A reluctant rebel amid Cairo's slums: Robert Fisk meets Mustapha, an Islamic fundamentalist taught that evil acts are necessary against an 'evil' government

IN THE SQUARE opposite Imbaba's biggest mosque - a vast rectangle of garbage and rusting containers - there stands a fine pink marble plaque affixed to a block of concrete. On this spot, the tablet promises, His Excellency President Hosni Mubarak is to build a hospital for the people. How very odd, the stranger must observe, to find so carefully honed an undertaking in such a place.

There are other, more troubling philanthropic constructions amid Cairo's Dickensian slums. Take the newly metalled road near the railway tracks. Or the ugly concrete shacks being built in the centre of the wide, rutted boulevard that runs up from the Nile. The huts are to be shops, to replace the corner stores on each side of the stony, unpaved highway, a hot mid- street souq which no one wants.

'Don't be fooled by all this 'improvement', ' says Mustapha in his top-floor hovel. 'The hospital won't be built and the road was levelled because the police weren't able to drive in and out quickly enough. The souq is to force the shopkeepers into the middle of the road so that visitors can be isolated when the raids start. Strangers won't be able to run into the houses to hide.'

Mustapha's real name must remain a secret to protect the innocent - or the guilty - but his neat little beard and inflexible theology give him away. He describes himself as a part of el- Gamaat el-Islamiya (the Islamic movement) and makes no secret of the fact that Egyptian plain clothes security police call on him every two months to question him. 'They've even stamped my views into my passport,' he says. Sure enough, a Ministry of Interior official has stamped the passport with a printed exclusion that the bearer shall never be allowed to serve in the Egyptian army. One president assassinated by his own soldiers, it seems, is quite enough.

True, Imbaba's poverty has been temporarily cleansed of insurrection; so many thousands of its young men have been taken off to prison that only a single mosque now proclaims the fundamentalist demand for Islamic sharia law and the overthrow of the government. 'Those who rule unjustly will pay the price . . . even if Aisha (the favourite wife of the Prophet) committed a crime, she would be punished . . . God will punish evil . . .' The preacher's words are intended as a death threat against Mubarak. 'Islam is the answer,' the blue wall- posters declare. Riot police regularly tear them down.

According to Mustapha, the government has only temporarily crushed the Muslim rebellion in Imbaba. Its inhabitants still watch clandestine videotapes of President Anwar Sadat's assassination and of Islamic rallies in Algeria, cheering the mother of the young army lieutenant who killed the West's favourite Arab leader. 'We grew up hating the police. I ran a black-market stall but I was always a true Muslim, praying five times a day, waiting for our Caliphate, hating the corruption of this kaffir government. I am not afraid to die. I believe in paradise.'

Mustapha was not surprised when the police broke into his home in 1989. 'They took me off to Lazoughly (security headquarters) where they used electricity on me like they did on all the others. They asked the usual questions: why was I trying to overthrow the government? who taught me to be a 'terrorist'?'

Inevitably, we come to a Westerner's question. How does he justify the killing of innocent people, of foreign tourists? 'The Koran does not approve of this. It is wrong, evil. But you must understand that we are oppressed. We have to fight a very powerful government. We have to break their economy. And in my prison, our 'emir' explained to us that such killings - in our fight against an evil government - are necessary.'

It was said so simply. Within el-Gamaat, leadership is exercised by a series of 'emirs', often appointed in captivity. So the 'emir' contradicted the spirit of the Koran in the interests of Islamic struggle. Is this dangerous innocence or naivety amid Imbaba's slums? Perhaps a clue lay in Mustapha's cheerfully held views on martyrdom. For when I asked him to tell me about paradise, he replied as follows: 'In paradise, all the women are beautiful and perpetual virgins. And each man has the strength of a hundred men. There is pleasure and peace and happiness. There is wine. And there is no longer any need to go to the bathroom. There is no longer even a need to pray.'

The fourth article in Robert Fisk's series on Islamic fundamentalism will appear on Monday

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with excess, cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings