Al-Qaeda’s Egyptian Ideologues Planning Caliphate’s Return to Egypt

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 27

The late Osama bin Laden with his Egyptian successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

While al-Qaeda focused on the global jihad under the leadership of the late Osama bin Laden, an examination of the speeches and publications of his Egyptian successor, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, show that renewing his own failed jihad in Egypt has never been far from al-Zawahiri’s mind.

• In speeches delivered before February 2010, al- Zawahiri mentioned Egypt 226 times, second only to the United States (mentioned 636 times).

• Al Zawahiri recently released the last in his six-part series about Egypt titled “The Message of Hope and Good Tidings for Our People in Egypt.” The last four of its six parts focused on the Egyptian Revolution and ex-president Hosni Mubarak.

• In The Exoneration, his last and most important book, al-Zawahiri referred to Egypt 195 times and Mubarak 41 times while referring to Saudi leaders only once and the Kingdom not at all. The United States was mentioned 150 times. [1]

These works reveal the central position of Egypt in al Zawahiri’s thought and suggest the direction al-Qaeda may take now that al-Zawahiri has assumed leadership of the movement.

Conditions in Egypt now provide a suitable environment for al-Qaeda following the chaos in the internal security services, the rise of Salafist movements and the release from detention of a number of jihadi ideologues and the return of others from abroad. Al-Zawahiri may see a golden opportunity to renew jihad activities in Egypt after he was forced to suspend the activities of the Egyptian Jihad movement in 1995 due to the movement’s inability to cope with severe pressure from the Egyptian security forces.

Al-Qaeda is expected to witness a new phase of activity coinciding with the popular Arab revolutions that may see the movement grow stronger due to al-Zawahiri’s pragmatism and deep and effective relations with a number of al-Qaeda sub-organizations in the Maghreb, the Horn of Africa, Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula.

Al-Zawahiri claims to support the revolutions in Syria, Libya and Yemen, insisting they will result in an Islamic state with the help of an alliance of Islamist and jihadist groups. The al-Qaeda leader’s views are mirrored in the works of Anwar al-Awlaki on the Yemeni Revolution and those of Attiya Allah al-Libi on the Libyan Revolution (for Attiya, see Terrorism Monitor, August 12, 2010; June 9).

A process of ideological reconsideration is taking place in Egypt’s Salafist leadership. Some have opted for political action while others have announced they will focus on the Islamic Call. All of them stress the need for an Islamic state and Shari’a rule.

This process requires very little departure from the decisions adopted by many of the Islamist movements in Egypt to renounce violence since 1997. Nonetheless, the debate within the Egyptian Islamic Group over its future course has ended with the departure of a number of its historically prominent leaders and the appointment of cousins Aboud and Tarek al-Zomor as new leaders. The two were freed from three decades of imprisonment during the revolution after being connected to the assassination of President Anwar al-Sadat in 1981. [2] Despite describing al-Zawahiri as “a man who loves his religion and justice,” the cousins have been eager to reassure Egyptians that they have renounced violence and believe the Islamic state in Egypt will be established “at the ballot box” (The Daily News Egypt, March 21).

Al Zawahiri’s view of the Arab revolutions and the role of Islamists and mujahideen were outlined in his series “The Message of Hope and Assurance for Our People in Egypt.” In his perspective, America retreated from supporting the overthrown leaders in Tunisia and Egypt as a result of al-Qaeda’s activities. Al-Zawahiri also warned of “predators” who would seek to manipulate the revolutions in their own interests and insisted that “secular change” was not an option for the people of Egypt, claiming Shari’a has been the demand of the vast majority of Egyptians since the death of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna in 1949.

Perhaps in keeping with the revolutionary demands for social reforms, al-Zawahiri also addresses “social injustice” in a nationalist fashion unfamiliar to most Salafi-Jihadi literature:

“Egypt must begin a popular campaign to regain the Egyptians’ rights, especially those of the impoverished, and this campaign must seek to uproot the social injustice, poverty, needs and short-handedness in Egypt. Islamic advocacy must consider the social justice cases as one of its main priorities. The Prophet (p.b.u.h.) said: “the believer is one who doesn’t feel fed while his neighbor is hungry next to him.” The zakat obligation must be revived… Stealing Egypt’s resources must stop, and the clearest example is exporting gas to Israel, which the Egyptian judiciary ruled on and disallowed, and in spite of that the military council keeps exporting it to Israel” (As-Sahab Media/al-Fajr Media Center, May 21).

Al-Zawahiri has repeatedly warned of U.S. attempts to install a secular leader in Egypt after having abandoned its ally, first in a February 28 statement, again in two parts of “The Message of Hope and Assurance for Our People in Egypt,” and finally in  “The Noble Knight Alighted,” his June 8 eulogy of Bin Laden. Al-Zawahiri has highlighted in various speeches the need to prepare for an Islamic state after these revolutions and the importance of making alliances with other Islamic forces in revolutionary countries to prevent the establishment of a secular state.

Explaining this vision was a recent essay released by al-Qaeda entitled “The People’s Revolution and the End of Forced Rule” (al-Fajr Media Center, June 1). The document was written by Egyptian al-Qaeda member Abu Ubaydah Abdallah al-Adm, who appears to be very close to the movement’s high command.

The essay outlines a strategic vision for al-Qaeda in dealing with the popular revolutions and interpreting them in a religious way favorable to the various Islamist movements, especially those with a focus on restoring the Islamic state (the Caliphate), such as al-Qaeda and Egyptian Jihad.

In his paper, Al-Adm explains that the revolutions and overthrow of regimes represent the end of forced rule or tyrannies, a phase that followed the eras of the prophets and Caliphates. Al-Adm believes that these revolutions hasten the arrival of the Islamic state, though he notes that the establishment of such a state may be preceded by a period of chaos – possibly as long as 50 years, as suggested by Syrian jihad theorist Mus’ab al-Suri (a.k.a. Mustafa Setmariam Nasar).  In al-Adm’s view, God has driven these revolutions, supporting the mujahideen as the Muslim people wake up to reject everything else but Islamic Shari’a.

At the end of the paper, al-Adm emphasizes that “The Global Jihad Movement, no doubt, is waiting for the fruits of this popular movement in which it sacrificed the blood of its members and spent decades calling for it and fighting to plant the idea in the minds of Muslims who rose up today demonstrating [against] the tyrannical oppression they used to face. Al-Qaeda paved the way for these revolutions and waits for its fruits…”


1. Al-Zawahiri’s book (Full title: A Treatise Exonerating the Community of the Pen and the Sword from the Debilitating Accusation of Fatigue and Weakness) was a March 2008 refutation of a book entitled Tarshid al-amal al-jihadi fi misr wa al-alam (Rationalizing the Jihadi Action in Egypt and the World) by the imprisoned founder of the Islamic Jihad organization, Sayed Imam Abdulaziz al-Sharif (a.k.a. Dr. Fadl). (See Terrorism Focus, April 30, 3008).
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