Abboud al-Zumar

(Abboud al-Zumar in an interview with Reuters in his home after his release from Liman Tora Prison at Helwan, south of Cairo, March 17, 2011/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)

Abboud al-Zumar went to jail 30 years ago for his role in killing Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Now a free man, he believes democracy will prevent Islamists from ever again taking up the gun against the state.

Zumar was a prisoner for as long as Sadat’s successor, Hosni Mubarak, was president. His release with other leading Islamists jailed for militancy is a sign of dramatic change in Egypt in the five weeks since Mubarak was swept from power by mass protests. Zumar, 64, was a founding member of the Islamic Jihad group which gunned down Sadat during a military parade in 1981. He was released along with his cousin, Tarek al-Zumar, who had also spent three decades in jail on similar charges.

“The revolution created a new mechanism: the mechanism of strong, peaceful protests,” said Zumar, released on March 12 and one of the political prisoners who owes his freedom to the peaceful revolt against Mubarak. “Public squares around the Arab world are ready to receive millions who can stop any ruler and expose him,” added Zumar in an interview in his home village of Nahia on the rural outskirts of Cairo.

To many Egyptians, Zumar’s name evokes a violent chapter in the history of a country that has been an incubator for Islamist militancy. Seeking to ease concerns, Zumar describes the Islamist movement as the “first line of defense” of Egyptian society. Islamists merely want to enjoy the same freedoms as everyone else in the new Egypt, he says.