Ayman Zawahiri and Egypt: A Trip Through Time

December 3, 2012
(Ayman Zawahiri)

(Raymond Ibrahim, an expert on al-Qaeda and author of The Al Qaeda Reader, is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum. via algemeiner.com) Around 1985, current al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri fled his homeland of Egypt, presumably never to return. From his early beginnings as a teenage leader of a small jihadi cell devoted to overthrowing Egyptian regimes (first Nasser’s then Sadat’s) until he merged forces with Osama bin Laden, expanding his objectives to include targeting the United States of America, Zawahiri never forgot his original objective: transforming Egypt into an Islamist state that upholds and enforces the totality of Sharia law, and that works towards the resurrection of a global caliphate.
This vision is on its way to being fulfilled. With Islamist political victories, culminating with a Muslim Brotherhood president, Muhammad Morsi, Egypt is taking the first major steps to becoming the sort of state Zawahiri wished to see. Zawahiri regularly congratulates Egypt’s Islamists—most recently the attacks on the U.S. embassy in Cairo—urging them to continue Islamizing the Middle East’s most strategic nation.
He sent a lengthy communiqué during the Egyptian revolution in February 2011, for example, titled “Messages of Hope and Glad Tidings to our People in Egypt.” In it, he reiterated themes widely popularized by al-Qaeda, including: secular regimes are the enemies of Islam; democracy is a sham; Sharia must be instituted; the U.S. and the “Zionist enemy” are the true source behind all of the Islamic world’s ills.
Zawahiri continues to push these themes. Late last month, he sent messages criticizing Morsi, especially for not helping “the jihad to liberate Palestine;” called for the kidnapping of Westerners, especially Americans—which the U.S. embassy in Cairo took seriously enough to issue a warning to Americans; and further incited Egypt’s Muslims to wage jihad against America because of the YouTube Muhammad movie.
In short, a symbiotic relationship exists between the country of Egypt and the Egyptian Zawahiri: the country helped shape the man, and the man is fixated on influencing the country, his homeland. Accordingly, an examination of Zawahiri’s early years and experiences in Egypt—a case study of sorts—provides context for understanding Zawahiri, the undisputed leader of the world’s most notorious Islamic terrorist organization and helps explain how Egypt got where it is today. The two phenomena go hand-in-hand.
In this report, we will explore several questions, including: What happened in Egypt to turn this once “shy” and “studious” schoolboy who abhorred physical sports as “inhumane” towards jihad? What happened to turn many Egyptians to jihad, or at least radical Islam? What is Zawahiri’s relationship to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis—Egypt’s two dominant Islamist political players? Did the 9/11 strikes on America, orchestrated by Zawahiri and al-Qaeda, help or hinder the Islamists of Egypt?

