traveled around. I went to the Far East, and then I went home. And I really didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. And then I decided, I think I want to be a journalist.

So I decided that the place I would start would be back in Africa. And I thought I would go to South Africa and try to work as a journalist there and break into journalism that way. But I took a side trip to Angola first, just because I was intrigued by the country. And this was at a time when it was still ruled by Portugal. It was before the independence. And I was just there for a visit. I was still going to go to South Africa.

But I met someone who worked in the American embassy there, and he said, "Caryle, if I were you, I'd stay here." He said, "Things are going to be very interesting here, and there aren't many Western journalists. There's a lot of Western journalists in South Africa." So I decided to heed his advice, and I got a job teaching English just to get some money to pay the rent, and then I started pleading for jobs from Western organizations. And I got hired as a stringer by "Newsweek" and NBC radio and the "London Sunday Times." And I stayed there for about two years as a stringer, freelancing.

And then I was arrested by the Angolan government because they thought that I was working for the CIA, which I was not, and they expelled me. And at that time, "The Post" said, "OK, well, we'll see how you do. Come back, and we'll give you a temporary job. If you do well, we'll hire you." So that's how I got hooked up with "The Post."
LAMB: Where have you worked for "The Post"?
MURPHY: I've worked in northern Virginia, in the District. And I also was their correspondent in South Africa for four years. That was from '77 to '82.
LAMB: But you were involved in reporting on the Gulf war.
MURPHY: Yes. I went to Cairo, as I said, in November, 1989, and I found myself in Kuwait on August 2, 1990, the day that the Iraqis invaded. I had gone there to write a story because Iraq was threatening Kuwait. I was late. I had gotten sick in Cairo. And all my colleagues had rushed to Kuwait, and they'd finished their stories and they were preparing to leave. And because I'd been sick, I was delayed about a week. And when I got to Kuwait, I was feeling quite sorry for myself because all my colleagues had done their story and were leaving. And so I started trying to catch up, and I was still there when he invaded.
LAMB: What -- how long did it take you to get out?
MURPHY: I decided to stay as long as I could. I mean, I'm sure that of all the Westerners in Kuwait that day, I was the only one happy to be there. It was a big story. The second day, however, all communications ended. But I decided that I would get as much information as I could, hold onto it until I did get out and could send it.

So I managed to stay 27 days, part of that time in hiding with a Kuwaiti family. And I was able also to send out a few stories. One I sent with a friend, and she sent it by fax. And then I was lucky enough to meet some Kuwaiti resistance people who had a satellite telephone, and they helped me get out a couple of stories.

But then the Baghdad government announced that any Kuwaitis found harboring Westerners would be beheaded or hanged, so I decided it was time to leave. So I was taken out in a caravan of Kuwaitis who were going across the desert to Saudi Arabia. I was dressed like an Arab woman. That's a time that the veil came in handy.
LAMB: Did you ever think you weren't going to make it?
MURPHY: No. No.
LAMB: Have you ever been to Baghdad?
MURPHY: Yes, several times. Before the war and after the war.
LAMB: And what would you say would be the principal difference between a place like Baghdad and Cairo?
MURPHY: Oh, you know, for all its faults -- you know, and Cairo does have an authoritarian government -- it is leagues ahead of Baghdad, in terms of openness and, you know, response to public opinion. Baghdad is a terrorist police state. The mood is very depressing there, and people are downtrodden and they're angry not just at Saddam but also at the United States because they've now been under economic sanctions for 12 years, supported by the United States. These are U.N. sanctions, but the United States has been insistent that they stay. And the ordinary Iraqi feels, you know, "Why are you punishing us?" because Saddam is not being hurt by these sanctions.

