Three years ago I met Ahmed Ashoush at a demonstration in Cairo. He and his fellow Salafi-Jihadis gathered outside the French Embassy to protest against French military intervention in Mali, where an Islamic insurgency was pressing toward the capital. It was a calm but angry affair, with many pictures of Osama bin Laden and chants for the worldwide supremacy of Islam.
A little later Ashoush agreed to an interview. We and three of his colleagues met with Cornelis Hulsman at the Arab West Report office in Maadi, Cairo, and discussed the philosophy behind their movement, their dreams for the future, and the activism to help them get there.
I have previously written about this encounter and the Salafi-Jihadis here, here, here, and here, but for the first time a full transcript of the interview is available. AWR is preparing a book on the post-Arab Spring Islamist movements of Egypt, post-Arab Spring but pre-fall of Morsi. In support of the chapter on Salafi-Jihadism, Jeanne Rizkallah has provided a full translation.
Ahmed Ashoush is currently in prison, convicted for attacking a satellite telecom facility in Maadi.
It was a fascinating interview, and very strange. Almost the entire time Ashoush directed his answers toward his colleagues, and avoided eye contact. This was neither evasive nor shy, but it felt as if he wished to address a friendly audience. But in terms of interaction he was most often direct in providing clear answers to challenging issues, however much resemblance they bore to common Salafi or jihadi themes.
Here is an excerpt, and please click here to read the full transcript at Arab West Report.
JC: With regard to the aspect of administration, would you define Al-Salafiyia al-Jihādiyia as an organization?
AA- No, we do not define ourselves in terms of organizational structures. We are concerned with matters of our faith and religious doctrines. We are now a Da`wa, an open call that invites to all what is good, enjoining to face the psychological warfare that the United States of America and the western colonialism is raiding against us, to rectify wrong and erroneous terminologies like the words ‘terrorism’ and ‘moderate Islam’.
In fact, the term ‘moderate’ has been used to distort the religious concepts of Islam, and to distort the concepts of real facts, such as the treason practiced by Arab rulers. These terms have been distorted to serve the interests and gains acquired through the American psychological warfare.
Let me cite an example: the number of car types, of airplanes you produce in your country, America if compared with the production in Arab countries, or in Egypt. Who is responsible for the state of underdevelopment the Arab countries are in? Not the peoples but the governments; the politicians, not the common people, are to be held accountable. This state of backwardness is unbearable.
When we in the Muslim world want to defend our nations, we import arms and ammunition from the West; when we want to cure illnesses, we have to import medication; when we need medical treatment, we seek a medical doctor from Europe. Who is to be held accountable for all these detrimental situations? A serious crime of betrayal of this nation has been committed, and the Arab rulers should be punished now on the ground, and in the process of history.
Our peoples are not aware of these facts. We will place these realities before them.
JC: How do you perceive the change of Egypt from within?
AA – Our major concern now is to achieve a change in thought and mentality. Our struggle as Salafi Jihādis is to first change the Egyptian mentality that has been strongly afflicted by the corrupt media structure, the treacherous liberal politics that had succeeded to systematically distort the people’s thought.
Our goal is to bring back the authenticity of [Islamic] thought to the people, to disclose the truth, to revive in them the power of their belief. The Egyptian common people need to identify and define what is good for them, and around who they want to coalesce; with Islam, or with America, or with Russia? With the rulers or with the non-ruling?
This dynamic battle is crucial for us. We are fighting the mentality of colonization, of abduction that has been imposed by both the American and European occupations. We are combating Muslims, Arabs, and Egyptians that had linked their existence and interests to the European oppressor.
JC: How would you classify your activities?
AA – We have a number of activities. We also publish books and articles; we organize lectures, meetings, and mass appearances. We are active on a number of levels, however, we work under oppression, and we are still forced into a position of weakness, and after so many years spent in prisons, we do not have the financial means.
All our resources, the financial as well as the physical ones, have been destroyed. But we do not succumb. The Salafi Jihādi is a warrior who rather dies on the battlefield rather than on his bed deprived of self-determination. To die in striving to raise the banner of Allah until victory is much better than to live in submissive compliance.