Background
Little about Zawahiri’s upbringing suggests that he would become the world’s most notorious jihadi, partially responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocents in the September 11 attacks and elsewhere. People who knew him stress that Zawahiri came from a “prestigious” and “aristocratic” background (in Egypt, “aristocrats” have traditionally been among the most liberal and secular). His father Muhammad was a professor of pharmacology; his mother, Umayma, came from a politically active family. Ayman had four siblings; he (and his twin sister) were the eldest. Born in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, on June 19, 1951, Zawahiri, as a BBC report puts it, “came from a respectable middle-class family of doctors and scholars. His grandfather, Rabia al-Zawahiri, was the grand imam of al-Azhar, the centre of Sunni Islamic learning in the Middle East, while one of his uncles was the first secretary-general of the Arab League.”
According to the Islamist Montasser al-Zayyat, author of the Arabic book, Al Zawahiri: As I Knew Him (translated in English as The Road to Al Qaeda: the Story of Bin Laden’s Right-Hand Man), Zawahiri was “an avid reader” who “loved literature and poetry.” He “believed that sports, especially boxing and wrestling, were inhumane…. people thought he was very tender and softhearted…. nothing in his youthful good nature suggested that he was to become the second most wanted man in the world…. He has always been humble, never interested in seizing the limelight of the leadership.”
Even so, he exhibited signs of a strong and determined character, as “there was nothing weak about the personality of the child Zawahiri. On the contrary, he did not like any opinion to be imposed on him. He was happy to discuss any issue that was difficult for him to understand until it was made clear, but he did not argue for the sake of argument. He always listened politely, without giving anyone the chance to control him.”
For all his love of literature and poetry, which Islamists often portray as running counter to Muslim faith, Zawahiri exhibited a notable form of piety from youth. “Ayman al-Zawahiri was born into a religious Muslim family,” al-Zayyat wrote. “Following the example of his family, he not only performed the prayers at the correct times, but he did so in the mosque…. He always made sure that he performed the morning prayers [at sunrise] with a group in the mosque, even during the coldest winters. He attended several classes of Koran interpretation, fiqh [Islamic jurisprudence] and Koran recitation at the mosque.”
Otherwise, he appeared to lead a normal, privileged lifestyle. Like his family, he followed a prestigious career path. Zawahiri joined the Faculty of Medicine at Cairo University, graduating in 1974 with the highest possible marks. He then earned a Master’s degree in surgery from the same university in 1978. He went on to receive a PhD in surgery from a Pakistani university, during his stay in Peshawar, when he was aiding the mujahidin against the Soviets. People who know Zawahiri say that the only relationship he had with a woman was with his wife, Azza, whom he married in 1979, and who held a degree in philosophy. She and three of Zawahiri’s six children were killed in an air strike on Afghanistan by U.S. forces in late 2001.
Death of a Martyr
The initial influence on Zawahiri’s radicalization appears to have come from his uncle Mahfouz, an opponent to the secular regime and Islamist in his own right, who was arrested in a militant round up in 1945, following the assassination of Prime Minister Ahmed Mahfouz. In reference to this event, Zawahiri’s uncle even boasted: “I myself was going to do what Ayman has done,” according to Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11.
Though Mahfouz was likely the first to introduce young Ayman to the political scene of radical Islam, no one appears to have had an impact on Zawahiri’s development as much as Uncle Mahfouz’s mentor and Arabic teacher, Sayyid Qutb—often referred to as the “godfather” of modern jihad. Qutb, then the Muslim Brotherhood’s premiere theoretician of jihad, has arguably played the greatest role in articulating the Islamist/jihadi worldview in the modern era, so much so that Zawahiri and others regularly quote his voluminous writings in their own work.
According to the 9/11 Commission Report, “Three basic themes emerge from Qutb’s writings. First, he claimed that the world was beset with barbarism, licentiousness, and unbelief (a condition he called jahiliyya, the religious term for the period of ignorance prior to the revelations given to the Prophet Mohammed). Qutb argued that humans can choose only between Islam and jahiliyya. Second, he warned that more people, including Muslims, were attracted to jahiliyya and its material comforts than to his view of Islam; jahiliyya could therefore triumph over Islam. Third, no middle ground exists in what Qutb conceived as a struggle between God and Satan. All Muslims—as he defined them—therefore must take up arms in this fight. Any Muslim who rejects his ideas is just one more nonbeliever worthy of destruction.”
Qutb’s primary target—and subsequently Zawahiri’s—was the Egyptian regime, which he accused of being enforcers of jahiliyya, obstructing the totality of Sharia. Because Qutb was so effective at fomenting Islamist animosity for the regime, President Gamal Abdel Nasser had him imprisoned and eventually executed in 1966. That act that only succeeded in helping propagate Qutb’s importance to the jihadi movement, which came to see him as a “martyr” (a shahid, the highest honor for a Muslim), turning his already popular writings into “eternal classics” for Islamists everywhere.
As Zayyat observes, “In Zawahiri’s eyes, Sayyid Qutb’s words struck young Muslims more deeply than those of his contemporaries because his words eventually led to his execution. Thus, those words provided the blueprint for his long and glorious lifetime, and eventually led to its end…. His teaching gave rise to the formation of the nucleus of the contemporary jihadi movements in Egypt.”
It is no coincidence, then, that Zawahiri founded his first jihadi cell in 1966 – the year of Qutb’s execution – when he was only 15-years-old. Embracing Qutb’s teachings—that jihad is the only answer, that talk, diplomacy, and negotiations only serve the infidel enemy’s purposes—his cell originally had a handful of members. Zawahiri eventually merged it with other small cells to form Egyptian Islamic Jihad, becoming one of its leaders. Zawahiri sought to recruit military officers and accumulate weapons, waiting for the right moment to launch a coup against the regime; or, in Zawahiri’s own words as later recorded by an interrogator, “to establish an Islamic government …. a government that rules according to the Sharia of Allah Almighty.”
Humiliation of Defeat
A year following the establishment of Zawahiri’s cell, another event took place that further paved the way to jihad: the ignominious defeat of Egypt by Israel in the 1967 war. Until then, Arab nationalism, spearheaded by Nasser, was the dominant ideology, not just in Egypt, but the entire Arab world. What began with much euphoria and conviction—that the Arab world, unified under Arab nationalism and headed by Nasser would crush Israel, only to lose disastrously in a week—morphed into disillusionment and disaffection, especially among Egyptians. It was then that the slogan “Islam is the solution” spread like wildfire, winning over many to the cause.
At the time of the 1967 war, the future al-Qaeda leader was 16 years old. Like many young people at the time, he was somewhat traumatized by Egypt’s defeat—a defeat which, 34 years later, he would gloat upon in his 2001 book Fursan Taht Rayat al-Nabbi, (“Knights Under the Banner of the Prophet”):