But again, Baghdad also has a long, long history, a lot of input to Islamic history in the Middle East.
LAMB: You totaled up in your book the number of dollars spent by the United States on Israel since its creation in 1947, $85 billion. Do you have...
MURPHY: About $87 since World War II.
LAMB: Do you have a figure on how much we've spent on Egypt?
MURPHY: Yes. Egypt is, like, the second recipient, second highest recipient. Its cumulative aid from the United States is about $55 billion.
LAMB: Why are we spending that kind of money on Egypt?
MURPHY: Largely because Egypt made peace with Israel in 1979, and it was the first to break through this barrier of isolating Israel. And since the Camp David -- the first Camp David accords, the United States made the commitment, not written but verbally, to, you know, give Egypt a large amount of aid as a reward.
LAMB: Are the American taxpayers getting their money's worth, $140 billion over these last, what, 50 years?
MURPHY: I think they would get a lot more if the United States put on a big diplomatic initiative to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue. This has created a logjam in everything in the Middle East -- in economics, in politics, in social advancement, in educational opportunities, not to mention the loss of lives. And if we could get a fair and just settlement that both sides would accept -- and it is possible, although a lot of Americans believe it's not -- we would open a door to a new Middle East. And then we would not have to spend so much of this aid money on just two countries. There are people who argue those funds should be reduced and that U.S. aid should be spread out among other countries who need it more than they do.
LAMB: What's the difference in the number of settlers on the West Bank and in Gaza that you write about between -- I don't remember what the years were. You brought it up to 2002, where there's something like 215,000 settlers. How many were there 20, 25 years ago?
MURPHY: I think in the 1970s, there were a handful, several hundred, 300 or 400 maybe. And most of them were on the border between the West Bank and Jordan. Now there are 200,000, living in huge apartment buildings, you know, huge spreads. You just -- these are not tented settlements, they're really communities. And 100,000 of those were planted by Israel since the Oslo accord in 1993, and this is one of the reasons that the Palestinians are so enraged.
LAMB: Are the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt aware of this?
MURPHY: Yes, of course they are.
LAMB: How important is it to them? How often does it come up in your conversations?
MURPHY: All the time. I mean, if there's one obsession that -- it's not just the Muslim Brotherhood, it's all Egyptians. One obsession they have is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
LAMB: But they have relations between the two countries.
MURPHY: They have diplomatic correct relations, not cordial.
LAMB: Do many Egyptians get on airplanes and fly over to Tel Aviv?
MURPHY: No, they can't. For a long time, the Egyptian government restricted travel there. You had to get permission from the security police to go there. When things are going well, you know, after the Oslo Accords, which were in 1993, those restrictions were eased by the Egyptian government but even if all restrictions were lifted, there would not be a mass visit by Egyptians to Israel because there is so much anger and resentment.
LAMB: You write your book around a lot of characters that you met over there. Did you meet them back when you were over there '89 through '94 or '95?
MURPHY: Right.
LAMB: Let me put it on the screen the names, and I want to just ask you to tell us, start at the top there. Who is Muhammad Abdu?
MURPHY: Muhammad Abdu I didn't meet because he died in 1906, but Muhammad Abdu is sort of the intellectual grandfather of modern Islamists who want to see a revision of the theology of Islam. Muhammad Abdu was a teacher. He was a judge. He was an Islamic scholar and he believed, which a lot of Muslims still believe today, that there would be no advance, no political advances in our country and no ability to become a modern strong state unless there has been a reform in Islamic theology.
LAMB: The second was Hasan al-Bana.
MURPHY: Hasan al-Bana is the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood.
LAMB: What year?
MURPHY: He founded it in 1928 and he was shot and killed in around 1942, I think, and most people believe he was shot by the secret police of the Egyptian government.
LAMB: Why?
MURPHY: They were angry at him because a certain portion of his movement had gone into violent activity and brothers had been found guilty of bombing courtrooms, killing a prime minister, so.
LAMB: What was their goal?
MURPHY: Tit for tat, send a message, get rid of him.
LAMB: How many are there in the Muslim Brotherhood today?
MURPHY: Well, it's hard to get an accurate estimate because it's not, as I said it doesn't, you know, operate openly and have membership rolls but it's generally accepted that it's the most organized and largest political opposition party in Egypt. If I'd hazard a guess, I'd say two or three million activists and probably several million more sympathizers.
LAMB: The third one on the list, help me pronounce it, is it Sayyid?
MURPHY: Sayyid Qutb.
LAMB: Sayyid Qutb, who is he?
MURPHY: Sayyid Qutb was the sort of the ideologue of modern radical Islamists. He was a teacher and school inspector. He came to the United States in the late 1940s. He had a religious awakening. He became very religious.

