Three times in the 30 years since 1981, Aboud El Zomor, a figure unknown in the West, occupied the center stage of history.
When the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, the first Arab leader to make peace with Israel, visited the White House Aug. 5, 1981, he asked President Ronald Reagan's permission to screen a short film. His American audience was stunned to see a group of Muslim fundamentalists whose conversation when translated amounted to a plot to assassinate President Sadat.
The plot's leader was an intelligence lieutenant colonel. Sadat leaned over to Reagan and whispered: This man is called El Zomor and he is my liaison with radical Islamic groups. I meet with him two or three times a week. I know that he has gone over to the other side and is plotting to murder me.
But CIA chief William Joseph Casey, friend and confidante of President Reagan, persuaded him that Sadat was under the influence of hallucinatory drugs and his movie and commentary could be dismissed.
And so, three months later, on October 6, 1981, the Egyptian ruler was assassinated. El Zomor was able to organize the murder without hindrance after the White House turned down Sadat's plea for protection.
Born in 1947 into one of the wealthiest and most prominent families in the high-end Cairo neighborhood of Giza, Aboud El Zomor joined the army and during his service founded the radical Egyptian Islamic Jihad as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.
He was its first emir, succeeded later by Ayman al-Zawahiri after he was sentenced to life in jail for his role in the Sadat assassination.
In 1998, Zawahiri led the organization into a merger with Osama Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda.
By succeeding to the presidency, Mubarak averted an Islamist putsch
The assassination was the first intended step of an Islamist putsch.
El Zomor's master plan entailed liquidating Egypt's national leaders and seizing army headquarters, State Security, the telephone exchange and the radio and television stations. News of an Islamic revolution would be broadcast and unleash a popular uprising against secular authority.
The rogue intelligence officer and his cousin and brother-in-law Tarek El-Zomor, who was also prominent in the Gama'a al-Islamiya, were convicted in 1984 for plotting the Sadat assassination and membership of the outlawed group – but not for the actual murder.
For three decades they were Egypt's most famous political prisoners
On March 12, 2011, the pair were released from Cairo's Tora Prison as a mark of the interim military rulers' goodwill for the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical Islamic organizations.
Interviewed for television at his home on 23 March, 2011, Aboud El-Zomor formally apologized to the Egyptian people for the Sadat assassination but said he had no remorse. His only mistake, he said, was clearing the way for Hosni Mubarak to succeed to the presidency and rule Egypt for 30 years.
El-Zomor later announced he was launching the radical Gema’a al-Islamiya as a political party to represent the Salafi movement in Egypt's coming parliamentary elections rescheduled for November.
Running for election while fighting for a caliphate
The assassin of Sadat made his third headline appearance Saturday, Sept. 10 when together with his cousin Tarek he led some 50,000 fundamentalist Muslims in the break-in and sacking of the Israeli embassy in Cairo.
The flight of the ambassador and staff brought Egyptian-Israel ties to crisis point and jolted one of the foundations of US Middle East policy, the epic long-running peace, which El Zomer failed to destroy 30 years earlier.
From the embassy, he led the horde against police and intelligence police facilities in the neighborhood, rifled their storerooms and with the stolen guns started marching on central Cairo shouting their intention of installing a caliphate in Egypt by force of arms.
This went beyond the line the Supreme Military Council rulers were ready to tolerate. Hundreds of Islamic hotheads were sent back to prison and Hosni Mubarak's emergency laws restored, eight months after they were repealed as one of the signal achievements of the Tahrir Square revolution which ousted him.
The most recent updates indicate, however, that the generals shied away from re-arresting the El Zomers and they are still on the loose.
Erdogan misses the train in another Arab Revolt
The caliphate concept recurred during the Cairo visit of another Islamic figure, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan.
As he descended from the plane Monday, September 12, he was rushed by Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood adherents and Salafis seeking to treat his arrival as the first cornerstone of a contemporary Islamic caliphate under the Erdogan aegis.
“Egypt and Turkey are one," they shouted – only stopped by security forces from hoisting him on their shoulders in delight over his strong anti-Israel verbiage. A few trailed the Turkish prime minister wherever he went, hailing him as the new Ṣalaḥ ad-Din (better known in the west as Saladin 1138 – 1193, first Sultan of Egypt and Syria adulated by Muslims for defeating the European Crusaders and extending Islamic sway over Mesopotamia, Kurdistan, Hejaz in Saudi Arabia and Yemen).
At all his meetings, Erdogan talked down at his hosts as well as the Arab League foreign ministers who had invited him to their meeting, presenting himself as the role model for Egyptians to emulate as an ultra-Muslim leader whose ability to administer a modern country was second to none. He urged Egypt to allow Ankara to guide its steps in establishing a secular state that respects all religions.
What Egypt needed, said Erdogan, was better management of human resources, more attention to education, improved management of financial resources and the eradication of corruption.
The Turkish leader, by his patronizing attitude, succeeded in infuriating not only Egypt's military rulers but even the Muslim Brotherhood who were united for once by resentment of the foreign visitor.
Both slammed his interference in their domestic affairs, while the Brothers decided that if the best he can offer is a secular state, he is not the Saladin they want.