“The unfolding events impacted the course of the jihadi movements in Egypt, namely, the 1967 defeat and the ensuing symbolic collapse of Gamal Abdel Nasser, who was portrayed to the public by his followers as the everlasting invincible symbol. The jihadi movements realized that wormwoods had eaten at this icon, and that it had become fragile. The 1967 defeat shook the earth under this idol until it fell on its face, causing a severe shock to its disciples, and frightening its subjects. The jihadi movements grew stronger and stronger as they realized that their avowed enemy was little more than a statue to be worshipped, constructed through propaganda, and through the oppression of unarmed innocents. The direct influence of the 1967 defeat was that a large number of people, especially youths, returned to their original identity: that of members of an Islamic civilization.”
This theme—that the “enemies of Islam” – first the secular dictators, followed by the USSR and then the U.S., were “paper tigers” whose bark was worse than their bite—would come to permeate the writings of al-Qaeda and other jihadists. For instance, in March 2012, in response to President Obama’s plans to cut Pentagon spending, Zawahiri said, “The biggest factor that forced America to reduce its defence budget is Allah’s help to the mujahideen [or jihadis] to harm the evil empire of our time [the U.S.],” adding that American overtures to the Afghan Taliban for possible reconciliation was further evidence of U.S. defeat.
The 1973 war between Egypt and Israel appears to have had a lesser impact on Zawahiri, who by then had already confirmed his worldview. Moreover, it was during the 1970s that he was especially busy with “normal” life—earning two advanced university degrees (one in 1974, another in 1978), getting married, and starting a family. Even so, the subsequent peace treaty that the Egyptian President Anwar Sadat signed with Israel incensed many Islamists in Egypt, including Zawahiri, who saw it as a great betrayal to the Islamic Nation, or Umma, prompting jihadis to act now instead of later.
Accordingly, Sadat was targeted for assassination; the time had come for a military coup, which was Islamic Jihad’s ultimate goal. But the plan was derailed when authorities learned of it in February, 1981. Sadat ordered the roundup of more than 1,500 Islamists, including many Islamic Jihad members (though he missed a cell in the military led by Lieutenant Khalid Islambouli, who succeeded in assassinating Sadat during a military parade later that same year).
Prison Torture
Zawahiri was among the thousands of Islamists rounded up after Sadat’s assassination, leading to one of the most talked-of episodes of Zawahiri’s life: his prison experience. He was interrogated and found guilty of possessing firearms, serving three years in prison. During that time, he was among many who were tortured in Egyptian prisons.
Much has been made of Zawahiri’s prison-time torture. (It is curious to note that when Egyptian officials called to investigate the officers accused of torturing the Islamist inmates, Zawahiri did not file a case against the authorities, though many others did, and though he bothered to witness to the torture of other members.) Several writers, beginning with al-Zayyat, suggest that along with the dual-impact of the martyrdom of Qutb and the 1967 defeat, this event had an especially traumatic effect on Zawahiri’s subsequent development and radicalization.
Still, one should not give this experience more due than it deserves. Zawahiri was an ardent jihadi well over a decade before he was imprisoned and tortured; the overly paradigmatic explanation of humiliation-as-precursor-to-violence so popular in Western thinking is unnecessary here.
On the other hand, in the vein of “that which does not kill you makes you stronger,” it seems that Zawahiri’s prison experience hardened him and made his already notorious stubbornness and determination that much more unshakeable. In short, if his prison experience did not initiate his jihadi inclinations, it likely exacerbated it.
Moreover, being “found out”—had an indirect impact on his radicalization. After he was released, and knowing that he was being watched by the authorities, he was compelled to quit his native Egypt, meeting other Arabic-speaking Islamists abroad. He met Osama bin Laden as early as 1986 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. That led him to relocate to the Afghan theater of jihad, where the final coalescing of his global jihad worldview culminated.
Shifting Strategy
During his time in Egypt, Zawahiri was a staunch proponent of jihad—believing that no real change or progress can be achieved without armed struggle. This never changed. However, his strategic goal of toppling the Egyptian regime grew more ambitious over time, especially after the Afghan war experience and partnership with bin Laden.
In Egypt, Zawahiri’s goal was clear: overthrowing the regime and implementing an Islamic government. The enemy was internal, the secular Hosni Mubarak regime, that took over after Sadat’s death. In Zawahiri’s thinking, one could consider fighting the far or external enemy until he had beaten the near one. (This is the famous “near/far enemy” dichotomy Islamists have written much on.)
Accordingly, until the late 1990s Zawahiri rarely mentioned what are today the mainstays of Islamist discontent, such as the Arab/Israel conflict, or other matters outside Egypt’s borders. In fact, in a 1995 article titled “The Way to Jerusalem Passes Through Cairo” published in Al-Mujahidin, Zawahiri even wrote that “Jerusalem will not be opened [conquered] until the battles in Egypt and Algeria have been won and until Cairo has been opened.” This is not to say that Zawahiri did not always see Israel as the enemy. Rather, he deemed it pointless to fight it directly when one could have the entire might of Egypt’s military by simply overthrowing the regime—precisely the situation today.
Then, in 1998, Zawahiri surprised many of Egypt’s Islamists by forming the International Islamic Front for Jihad on the Jews and Crusaders, under bin Laden’s leadership. It issued a fatwa calling on Muslims “to kill the Americans and their allies–civilians and military, an individual obligation incumbent upon every Muslim who can do it and in any country—this until the Aqsa Mosque [Jerusalem] and the Holy Mosque [Mecca] are liberated from their grip.” Until then all of Zawahiri’s associates believed that his primary focus was Egypt, overthrowing the regime—not the Arab-Israeli conflict and the United States.
Zawahiri’s “Mistake”?
It is for all these reasons that many of Egypt’s Islamists, beginning with the Muslim Brotherhood, saw al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks, partially masterminded by Zawahiri, as a severe setback to their movement. The attacks awoke the U.S. and the West, setting off the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, and also giving many Arab regimes – including Mubarak’s – free reign to suppress all Islamists. Those regimes happily took advantage. As al-Zayyat, Zawahiri’s biographer, wrote:
“The poorly conceived decision to launch the attacks of September 11created many victims of a war of which they did not choose to be a part…. Bin Laden and Zawahiri’s behavior [9/11] was met with a lot of criticism from many Islamists in Egypt and abroad…. In the post-September 11 world, no countries can afford to be accused of harboring the enemies of the United States. No one ever imagined that a Western European country would extradite Islamists who live on its lands. Before that, Islamists had always thought that arriving in a European city and applying for political asylum was enough to acquire permanent resident status. After September 11, 2001, everything changed…. Even the Muslim Brotherhood was affected by the American campaign, which targeted everything Islamic.”