He joined the Muslim Brotherhood and he was a writer and a scholar and he advanced the new interpretation of the Quran and basically it's a very radical interpretation in which he says that secular government are anathema in the Muslim world. We must have a government that's ruled by God's law, Islamic law or Sharia and the way to attain this is for a vanguard of Muslims to get organized and to start political activity and eventually overthrow the secular government. His famous book, "Sign Posts on the Road" written in the 1960s, banned in most Arab countries, it's sort of the Bible for violent Islamic radicals these days.
LAMB: Where is he today?
MURPHY: He was hanged by Nasser in around 1965.
LAMB: Nasser was head of the government for how long?
MURPHY: Nasser was - he helped organize the coup against King Faruq in 1952. I think Nasser actually took over himself a couple of years later, '55-'56 and then he died of a heart attack in 1970.
LAMB: What happened after that?
MURPHY: Anwar Sadat became the president.
LAMB: For how long?
MURPHY: Until he was assassinated in 1981 and then the vice president took over Hosni Mubarak, who is still Egypt's president.
LAMB: So, Hosni Mubarak and Saddam Hussein have been in charge for roughly the same amount of time just save a couple of years?
MURPHY: Yes. Yes.
LAMB: And both almost got 100 percent of the vote? Are they friends?
MURPHY: I don't think they're friends, no. I wouldn't call them friends at all. I don't think Saddam has many friends in the Middle East.
LAMB: Who assassinated Anwar Sadat?
MURPHY: It was a group of young radical Islamists. They weren't very organized. They were infused with the ideology of Sayyid Qutb. They regarded Anwar Sadat as a heretic because he didn't impose Sharia or Islamic Law. They were also angry at him for making peace treaties with Israel and they wanted to get rid of him, and it just so happened the plot to kill Sadat was not this sophisticated, you know, long conceived plan. It developed quite by happenstance.

A young guy who was in the army, his brother had been arrested by Sadat. He was angry at Sadat and this young man, the same soldier, was also a member of a radical cell of a group called Jihad in Cairo, and he knew that he was going to participate in a military parade that Sadat would be reviewing from the stand in a few days' time. So, he came up with the idea of assassinating Sadat during the military parade and that's what happened.
LAMB: How many people were involved in the assassination?
MURPHY: I think there were only about four guys who jumped out of the jeep that was passing. Of course, there were others who knew that this was going to happen but in all five men were hanged for the assassination and about 150 others got jail terms for their participation in the conspiracy.
LAMB: Another one on the list is Abdel Harith Madani. How do you pronounce it?
MURPHY: Abdel Harith Madani.
LAMB: Madani.
MURPHY: Yes.
LAMB: Who is he?
MURPHY: Madani was a young lawyer who was also a member and an official in Islamic Group. Islamic Group was the organization of young Islamist rebels who used violence against the Egyptian government in the 1990s. Madani was for a while their spokesman. He played a crucial role. He defended some of Islamic Group guys in military courts, but he played a crucial role in sort of organizing and sending messages and passing out money to the guerillas. He appears in my book because he was arrested and in less than 24 hours he was dead.
LAMB: Who arrested him?
MURPHY: He was arrested by the security police.
LAMB: The National Security Police?
MURPHY: Yes.
LAMB: Where?
MURPHY: In his office in Cairo and, you know, it's pretty clear that he was tortured and they went a little bit too far. I don't think they intended to kill him but he died. The Egyptian government has never given an adequate explanation of what happened to him. Its initial explanation was that he had an asthma attack.
LAMB: What year was this?
MURPHY: 1994.
LAMB: Did you know him?
MURPHY: I knew him, yes, because I'd interviewed him several times for stories I was writing on Islamic Group.
LAMB: And how old was he when he was killed?
MURPHY: I think he was in his 30s.
LAMB: Kalat Yassin Himam (ph).
MURPHY: Yes.
LAMB: How close was I there?
MURPHY: Very good.
LAMB: Who is he or was he?
MURPHY: Kalat's dead. He was probably the most important guerilla operative in Egypt during this insurgency that I write about in the book, which lasted roughly 1992 to 1995. He had been around during Sadat's assassination. He didn't participate in Sadat's assassination. He did participate in an uprising that occurred a few days after Sadat's assassination.

