Atlantic Council Middle East Published Articles

Who are the Salafi-Jihadis?

Mohamed al-Zawahiri, brother of the al-Qaeda leader
Mohamed al-Zawahiri, brother of the al-Qaeda leader

From my recent article in EgyptSource, following up on the last post of pictures:

Zawahiri is the leader of what has been dubbed the Salafi-Jihadis. Long associated with Islamic Jihad and the Islamic Group, following his release from prison in March 2012 he has positioned himself to the right of the now politically engaged Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood and traditional Salafis. But who does he represent?

“We are just Muslims, protesting the killing of civilians,” said Walid, one of about 400 demonstrating against French military activity in Mali. “We have no leadership and we don’t belong to al-Qaeda.”

‘Not belonging to al-Qaeda’ was a frequent refrain of protestors.

But there was plenty of sympathy, as well as conspiracy:

Ashraf, who declined to give his last name but consorted comfortably with al-Zawahiri, praised the Benghazi attack which killed the American ambassador, and said more of this nature was needed. But as to the nature of Salafi-Jihadis, he was circumspect.

“There is no such thing as Salafi-Jihadism,” he said. “This name is simply a creation of state security, used to divide Muslims.”

The Egyptian regime, he believes, has always conspired with the Americans to distort Islam. “Is there any Salafism without jihad?” he continued. “Who are the Salafis but the first generations of Muslims, and were these not engaged in jihad?”

By all appearances their numbers are few, but this may not matter much, and surely not all are visible:

Salafi-Jihadis appear to be less an organization than an idea. So while the idea of Islam violently reordering world relations – today focused on Mali – is unable to attract many, it does attract a dedicated few. For Zawahiri, this is enough.

“Over the centuries Muslims have been the victorious ones,” he said, “even when they have had small numbers.”

Please click here to read the full article on EgyptSource.


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Reflections on Egypt and Libya: The Body as Bloody Canvas

As noted yesterday, I was at the protest at the US Embassy in Cairo. Really, it struck me very much as a non-event. Similar to when the Israeli Embassy was stormed last year, it seems like the work of a small few, looking to make trouble, perhaps even allowed to do so. It fits in with the manipulations all around this country, and hard to tie to any one party.

I am not pleased it happened, of course, but I can accept it. The burning of the American flag is simply a political statement. I have long learned to live with diatribes against American foreign policy, and watching a flag burn is in several ways easier to digest than someone arguing with you over why America hates Muslims, or something of the like.

But when I learned this afternoon that the American ambassador to Libya was killed in a vicious attack on the consulate there, it was a different matter entirely. My stomach sank and my day was placed on hold, as the facts settled in. Burn the flag, curse my nation, do as you wish. Many times, there is a semblance of legitimacy, if not justification, behind their frustration.

But do not kill.

Yesterday I stated I was somewhat uncomfortable among the protestors. It was mostly in the beginning, when their chants were most vociferous and individuals melted into a collective whole. After a while, it was fine, as I realized they were more summoning the will to protest than driven by rage. I always feel somewhat ashamed when I take note of my reticence; these are people who must be engaged as people. In 99% of the cases, simple human decency wins the day and creates a relationship, however temporary. It is my job and joy to serve them, to help their perspectives become understandable.

But in that 1% humanity is lost and the person becomes a canvas to paint a political message in blood.

That is Libya, and it is a reminder of what is at stake, of the depths of human depravity. Yet the blood for that canvas flows from the heart, which must bleed differently if misunderstandings and antipathies are to be overcome. This is Egypt, at least for now.

But it is Libya also, and every corner of the globe. If the heart does not bleed differently life-as-existence will continue but life-as-abundance will stagnate and die.

Unless the seed falls to the ground and dies it will produce no fruit; but if it dies it will bring forth a harvest. The heart may in the 1% bleed on a canvas, but it must bleed differently in the 99%.

It is said this is true of the American ambassador. May he rest in peace.

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