In retrospect, the “mistake of 9/11″ may have indirectly helped empower Islamists: by bringing unwanted Western attention to the Middle East, it also made popular the argument that democracy would solve all the ills of the Middle East. Many Western observers who previously had little knowledge of the Islamic world, were surprised to discover post 9/11 that dictatorial regimes ran the Muslim world. This led to the simplistic argument that Islamists were simply lashing out because they were suppressed. Failing to understand that these dictatorships were the only thing between full-blown Islamist regimes like Iran, many deemed democracy a panacea, beginning with U.S. President George W. Bush, who invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, partially to “spread” and in the name of democracy.
With the so-called “Arab spring” that began in 2011, the Obama administration has followed this logic more aggressively by throwing the U.S’s longtime allies like Egypt’s Mubarak, under the bus in the name of democracy—a democracy that has been dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, which, as has been mentioned, shares the same ultimate goals of Zawahiri and other jihadists. Recent events—including unprecedented attacks on U.S. embassies in Egypt and Libya, ironically, the two nations the U.S. especially intervened in to pave the way for Islamist domination—only confirm this.
Zawahiri and the Muslim Brotherhood
While Zawahiri’s early decades in Egypt are mostly remembered in the context of the above—prestigious and academic background, clandestine radicalization, jihad, prison, followed by fleeing the country—the al-Qaeda leader has a long history with other Islamists groups in Egypt, such as the Muslim Brotherhood. Since the “Arab Spring” and ousting of longtime President Hosni Mubarak, it has been the Brotherhood who have, not only dominated Egyptian politics, but have a member, Muhammad Morsi, as Egypt’s first elected president.
Zawahiri joined the Brotherhood when he was only 14, then abandoned it to form his own cell less than two years later after Qutb’s execution. A proponent of the slogan “jihad alone,” Zawahiri soon became critical of the Brotherhood’s pragmatic strategies, and wrote an entire book in 1991 arguing against their nonviolent approach.
Titled Al Hissad Al Murr, or “The Bitter Harvest,” Zawahiri argued that the Brotherhood “takes advantage of the Muslim youths’ fervor by bringing them into the fold only to store them in a refrigerator. Then, they steer their onetime passionate, Islamic zeal for jihad to conferences and elections…. And not only have the Brothers been idle from fulfilling their duty of fighting to the death, but they have gone as far as to describe the infidel governments as legitimate, and have joined ranks with them in the ignorant style of governing, that is, democracies, elections, and parliaments.”
It is perhaps ironic that, for all his scathing remarks against them, time has revealed that the Muslim Brotherhood’s strategy of slowly infiltrating society from a grassroots approach has been more effective than Zawahiri’s and al-Qaeda’s jihadi terror. The Brotherhood’s patience and perseverance, by playing the political game, formally disavowing violence and jihad—all of which earned the ire of Zawahiri and others—have turned it into a legitimate player. Yet this does not make the Brotherhood’s goals any less troubling. For instance, according to a January 2012 Al Masry Al Youm report, Brotherhood leader Muhammad Badie stated that the group’s grand goal is the return of a “rightly guided caliphate and finally mastership of the world“—precisely what Zawahiri and al-Qaeda seek to achieve. Half a year later, in July 2012, Safwat Hegazy, a popular preacher and Brotherhood member, boasted that the Brotherhood will be “masters of the world, one of these days.”
Zawahiri and Egypt Today
In light of the Egyptian revolution that accomplished what Zawahiri had tried to accomplish for decades—overthrow the regime—what relevance does the al-Qaeda leader have for the Egyptian populace today? The best way to answer this question is in the context of Salafism—the popular Islamist movement in Egypt and elsewhere that is grounded in the teachings and patterns of early Islam, beginning with the days of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad and under the first four “righteously guided” caliphs.
As a Salafist organization, al-Qaeda is very popular with Salafis. Its current leader, the Egyptian Zawahiri, is especially popular—a “hero” in every sense of the word—with Egyptian Salafis. Considering that the Salafis won some 25 percent of votes in recent elections, one may infer that at least a quarter or of Egypt’s population looks favorably on Zawahiri. In fact, some important Salafis are on record saying they would like to see Zawahiri return to his native Egypt. Aboud al-Zomor, for instance, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad leader who was implicated for the assassination of Sadat, but who has now been released and is even a leading member of the new Egyptian parliament, has called for the return of Zawahiri to Egypt, “with his head held high and in safety.”
Zawahiri’s brother, Muhammad, is also an influential Islamist in Egypt, affiliated with the Salafis and Al Gamaa Al Islamiyya. He led a mass Islamist demonstration last spring with typical jihadi slogans. He also was among those threatening the U.S. embassy in Cairo to release the Blind Sheikh—the true reason behind the September attack, not a movie—or else be “burned down to the ground.” When asked in a recent interview with CNN if he is in touch with his al-Qaeda leader brother, Muhammad only smiled and said “of course not.”
Under Zawahiri’s leadership, al-Qaeda has made inroads on Egyptian territory. For example, several recent attacks in Sinai—such as the attacks on the Egypt-Israel natural-gas pipeline—were in fact conducted by a new group pledging allegiance to al-Qaeda. Zawahiri publicly congratulated them for destroying the pipelines, and the organization itself has pledged its loyalty to Zawahiri. More recently, al-Qaeda in the Sinai has been blamed for attacking and evicting Christian minorities living there.
This highlights the fact that groups like the Brotherhood and the Salafis have the same goals—establishment of a government that upholds Sharia law—though they differ as to achieve this. Salafis like al-Qaeda tend to agree that jihad is the solution. Yet, given the Brotherhood’s success using peaceful means—co-opting the language of democracy and running in elections—many Salafis are now “playing politics” even though many of them are also on record saying that, once in power, they will enforce Islamic law and abolish democracy.
It is not clear where Zawahiri stands regarding Egypt. Because of his deep roots there, Egypt undoubtedly holds a special place for Zawahiri. But as the leader of a global jihadi network, he cannot afford to appear biased to Egypt—hence why he addresses the politics of other nations, Pakistan for example, and themes like the Arab-Israeli conflict, with equal or more attention.
Likewise, there are different accounts regarding his personality traits and how they would comport with Egypt’s current state. For example, whereas his biographer described young Zawahiri as averse to the limelight and open to others’ opinions, most contemporary characterizations of Zawahiri suggest he is intractable and domineering—a product, perhaps, of some four decades of jihadi activities, as well as the aforementioned experiences. While the personality traits attributed to him in youth would certainly aid him in influencing Egyptian Islamist politics, those attributed to him now would not.
He has been away too long, and others have stepped in. Either way, to many Islamists around the world, Egypt in particular, Zawahiri is a hero—one of the few men to successfully strike the “great enemy,” America. Such near legendary status will always see to it that Ayman Zawahiri—and the Salafi ideology al-Qaeda helped popularize—remain popular among Egypt’s Islamists.


