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Friday, June 17, 2011

Zawahiri Zeitgeist

Since the early 1990s, Osama Bin Laden was the face – and originator – of Al Qaeda (the “Base” or more likely, according to some Al Qaeda watchers, the “Database”).  Ayman al-Zawihiri, approximately four years Bin Laden’s senior, was content to play second fiddle as Osama’s doctor and advisor in all things Islam.  After all, Al Qaeda was Osama’s creation, his baby.

The same scholars had long cautioned that al-Zawihiri was the more dangerous of the two.  Now that Osama is dead and Zawahiri has taken command of the organization, we’re about to find out if they were right about Zawahiri.  Bin Laden’s death couldn’t have come at a more propitious moment, what with the “Arab Spring” and the riots in Egypt, for Al-Zawahiri – an Egyptian – to take over.

There couldn’t be a more striking contrast between two men – the tall, at one time good-looking (sorry; anyway, not so much later in life, was he?) and charismatic (well, to Muslim adolescents) Bin Laden to the more diminutive, scholarly, and pious Al-Zawahiri.  While the very wealthy Bin Laden was enjoying his college education in Arabic, but westernized Saudi Arabia, Al-Zawahiri, a scion of a well-to-do but not as quite-as-well-to-do Egyptian family.  One of his relatives was the president of an Islamic university.

Al-Zawahiri was radicalized at an earlier age, and was enough of an Islamic scholar that it’s not likely he’ll meet his fate watching porn videos on an ancient television, trying to escape his 9 wives and 23 children.  Al-Zawahiri spent time in prison and claimed to be tortured.  Evidently, so was Bin Laden.

According to Wikipedia (always a caution sign), he was born to a prominent upper middle class family in Maadi, Egypt, a suburb of Cairo, and was reportedly a studious youth. His father, Mohammed Rabie al-Zawahiri, came from a large family of doctors and scholars. Mohammed Rabie—a Muslim fanatic—became a surgeon, and a medical professor at Cairo University. Ayman al-Zawahiri's mother, Umayma Azzam, came from a wealthy, politically active clan. Ayman excelled in school, loved poetry, hated violent sports - which he thought were inhumane  (they must have made him play dodge ball)  - and had a deep affection for his mother.
Under the influence of his uncle Mahfouz Azzam, and lecturer Mostafa Kamel Wasfi, he became both quite pious and political. He was also a follower of Sayyid Qutb, who preached that to restore Islam and free Muslims, a vanguard of true Muslims modeling itself after the original Companions of the Prophet had to be developed.

By the age of 14, al-Zawahiri had joined the Muslim Brotherhood. The following year, the Egyptian government executed Qutb for conspiracy, and al-Zawahiri, along with four other secondary school students, helped form an “underground cell devoted to overthrowing the government and establishing an Islamist state.”  It was at this early age that al-Zawahiri developed a mission in life, “to put Qutb's vision into action.” 

His cell eventually merged with others to form al-Jihad or Egyptian Islamic Jihad.   Al-Zawahiri graduated from Cairo University in 1974.  He then served three years as a surgeon in the Egyptian Army after which he established a clinic near his parents.   In 1978, he also earned a master's degree in surgery.  He ultimately became one of Egyptian Islamic Jihad's leading organizers and recruiters. Zawahiri's hope was to recruit military officers and accumulate weapons, waiting for the right moment to launch “a complete overthrow of the existing order.”  Aboud al-Zumar, Chief strategist of Al-Jihad and a colonel in the military intelligence, planned was to kill the main leaders of the country, capture the headquarters of the army and State Security, the telephone exchange building, and of course the radio and television building, where news of the Islamic revolution would then be broadcast, unleashing – he expected – a popular uprising against secular authority all over the country.”  Al-Zumar, it appears, was simply ahead of his time.
The plan was derailed when authorities were alerted to Al-Jihad's plan by the arrest of an  operative carrying crucial information, in February 1981.   Pres. Anwar Sadat ordered the roundup of more than 1500 people, including many Al-Jihad members, but missed a cell in the military led by Lieutenant Khalid Islambouli, who succeeded in assassinating Sadat during a military parade that October.   Al-Zawahiri was one of hundreds arrested following Sadat's assassination.  He was convicted of dealing in weapons and received a three-year sentence, which he completed in 1984, shortly after his conviction.