Then he went on, he was jailed for a while. Then he went on to become very active in Islamic Group and he was the guy that, you know, picked the targets, organized the men to go out and do their operations, sabotage, bombs in banks, trying to kill government officials during the insurgency. In the end, though, the police found out where he was and laid at his apartment and he died in a gunfight with them.
LAMB: Did you know him?
MURPHY: No, I never met Himam.
LAMB: And what was the impact of his murder?
MURPHY: It was pretty devastating for Islamic Group because it disrupted a lot of their organization and he was obviously the brains behind a lot of their activity in Egypt. After that, you know, Osama's group kind of petered out. It had a few very spectacular attacks after that, the most horrific one being the murder of over 50 tourists in Luxor in November of 1997, I think it was.
LAMB: What was the impact of that? They were German tourists?
MURPHY: They were mostly Swiss, mostly Swiss.
LAMB: There was a German, wasn't there a group of German tourists somewhere in the last ten years?
MURPHY: Oh yes, that was another attack on the mostly Germans, yes. The impact of Luxor was it's not really clear who organized it, whether it was organized from Islamic Group officials who lived abroad who have been and continue to be much more radical than the leaders who were living, actually living inside Egypt, and it may have been organized and carried out by just a small cell who decided to do it on their own. But, it turned so many people against Islamic Group and even people within Islamic Group were disgusted by it.
LAMB: And what was the impact of the killing of these tourists on their tourism, which you say is their number on industry?
MURPHY: Well, even before 1997, during the insurgency when a lot of tourists were being attacked and killed, tourism went down about 50 percent. Tourism used to bring in annually at that time, early 1990s, about $3.1 billion a year. It went down to about $1.5 billion, and I think Egypt is still suffering in the aftermath of, not only the Luxor massacre, but then the fallout from September 11th.
LAMB: What is the average income of the Egyptian?
MURPHY: Well, there are different figures for it and it ranges somewhere between $740 to $1,200 depending on how it's calculated but it's very low.
LAMB: What does it cost for an apartment?
MURPHY: It depends on where the apartment is and if you can find an apartment. There's a crucial lack of housing in Egypt, especially in Cairo and people, you know, do anything to get an apartment and they live anywhere. It's one of the big problems.
LAMB: Seventy million people in the country. How many people in Cairo?
MURPHY: About a quarter of the population. I think the last figure I saw was about 21 million living in Cairo.
LAMB: How long is the president allegedly elected to be the president of Egypt?
MURPHY: He's supposed to have one six-year term but Mubarak's in his third six-year term, not fourth six-year term.
LAMB: How popular is he?
MURPHY: That depends on who you ask. I mean a lot of Egyptians like him but a lot of Egyptians don't like him. In general, I would say that the Egyptians are pretty apathetic or antagonistic towards their government.
LAMB: And who can vote?
MURPHY: Anybody who's I think over the age of 18.
LAMB: Some more people from the list, is it Bestawi?
MURPHY: Bestwawi Abdul Muzid al-Maji (ph).
LAMB: Who is he and is he still alive?
MURPHY: No, he was hanged by the government in 1993, I think it was. Bestawi was 18 years old when he fell in with Islamic Group. He came from a very poor village in southern Egypt. His father was an absentee parent because he worked in Saudi Arabia.

Bestawi had been a very good pupil when he was in elementary school but when he got into high school he lost interest and he fell in with Islamic Group and he was recruited to fire on a van of German tourists in a small town in southern Egypt.