Army of Islam leader killed in Israeli airstrike

December 31, 2011

(Logo of the Global Jihad terror movemet)

(from 24 7 com/Reuters/Israel Defense Forces/Vlad Tepes) Muslims hold a funeral procession for Momen Abu Daf in the Gaza Strip on Friday, Dec. 30. Photo Credit: AP

Israel killed the leader of an al Qaeda-inspired faction in an airstrike on the Gaza Strip on Friday, accusing him of launching short-range rockets into the Jewish state.

Militants identified the man as Momen Abu Daf of the Army of Islam, part of a loose network of Palestinian groups that profess allegiance to al Qaeda and which have been reinforced by radical Salafi volunteers from neighbouring Egypt.
Abu Daf was killed when a missile hit Gaza City’s Zeitoun neighbourhood, the Hamas administration said. Five other Palestinians were wounded and one of them needed hospital treatment, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.

Actual IDF press release on this:Update: Muaman Abu-daf- Senior Global Jihad Operative Target: Military sources: “The terrorist who was targeted earlier this morning is Muaman Abu-daf, a senior operative in the Global Jihad terror movement. He orchestrated and executed numerous and varied terror attacks against Israeli citizens and IDF soldiers including laying explosive devices in the area adjacent to the security fence and was involved in different firing incidents. Furthermore, Abu-daf was actively involved in the preparations of the attempted terror attack on the Israel-Egypt border that was thwarted this week.”


The Muslim Brotherhood Unmasked

December 22, 2011

jihadWhile the current administration has a stake in referring to the Muslim Brotherhood as “moderate” and “largely secular,” there is a reality very different from the view at Foggy Bottom.

The Brotherhood is a popular movement of Islam founded in 1928 by Hasan al Banna, the most prominent representative of what is sometimes referred to as Islamism. For al Banna, whatever ails the Muslim world – the umma – can be addressed by the simple sentence: “Islam is the solution.” Religious law – Shariah, or “The Way – is to be restored to its central place as an organizing principle for every sphere of life.
From the Muslim Brotherhood’s point of view, whatever ails the world can be traced to the West’s pernicious influence. The West stole scientific secrets, deprived Muslims of their religious faith and converted them into docile subjects. While resentment is the main current of Islamism, it has curiously united with modern mass media to spread the faith. Similarly, while the West is deplored, the technical achievements of the West are often welcomed, and even aspects of democracy – such as the civil code – which can be exploited to advance Islam, are admired. The Brotherhood openly calls for free elections, but only as a way to gain and legitimate its authority. This duality is what confuses the detractors of Islamism. Hoping for the best, some critics rely on their assertions of what we would like to believe, that the Muslim Brotherhood is indeed “moderate” and “largely secular.”
In the recent Egyptian elections, journalists distinguished between the “moderate” Muslim Brotherhood and the extreme Salafists — without noting that al Banna considered himself a Salafist, as apparently do most of the members of the Brotherhood. The Islamist synthesis of modernity and tradition is attractive to those torn between these two ideological perspectives. But make no mistake, the Muslim Brotherhood accepts modernity only to the extent it confirms an uncompromising commitment to religious dogma and imperial political designs.
According to the Islamist world view, Allah has vouchsafed to mankind a full and perfect doctrine of human behavior. And to the extent the political order is predicated on divine decree, there isn’t room for rejection, whether it be in the name of democracy or individual rights. Laws cannot be passed that explicitly challenge the commands of Allah. If people can be permitted to do what Allah has forbidden, Shariah law can never be compatible with liberal democracy. If the Koran, written by the Archangel Gabriel, at the behest of Allah, says the consumption of alcohol is forbidden, there is no authority that can grant legislative sanction. In this case, as in so many others, the religious value system guarantees “civilized” behavior. So when Islamists say they want representative government, what they mean is legislation compatible with the Koran.
Who is the ultimate arbiter of state-based legislation? The imams who reflect the wisdom and compassion of Allah. For the Brotherhood, there must be absolute loyalty to fixed and eternal rules, a condition that inevitably suffocates research, free will, science and art.
Egypt is now caught in a web woven by the Muslim Brotherhood. Democracy without the Brotherhood is inconceivable, and democracy with the Brotherhood is impossible. The movement cannot be denied if free elections are permitted, but the infrastructure of democracy cannot be created so long as there is a formal adherence to Shariah.
Yet ,in most Arab countries the Muslim Brotherhood is the best organized group. This grants it an advantage over liberal rivals that are splintered into many fractions. If the West confronts the Brotherhood’s leadership, it merely confirms the belief that the conspiracists are right in theor beief that the West is trying to undermine Islam. If the West does not confront the Islamists, the liberals are bound to be defeated. Damned if you do; damned if you don’t. In a Kantian sense, democratic impulses should – at some point – rise to the surface, especially if Brotherhood policies do not produce jobs or adequate food supplies. Dictatorships have a way of destroying themselves when the “eternal verities” that they hold onto cannot yield the basic human needs that have been promised. It is one thing to be a good Muslim who prays five times a day; it is quite another thing to rely on one meal a day for sustenance.

Herbert London is president emeritus of Hudson Institute, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book Decline and Revival in Higher Education (Transaction Books).