In 1985, al-Zawahiri went to Saudi Arabia on Hajj and stayed to practice medicine in Jeddah for a year.  He was reported to have first met bin Laden there a little later in 1986.  He then traveled to Peshawar, Pakistan where he worked in a Red Crescent hospital treating wounded refugees. There he became friends with the Canadian Ahmed Khadr, and the two shared a number of conversations about the need for Islamic government and the needs of the Afghan people.  During this time, al-Zawahiri also began reconstituting the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) along with other exiled militants. In Peshwar, al-Zawahiri is thought to have become radicalized by other Al-Jihad members.  He also met up with Osama bin Laden, who was running a base for mujahideen called Maktab al-Khadamat (MAK) founded by the Palestinian Sheikh Abdullah Yusuf Azzam. The radical position of al-Zawahiri and the other militants of Al-Jihad put them at odds with Sheikh Azzam, with whom they competed for bin Laden's financial resources. Zawahiri carried two false passports.

In 1993, shaving off his beard and wearing Western clothes, Zawahiri traveled to the United States, where he addressed several California mosques under his Abdul Mu'iz pseudonym, relying on his credentials from the Kuwaiti Red Crescent to raise money for Afghan children who had been injured by Soviet land mines.  Meanwhile, he sent his younger brother, Muhammad al-Zawahiri, to the Balkans to help lead the mujaheddin fighters in Bosnia.  Muhammed is known as a logistics expert and is said to be the military commander of Islamic Jihad.  Muhammed worked in Bosnia, Croatia, and Albania under the cover of being an International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) official.  While hiding in the United Arab Emirates, he was arrested in 2000, then extradited to Egypt where he was sentenced to death.  He was held in Tora Prison in Cairo as a political detainee.  Security officials said he was the head of the Special Action Committee of Islamic Jihad, which organized terrorist operations. However, after the Egyptian popular uprising in the spring of 2011, on March 17, 2011 he was released from prison by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the interim government of Egypt.  His lawyer said he had been held to extract information about his brother.  However, he was re-arrested three days later.

If even half of what Wikipedia states is correct, he is bad news.  Now that the Muslim Brotherhood basically controls the Egyptian government, and other regimes, flush with the funds of exiled leaders, they have both the money and the power to accomplish goals, or will have soon.

A better source of information on al-Zawahiri are authors like Andrew McCarthy, who wrote about Sheik Abdel Rahman, another radical Egyptian who spent time in the Egyptian prison right alongside Qutb.  He writes about al-Zawahiri as well, describing his scholarly upbringing and his youthful radicalization into the ways of Islamic Jihad.  In his recent column, McCarthy writes about the Islamic radicalization hearings being conducted by Congressman Peter King of New York.

McCarthy advises King to consult the real experts in Islamic radicalization – those intelligent intelligence gatherers who’ve gotten their information through research and investigation, rather than through Radical Islam’s public relations arm.  McCarthy notes that a recent study has revealed that 80 percent of mosques in America distribute violent, anti-Western Islamic propaganda.

Osama Bin Laden may have been able to recruit stupid young Muslims to blow themselves up in the name of Islam.  But once Islam’s boot is on the throat of the West, an al-Zawhiri will be needed to bring together all the high-level players to “restore the Caliphate” and prepare the way for their Mahdi.

Bin Laden was scary.  We’re all relieved that he’s at the bottom of the sea.  But another, worse monster is rising up in his place, and possibly another in his.  Al-Zawahiri is shaping up to be a man for his times.  Now we just need to elect a man for ours.  The Arabs may have had their Spring.  Summer approaches, and Autumn behind it.  Autumn of 2012, however, is the time we must look to for new leadership. 

Who will be the man – or woman – for America’s times?

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