Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

The Ideology and Activism of Ahmed Ashoush, Currently Imprisoned Leader of the Salafi-Jihadis

Ahmed Ashoush
Ahmed Ashoush, Salafi-Jihadi leader

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.



Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Salafi-Jihadis, Sinai, and the Anticipation of Terrorism

L: Mohamed al-Zawahiri, R: Mohamed Morsi
L: Mohamed al-Zawahiri, R: Mohamed Morsi

This post recalls two articles published last year at Arab West Report but not referenced on the blog, on the SalafiJihadis. The testimony is poignant based on current developments:

“We are distinguished from other Islamic trends by not accepting partial solutions,” he said. “The Brotherhood has understandings with the Americans, and they are not working on behalf of the shar’īah but to keep power for themselves.” As for the Salafīs, “They were a pure religious movement, far from politics, but when we see how the Nour Party has behaved after the revolution we see a great similarity to the state security apparatus, finding consensus with the military and even with the liberals.”

This jihad, however, does not target the West directly, though he lauds al-Qā’idah, justifies the Benghazi operation, and warns Americans their blood is not safe in Muslim lands. In fact, though his rhetoric is violent – “We have come to smash the pillars which the people have gotten used to” – the Salafī-Jihadi effort consists entirely of preaching, however much the State Department says otherwise.

“We do not carry weapons in Egypt,” he said. “We are engaged only in an intellectual battle. The security wants to charge us with being armed, but we reject this completely.”

The above quotes from Ahmed Ashoush, a colleague of Mohamed al-Zawahiri. They are accused of links with the Muslim Brotherhood and of fueling Sinai-based terrorism to protest his removal from power.

The second article reflects an email exchange with two experts on Islamist movements, Khalil al-Anani and Ahmed Zaghloul. Here is an excerpt from the latter, on the propensity of different groups toward violence:

Do you believe they are engaged in or preparing for an armed struggle and/or terrorist activity in Egypt or the region?

A large number of the remaining Jihad Organization has renounced violence; so has Jamā’at al-Islāmīyah following their ‘Revisions’ and created a political party with members in the Egyptian parliament. These are the classic organizations associated with violence.

But the idea of using violence is still present and will never disappear. There are a number of vine-like organizations in the Sinai which have conducted violent operations recently. There are others who have adopted the ideas of al-Qā’idah in Egypt.

But the source of danger is not the known groups but the sleeping cells who maintain the idea of jihad. Some of these have traveled to Iraq, Libya, or Syria for the jihad there. As long as there are places subject to aggression there will be suitable areas for these cells to be active.

Reality changes frequently, as does the ability to accept comments at face value. But these testimonies are offered in the ongoing effort to determine what is happening in Egypt, for the good of the country. Please click here to read the full articles at Arab West Report.

Middle East Middle East Institute Published Articles

Who are Egypt’s Salafi-Jihadis?

Ahmed Ashoush, Salafi-Jihadi leader
Ahmed Ashoush, Salafi-Jihadi leader

From my article at Middle East Institute, analyzing Egypt’s Salafi-Jihadis, but from before the recent deposing of President Morsi:

The Egyptian Islamist Mohamed al-Zawahiri is most famous for being the brother of al-Qaeda front man Ayman, but his story is also a gripping one. Zawahiri was arrested in 1999 for his alleged participation in the assassination of President Anwar Sadat. He spent 13 years in Cairo’s Tora prison, where he was tortured by the mukhabarat and did a five-year stint in solitary confinement. He was released in March 2012 when the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, who ruled after Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, issued a general pardon for scores of political prisoners.

Just six months later, Zawahiri sent a message of peace when he offered to mediate a truce between the West and Islamists through his connections with al-Qaeda, promising cessation of global terrorist activity in exchange for non-interference in Muslim nations.

But Zawahiri’s doings aren’t limited to such an offer. As a leader of an Islamist organization called the Salafist-Jihadists, he is often in the public eye. Yet it is difficult to determine who he leads and what ideology the group espouses—and whether the United States and others should worry about the organization’s activities in post-uprising Egypt.

The group appears to thrive on such ambiguity. Ahmed Ashoush, a fellow leader, claims that the organization does not, in a sense, exist, as it has neither a leadership structure nor a membership count. “We know how wide our support is on the street,” he says, “but we don’t want to talk about it. We want you to see it, in the coming days, if God wills.”

As of yet, Egypt has not seen it. And as strong as the demonstrations in support of Morsi have been, they are far short of the ‘Islamic Revolution’ some predicted as a response to the Rebel Campaign collection of signatures for early elections.

Even so, this group of Islamists who graft ‘jihad’ onto their name bear watching for Egypt’s future. Please click here to read the rest of the article at Middle East Institute.