The Nour Party – Egyptian Wahhabis Exploiting the ‘Salafi’ Mask

December 20, 2011
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(Nour Party chairman tries to ease fears | Al-Masry Al-Youm: Today’s News from Egypt – Emad Abdel Ghafour, the party’s chairman Photographed by Noha El-Hennawy)

(hudson-ny.org) The extreme Islamist “Nour Party” [“Party of the Light”], with 25% of the ballots, produced the biggest surprise of the first round of Egypt’s parliamentary voting at the end of November. Its advance overshadowed, in media attention, the widely-anticipated 40% received by the Muslim Brotherhood. The Nour Party had formed a coalition, the “Democratic Alliance for Egypt,” with the Brotherhood but withdrew from it in September. The Brotherhood and the Nour Party are now in bitter competition.

Commentaries, although reflecting shock in the Arab and international media on the Nour Party’s rise, were predictable. The media have accommodated the Nour Party by referring to it under the party’s preferred ideological banner as “Salafis,” or by describing its supporters as “religious conservatives.” The truth is different. The Nour Party embodies Wahhabism, the fanatical interpretation of Islam that is the sole official religious doctrine in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The media have tiptoed around the authentic character of the Nour Party, with leading sources noting only that the Nour Party’s program is derived from or influenced by Saudi Wahhabism. But the Nour Party reproduces Wahhabism – the ideology that inspired Osama Bin Laden – in its entirety.
The term “Salafi” refers to a Muslim who emulates the first three generations of Muhammad’s companions and successors. Traditional Muslims and conscientious historians recognize the falsity of the Wahhabis masquerading as “Salafis.” For moderate Muslims, comparing oneself to the pioneering figures in Islamic history is offensively arrogant. In addition, a “Salafi” reform movement existed in the 19th century, but unlike the Wahhabi “Salafis,” the 19th century “Salafis,” such as Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905), an Egyptian scholar and writer, were not violent and did not preach against the West.
The 19th century “Salafis” sought to modernize Islam and adapt it to Western modes of thought. They also condemned spiritual Sufism, as do today’s Wahhabi “Salafis.” But unlike the recent Wahhabi “Salafis,” the 19th century group did not demand the right to expel Muslims from the global Islamic community over doctrinal differences, and then kill them as “apostates” – as the Wahhabi “Salafis” have been doing in Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Egypt, and Iraq, among other countries. The 19th century “Salafi” reformers appealed to Muslims to imitate the personal integrity and dedication of the early Muslims, but did not seek to reinforce abuse of women, hatred of non-Muslims, or limitations on free thought. They, in fact, prized freedom of inquiry as an Islamic value.
Wahhabis know that Muslims hate and fear them for their terrorist acts and repressive practices in Saudi Arabia. Few Egyptians admire or to desire to live under a Saudi-Wahhabi system. That is why, with the complicity of Western media, the Egyptian Wahhabis have adopted the term “Salafi”. But they should not be allowed to pretend that they are conservative imitators of the early Muslim generations when instead their views are radical.
There is no mistaking the Wahhabi foundation of the Nour Party’s politics. Its male leaders and candidates affect the untrimmed beard cultivated by Wahhabis, in an alleged imitation of Muhammad. They claim to have a single real candidate: Muhammad. In an obvious mimicry of past Saudi-Wahhabi restrictions on women, the Nour Party relegated women candidates (whom Egyptian law required be included) to the bottom of their list to prevent any from being elected. The Nour Party’s leader, Yasser Borhami, denounced participation by women in parliament as “corruption.”
Nour Party representatives in Egypt have said they would reinstitute payment by all non-Muslims of the jizya tax, an obsolete Islamic practice that exists in no other Muslim country. Borhami has also called Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority, who make up 10% of the population, “unbelievers.” One prominent, if unsuccessful, Nour Party aspirant to office, Abdel Moneim Al-Shahat, referred to the writings of Egypt’s Nobel Prize winning author, Naguib Mahfouz, as the “literature of prostitution.” Al-Shahat, who appears frequently on television talk shows, appealed for the Pharaonic statues that are a part of Egypt’s pre-Islamic cultural legacy to be covered with wax because they had, in the past, been worshipped as idols – the same attitude that impelled the Taliban to destroy the Bamiyan statues of Buddha in Afghanistan.
In addition to flattering the Nour Party by referring to it as “Salafi” or “conservative,” the media have further softened the image of the Egyptian Wahhabis by labelling them “Puritan.” This they are, but while “Puritan” has lost its edge as an item in Western religious history, Islamic Puritanism represents an exaggerated attempt to return to the world as it existed in Muhammad’s time. Representatives of the Nour Party are vague when they discuss some of their most basic objectives, which include Shariah [“The Path:” Islamic religious law] as common law; gender segregation of unmarried or unrelated people; enforced full-body covering for women; promotion of “Islamic banking” as a leading economic institution, and a ban on alcohol among non-Muslims.
Except for Saudi Arabia, which supports a non-traditional, arbitrary form of Shariah as public law, and enclaves in Africa, Pakistan, and Indonesia, every Muslim country in the world has adopted Western canons of common law, and left the interpretation of Shariah as applicable exclusively to religious matters. Article 2 of the Egyptian Constitution now states that the “principal source of legislation by the state is Islamic jurisprudence (sharia).” This left space for the retention of non-religious law, since Islamic jurisprudence recognizes the validity of non-Islamic common law. A Shariah-state experiment in Sudan failed after the South Sudanese rejected it, and led to the division of the country. The current ruler of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, has threatened to adopt something like Egypt’s law, likewise defining Shariah as a “principal source” of legislation, although his government has not yet done so. The Nour Party would subject Egypt to an experiment in applying religious jurisprudence as the only, rather than the “principal,” basis for law.
Whether family or inheritance law should follow universal standards, or Shariah guidelines that discriminate against women, is widely argued in the Muslim countries. Morocco, for example, in 2004 adopted a family code that: makes women equal heirs to property; bars marriage of women against their will; allows wives to prohibit their husbands from engaging in polygamy, and to divorce their husbands if they take a second wife; places divorce under secular, rather than religious authority, and makes domestic violence by men a basis for divorce by women. The recent electoral success of a Muslim Brotherhood local branch, the Justice and Development Party, may affect the status of this law, but it is unlikely given that the law is supported by the king, Mohammed VI.
From early in Islamic history, Muslim scholars have argued that Shariah was legitimate only in dealing with matters of religion, and that Islamic law could draw on existing, pre-Islamic law and custom. In addition, Muhammad called on Muslims who migrate to non-Muslim lands to accept the laws and customs of the countries to which they move. This pattern – Shariah as appropriate only to aspects of faith – dominated the Islamic world for almost a millennium, ever since the Mongols, who conquered Baghdad in 1258 CE, accepted Islam but refused to abandon their Mongol customary law. The same pattern was seen in the Ottoman Empire, which preserved its Turkish customary law. If the radicals of the Nour Party were to have their way, however, the basic law of Egypt, which is borrowed from French law, would be abolished.
Even Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has eased the influence of extreme Wahhabis in the judiciary of his country. The Saudi monarch has reduced the financing of the infamous morals patrols or mutawiyin – often wrongly called the “morals police,” but in reality a body of militia and volunteers. He also opened up opportunities for women to participate in professional and public life, although they are still not allowed to drive a car, travel, open a bank account, or see a doctor without the permission of a male relative or guardian. In reality, in rural areas, driving by women is common but overlooked.
The unmentioned factor in the emergence of the Nour Party has to do with its financing: Who provided funds for the organization of a new and expanding political party in Egypt? Before the election, Nour Party representatives discounted concerns by their Egyptian opponents that they were backed by Arabian Gulf states, which for decades had paid for Wahhabi “Salafi” mosques and networks of Islamic charities in Egypt. Kuwait and Qatar have been mentioned as backers of the Nour Party, but solid evidence is scarce. This is not surprising, as the Wahhabi “Salafis” are not known for transparency in their financing; to discover the source of Nour’s backing still requires investigation. While the Saudis have been mentioned as a possible backer of the Nour Party, there is not yet any evidence to support that theory. The disconcerting gains of the Nour Party suggest that it has nevertheless benefitted from large financial donations, which might come from outside the country, or from political support from inside the existing Egyptian institutions, rather than because of a pure religious fervour animating a large pool of volunteers.
From a different perspective, on December 9, Time magazine quoted an Egyptian as saying, “I think the deal has already been made between the Islamists and SCAF [the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the Egyptian military that ousted Hosni Mubarak], and SCAF wants them in power,” said Shadi al-Ghazaly Harb, a liberal young politician whose Awareness Party fared poorly. “I think SCAF wants to scare everyone with the Islamists — the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis — so that they will push an ex-military figure forward as the next presidential candidate. That will be the true end of the revolution.”
One aspect of the appeal of the Egyptian Wahhabi “Salafi” movement – observed before, in the history of both the Muslim Brotherhood and radical Islamist groups in South Asia – was noted in the London Financial Times of December 9 by Borzou Daragahi: “Nour’s educated and professional supporters and leaders tend to hail from modest backgrounds – recent arrivals to the middle class, perhaps bitter that their education or newfound wealth did not bring them the status that comes with lineage and connections.”
Wahhabi “Salafi” Islam often reflects frustrated upward mobility and rising expectations, rather than desperation and poverty. The overeducated and underemployed in Egypt and elsewhere have no plan they think can resolve their problems, so they withdraw into an irrational fantasy of Muslim life in the past. This view is not conservative, but radical; it is dangerous for Egypt, for Islam, and for the world.


