January 21, 1996 in Nation/World

Egypt’s Islamic Leader Abul Nasr Dies At 82

Associated Press

Mohammed Hamed Abul Nasr, who led Egypt’s largest Islamic group during a decade in which its influence grew to threaten the government, died Saturday. He was 82.

He died at Cairo’s el-Amal Hospital, where he had been since last month, the Muslim Brotherhood said. Cause of death was not revealed, although Abul Nasr had been sick for a long time and the group’s leadership had effectively been in the hands of his deputies since last year.

Abul Nasr took over as head of the Brotherhood in 1986. Under his tenure, the group gained strength through its control of professional unions, funding of social services and participation in elections, usually in coalition with opposition parties.

He was considered a moderate who supported the imposition of Islamic law but suggested it could be done gradually. He supported the non-violent policy of his predecessor, Omar Tilimsani, and worked to avoid confrontations with the state.

The Brotherhood, which is technically outlawed, has been largely tolerated by the government since the 1970s.

But since last year, the government - possibly fearful of its rising appeal - has jailed its most dynamic leaders and closed its headquarters in a campaign to link it to militants who have fought a four-year insurgency in southern Egypt.

At the same time, Mustafa Mashoor, the Brotherhood’s deputy leader, became more prominent as age and illness incapacitated Abul Nasr, who rarely left his home in southern Egypt.

“It’s very hard to lose him. He was very effective and he had a great presence especially before his sickness,” said Mamoun Hodeibi, the Brotherhood’s spokesman.

Mashoor, 74, was expected to take over as leader, and no dramatic changes were expected in Brotherhood policies. Mashoor is considered reluctant to escalate the fight with the government.

In a sign of his authority, Mashoor led the prayers at Abul Nasr’s burial Saturday at the sprawling Raba’ el-Adawiyya mosque in a Cairo suburb. According to strict Muslim custom, Abul Nasr’s body was placed in an open coffin and wrapped in a green shroud decorated with Koranic verses.

Thousands of supporters turned out, many of them crying and holding copies of the Koran. Mourners poured out of the mosque as the body was taken to an ambulance that carried it to the cemetery. Hundreds of police watched over the procession.

Abul Nasr was born in February 1913 in Manfalout in the southern province of Assiut.

He was said to have met Hassan el-Banna, the Brotherhood’s founder, in 1934 and became one of his first followers.

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