He fired on the van. No one was killed. He was promptly arrested and then he was tried in a military court with about 40 other young militants and he was given the death sentence.
LAMB: Did you know him?
MURPHY: No, I never met him. By the time I found out about him or really went to his home village, he had been hanged.
LAMB: When you were there, did you speak the language?
MURPHY: No, Arabic is a very difficult language and I didn't have time. I took a course before I left to learn the alphabet and a few words. I know a few words but I certainly can't do an interview in Arabic.
LAMB: How many of the Egyptians speak English?
MURPHY: Quite a few. Quite a few.
LAMB: And most of the people you dealt with and interviewed, were they English speakers?
MURPHY: Well certainly in the government most do. Once you get down into southern Egypt, if they don't work for the government they probably don't speak English and then you need a translator.
LAMB: How long did Great Britain have control of Egypt?
MURPHY: Well, it occupied the country in 1882 and then it granted Egypt independence in 1922 but it kept a military presence at the Suez Canal and controlled the Suez Canal Company. And then, that vestigial occupation didn't end until the 1950s.
LAMB: You say that the 1967 war with Israel has a lasting impact. What is it?
MURPHY: It was a devastating defeat for Arabs, including Egyptians not only militarily bit psychologically. They couldn't believe that this tiny little country, Israel, could defeat all the Arabs, this young country. Israel was only created in 1948 and the loss of the territory, the loss of Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem has had a huge symbolic influence for the Arabs, and the way they see to regain their honor, their dignity, is to have a just settlement for the Palestinians.

But when they suffered this loss, they didn't know what to do and how to take it so they started all this internal examination and intellectual reflection and religious reflection. I mean some Egyptians came to the conclusion that the reason they lost was because they'd turned too much away from God and I explain in the book how it's from the defeat in 1967 that many Egyptians date this return to personal piety, all pious Islam as I call it in the book.
LAMB: What is an Islamist?
MURPHY: That depends and I define in my introduction how I use Islamist. It's a controversial term because for some people it's used in a negative way. It has negative connotations. But I use it in a very neutral way and I define an Islamist as someone who wants Islam and its corollary, Sharia, or Islamic law, to be their principal reference point in politics, in culture, in education and in their lives of course.
LAMB: What is Islamic law? What's Sharia? What does it mean? What do you have to do differently if you follow it?
MURPHY: In the early days after Mohammed died and Islam spreads all over the Middle East, even up to southern Europe and to India, Islamic religious authorities, these are the scholars of Islam, they wanted a uniform kind of way that Islam would be recognized and people from all these different cultures were converting to Islam.

But they were holding onto a lot of their own customs and traditions, and people would come to these authorities and they'd say well Prophet Mohammed said this or the Quran says this, what should I do in this particular situation? And they would look at the text and give an opinion, and these became known as legal opinions. And, through the ages these legal opinions have come to be known as Islamic law, Sharia.

Within Sharia there are actually five different schools of legal thought. Now, what you have to do differently if you follow Sharia, well it depends on the person you go to to give you your Sharia ruling. I mean there isn't one Sharia ruling on say, for example, are you allowed to donate your organs to somebody else? There are different opinions among religious leaders.
LAMB: Can they smoke?
MURPHY: Most Muslims follow the Sharia rulings that smoking is harmful to your body and Islam prohibits doing anything that's harmful to your body.
LAMB: Can they drink?
MURPHY: No.
LAMB: What's my relation with the opposite sex?
MURPHY: It's very conservative. I mean there should be no premarital sexual intercourse. Dating is very much chaperoned. But again, all these laws depend also on local customs where you live.
LAMB: You have some statistics in the book about Egypt. You say there will be 84 million people there by the year 2015, that 50 percent of the country is illiterate, that 16 million live below the poverty line, that there's 15 percent unemployment and that 34.5 percent of the population under 15. What does that say to you about the future of that country?
MURPHY: It's going to be a difficult future and on top of all those economic problems, there are the political problems. Egyptians want more say in how they are ruled. Some of those Egyptians are very secular inclined. Some of them are very Islamist inclined. So, there's a big, you know, divide in the population over what kind of government we should have.