Egypt’s Islamic Extremists Claim Landslide Win

December 19, 2011
Muslim Brotherhood
Israel news photo: Muslim Brotherhood
(israelnationalnews) Egypt’s two largest Islamic extremist parties claim they won nearly 70 percent of the votes in the second round of legislative elections. The Islamic parties won approximately 65 of the votes in the first round of elections last month.,
The complex elections call on eligible Egyptians to vote for party lists that will make up two-thirds of the parliament, while individual candidates run for the other third.
The Muslim Brotherhood, running under the euphemistic name Freedom and Justice, said it won 39 percent of the votes in the contest between parties. The Salafist Islam party, named Al-Nur, said it won more than 39 percent of the ballots.
There were no declared winners in the vote for individual candidates, who face a run-off on Wednesday.
The Muslim Brotherhood formerly was ordered off-limits to American officials before the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak earlier this year. Realizing that anti-American and anti-Israel party would likely be the dominant force in Egypt, the Obama administration decided to “engage” the Muslim Brotherhood, and the president even spoke optimistically about it.
However, the strong showing by the Salafists is another in a long line of “surprises” to the American government, which promoted Palestinian Authority legislative elections five years ago and ended up with the Hamas terrorist organization as the ruling party. Hamas was created by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Iran is thrilled with election results.
Mahmoud Ghazlan, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, told Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency, “Cairo will never allow a continuation of the Gaza blockade,” referring to Israel’s maritime embargo on Hamas-controlled Gaza to prevent more terrorists and weapons from reaching Gaza.
“Ghazlan blasted the former Egyptian regime’s silence over Israel’s crimes against the innocent people of the Gaza Strip, and said the new regime in Cairo will certainly pick up a new approach towards Palestine and the Palestinian issue,” the Iranian news agency reported.

Thanks Liberals and Progressives! You Obama people are swell!


Nobel Peace Prize to Member of Terror-linked Group, No Questions Asked

October 17, 2011
anti-government rally outside Sanaa University. Photograph: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters
(by Ryan Mauro October 17, 2011 at 3:30 AM via HUDSON NY / image via Left Hand of Feminism)

On October 7, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to three women’s rights activists, including the first Arab woman winner. Her name is Tawakul Karman; she is a member of a Muslim Brotherhood party with an Al-Qaeda-linked official as one of its senior leaders. The committee chairman acknowledged her membership and said the West’s opinion of the Muslim Brotherhood is wrong. To the committee, the Islamist ideology — complete with leaders who recommend suicide bombings and provide material support to terrorists — and peace are not mutually exclusive.
Karman is a 32-year old journalist with three children. She leads an organization called, Women Journalists Without Chains. To her credit, she has fought for women’s rights and has been imprisoned for challenging Yemeni President Saleh. She was instrumental in the Arab Spring’s manifestation in Yemen, and is an adversary of the Salafists. She wants legislation passed against child marriage. She boldly stopped wearing the niqab in 2004 and appeared on television without it.
Although these are admirable causes, the fact remains that Karman chooses to sit on the Shura Council of Islah, the Yemeni branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Islah was founded in 1990 and has three pillars of support: Tribes, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists. The Islamist party has been extremely critical of Yemen’s relationship with the U.S. and wants a religious police to “promote virtue and curb vice.” It has been revealed that Anwar al-Awlaki hid in three homes owned by Islah members before he was killed by an American drone. One home belonged to Amin al-Okaimi, the chairman of Islah. The second safehouse was owned by al-Awlaki’s driver, whose brother is a high-level Islah official. The third house was Sheikh Abdul Majid al-Zindani’s, a co-founder of Islah that can be referred to as Yemen’s version of Shiekh Yousef al-Qaradawi.
Zindani’s leadership role in Islah proves that the party is not moderate by any standard. In 2004, the U.S. Treasury Department labeled him a “specially designated terrorist” for arming, recruiting and funding for Al-Qaeda. He also has links to Ansar al-Islam, an Al-Qaeda affiliate in Iraq. A U.S. federal court said that he coordinated the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 and a lawsuit accuses him of having personally chosen the two suicide bombers for the attack.
The university he founded in Sanaa has been indoctrinating students since its founding in 1993. John Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban” who was captured while fighting U.S. forces in Afghanistan, went to school here. Anwar al-Awlaki did as well, and even was a lecturer from 2004 to 2005. The terrorist who tried to set off a bomb in his underwear onboard a flight to Detroit, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was also in Sanaa during this time for “education.” It has not been proven, but there is a reasonable suspicion that Abdulmutallab and al-Awlaki met at Zindani’s school.
Zindani is very close to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. He is an official with the Union of Good, a network of charities overseen by Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi, the top Muslim Brotherhood theologian. This network is used by Hamas for fundraising. In April 2006, Zindani met with Khaled Mashall, the leader of Hamas, at a fundraiser in Yemen. Zindani urged the crowd to donate to Hamas.
Islah claims that Zindani has no connection to Al-Qaeda or terrorism at all. Even if that were true, his extremist preaching should be enough for Yemeni democratic activists to condemn him: He speaks in favor of Hamas’ suicide bombings and preaches that “an Islamic state is coming.” He is fervently anti-American, telling his followers that the “so-called war on terror is in fact a war against Islam.” It logically follows that Muslims who fight the U.S. military engaged in the war on terror are defending Islam.
Tawakul Karman’s fight for women’s rights and free elections has drawn the ire of some of her Islah colleagues. Zindani is in favor of allowing underage girls to get married to full-grown men. Some clerics in the opposition have spoken out against her. This is positive, but as Michael Rubin writes, “Karman may be honorable, but certainly it is worth asking her how she can affiliate with a party whose co-founder embraces such positions.”
She may argue that Islah is the most viable alternative to Saleh, but the opposition umbrella group to which Islah belongs is diverse. Why stick with Islah? If she feels that the other parties are no better, then why not create her own? She is a rock star in the Arab world and certainly has the following to start her own party.
The Nobel Peace Prize committee did not even begin asking these questions. In fact, the chairman even upheld the Muslim Brotherhood as a positive force. Norwegian Nobel Committee chairman Thorbjoern Jagland said that the group knew about her Muslim Brotherhood ties, acknowledging that “in the West [it] is perceived as a threat to democracy.” To him, her Brotherhood affiliation was far from a disqualifier. He said the West is wrong to fear the group. “I don’t believe that [the West’s view]. There are many signals that, that kind of movement can be an important part of the solution.”
The Nobel Peace Prize committee is supposed to recognize those who fight for human rights, justice, peace and good-will. Instead, it has honored a prominent member of a Muslim Brotherhood party that has an Al-Qaeda-linked preacher of hate among its leadership. The Nobel Peace Prize committee has lost whatever credibility it had left.

She shows no sign of reform beyond her twat, which is fine… but hardly worthy of praise.


The 1954 Miss World pageant was won by – Miss Egypt

September 21, 2011

(EOZ) Al Arabiya has an interesting article: More tolerance prevailed, linking religion to state never seemed that necessary, and the Muslim Brotherhood were the only Islamist group in 1954, whereas in 2011 moderation is quickly diminishing, fanatical interpretations of Islam are gaining ground, and another religious faction emerged as the Brotherhood’s rival and has become more popular in the Egyptian street: the Salafis.

A 1954 beauty pageant is a simple, but important, example of the absence of religious fanaticism at the time. In that year, Egyptians chose Antigone Costanda, an Alexandrian of Greek origin, to be Miss Egypt, and in the same year she was crowned Miss World and appeared on stage dressed in a bathing suit in the ceremony held in London. (MORE)