And the current government I would characterize, using a term from another author, as semi-secular. It declares itself as an Islamic government but it doesn't make its decisions based on Islamic precepts. It makes its decisions on secular considerations like how to stay in power, how to build enough roads for all the cars. But, Egypt's journey into deciding and getting a national consensus that sticks on what kind of government we should have is not yet over.
LAMB: I got a couple more names on the list that I want to ask you about. Is it Esam El-Elrian?
MURPHY: Esam El-Erian.
LAMB: Close. Who is he? Is he still alive?
MURPHY: Yes. Esam's alive and well, living in Cairo. He is in my book as a representative of what I describe as moderate Islamists. These are people who don't use violence but they believe that Islam should play a greater role in the public life of the country and that Sharia, or Islamic law, should be more openly observed.

Esam was in a meeting of other Muslim Brotherhood activists and they were planning in early 1995 for the upcoming elections. They wanted to participate in the parliamentary elections that were going to be held in the fall of 1995. The government was very nervous about this because they knew they were in trouble. They knew they were unpopular. They had just come out of this Islamist insurgency, which had polarized the country.

So, the government arrested like about 100 Muslim brothers. Esam was among them and they were brought to a military court, not a regular, civilian court, but a military court on charges like organizing to promote the Muslim Brotherhood, distributing pamphlets, seeking to change the constitution of Egypt, which is true, but that's no, you know - many other people would like to change the constitution in Egypt but there was not one charge of violence in their trial. But Esam got five years and for five years he was separated from his family and he was released, I think in 2000.
LAMB: What's he doing now?
MURPHY: He went back to his old job as deputy secretary general for the doctor's syndicate. He's a medical doctor by training.
LAMB: There's one last name on this list. It's Mustafa?
MURPHY: Mustafa Rastum is an ordinary Egyptian whom I profile in the book as someone who's not involved in politics at all and he doesn't like the government. He doesn't like the secular opposition and he doesn't like the Islamists.

He just wants to be left alone and live his life and I include him in the book because there are a lot of Arabs and Egyptians like him. At the same time, you'll see from my profile of him, he's a very devout Muslim and Islam means everything to him but he has a very expansive, tolerant interpretation of Islam.
LAMB: You do write a lot about torture.
MURPHY: Yes. I devoted one chapter to that in which Abdel Harith Madani, the Islamic Group lawyer, is the main character. Torture is used by every government in the Middle East, including Israel. It varies according to its intensity. Probably the worst ones are Syria and Iraq. But I write about how torture is toxic, not just to the people who die and are killed - and are injured by it, but to the life of the country.

And, I think, I mean the United States government has been very good in its annual human rights reports produced by the State Department in acknowledging and recognizing the existence of torture but we don't really bring that up much in our bilateral relations and I think that this is one thing that the United States should more openly address, not just for Egypt but for all Arab countries.
LAMB: If we go to war with Iraq, what will the impact be in Egypt?
MURPHY: I think there will be a lot of street demonstrations against the United States. The government will be put in a very difficult situation because the United States will be pressuring Egypt to support it and the Egyptians will be pressuring the government not to support the U.S. efforts. I think it will exacerbate all the problems that I've mentioned in this book.
LAMB: How long do you think we'll continue paying $2 billion a year to Egypt?
MURPHY: Well, the figure is already going down under an agreement reached between Israel and the United States and Egypt and Congress. I think it's certainly not going to go up and I think the years ahead will see a reduction in that aid.
LAMB: What did you think of living in Egypt?
MURPHY: I had a great time. It was fascinating to see a culture so different from the one I've been brought up in. It was difficult. It's very hard to work as a journalist in an Arab country because they don't have the openness, the open attitude towards information that we do here in this country. It's very hard to get accurate information. You have to make two or three times as many phone calls to get what you would expect to get in one call here.
LAMB: Will there ever be a democracy there?
MURPHY: I hope so. I'm not sure but, you know, we have to - one of the things I've tried to get across in this book, we have to look at the future of the Middle East in the long term. We have to look at the war on terrorism in the long term. We have to start developing policies that we can see will have a good impact in the long term.
LAMB: Our guest has been Caryle Murphy of the Washington Post. Here's what her book looks like. It's called "Passion for Islam." It's about her five years in Egypt. Thank you very much.
MURPHY: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure.


Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2002. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.