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The Genesis of Salafi-Jihadism

Salafi Jihadi Surur

Did you know that not all Salafis are jihadis?

Often in popular understanding they of the long beard are the chief perpetrators of religious violence and terrorism.

Many are, but it does not have to be so. Another popular version of Salafism adopts political quietism, believing Islam commands them to obey the ruler — almost no matter what.

The ‘almost’ is because the ruler is required to allow the practice of prayer, and in some fashion implement sharia. If he willingly flaunts this, he forfeits his rule.

But they also believe that Islam teaches that the chaos of rebellion far outweighs the chance that a revolution against defects might possibly be successful.

But where is the sharia line to be drawn, and what calculation of chance might animate a Salafi toward jihad?

Meet Muhammad Surur, a Syrian recently deceased and commemorated in the National as the one who normalized extremism.

Surur was a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria until the 1960s. He broke away from the Muslim Brotherhood and moved to Saudi Arabia, where he was influenced by Salafism there.

A decade later, he left Saudi Arabia for Kuwait. In the 1970s, he was part of a leaderless and unorganised religious movement that combined traditional and revolutionary ideas, dubbed the Islamic awakening.

The Sahwa, as the movement was known in Arabic, led to the transmutation of Salafism from a traditional school of thought (dawa) to an activist one (haraki), through the foreign influence of political revolutionaries such as Surur.

In short, political quietism met political Islam.

Still, this doesn’t mean his movement was bloodthirsty. The author notes jihadis and anti-jihadis both hurl insults against one another in Surur’s name.

Even so, Surur believed the Shia were not true Muslims, says the author, and praised himself for anticipating the intra-Muslim divides characterizing the post-Iranian revolution Middle East.

Surur also embraced the Syrian uprising, and was eulogized by the Syrian National Coalition, the political arm of the Syrian Islamic Council.

“He focused in his work on activism and traditionalism, rejecting apathy and passivity, and established a current that combines intellectual work with political activism, in addition to religious knowledge.”

The coalition’s statement is an example of the dangerous tendency to misconceive of the man’s legacy. The political body ignores the impact Surur had on the kind of extremism that sweeps his country five decades after he left it.

Praise for his movement shows the rampant normalisation of extremist ideas prevalent not only by the opposition’s bodies but also by watchers of the conflict.

The article is noteworthy for highlighting an individual who nuances our understandings.

But I find it lacking in one way: Why did the Salafism side of the equation produce such wanton violence?

Traditional political Islamic groups have a more nebulous approach, sometimes embracing non-violence or defined, forceful actions for revolutionary goals. Perhaps I’m being too generous.

Salafi-jihadis have been shaken into political activism, certainly, but where then does the violence come from?

Salafis esteem the earliest Muslim ages and seek to replicate as much as possible. Does the new revolutionary fervor spark imitation of early Islamic wars?

Or does the Salafi tendency to reject the other and the modern world simply explode when driven to an activist cause?

Political Islamists might utilize violence, or pursue insurrection, but there is something very different about Salafi-Jihadis. Why?

Surur himself is not enough to explain this, however much he may have set it in motion. The author does well to bring us his example, but the article is too short to articulate everything.

But everything is what we need to know, to properly understand and appreciate the other.

Inasmuch as that is impossible, let us try within the space we have. For now, just realize that not all Salafis are violent, even if many have long beards.

 

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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.

 

 

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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.

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Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

A Security Source Speaks on the Sinai

Sinai_Terrorist

From my recent article at Arab West Report, describing an interview with a former security officer in the Sinai, who wished to remain anonymous. In light of the current accusations leveled against the Muslim Brotherhood, his comments, issued in May 2013, are very pertinent:

These known political figures, including leading Salafi-Jihadis such as ‘Adil Shahātah and Ahmad ‘Ashūsh, are currently playing a political role and not in charge of the operations on the ground, he said. But they still indirectly administer their policies and act as a go-between for the jihadists and non-violent political Islamist groups, and even the Mursī administration.

The Islamists, the advisor says, have divided up roles between themselves – this one to be violent, this one to be political – and having multiple entities helps fill the political space. The Muslim Brotherhood in particular is the head, and their deputy supreme guide Khairat al-Shātir is one of the chief beneficiaries of the tunnel economy. They have three main uses for Salafi and jihadist entities.

The first is to win elections. In keeping a unity among real groups that do compete with each other, they ensure better results at the ballot box. The second use is as a threat for their competition, liberal and secular minded Egyptians who might find it necessary to cooperate with a ‘moderate’ Muslim Brotherhood to ensure they do not side publicly with the more extremist Salafis. The third use is similar, but aimed at the West. By being in league with jihadist elements, the Muslim Brotherhood can demonstrate they are the only ones capable of deterring their violence.

And while the military is currently destroying the aforementioned tunnels, here is how the state used to deal with them:

But if Bedouins were frozen out of official state business, they thrived in the unofficial business of the tunnel system to Gaza. The advisor numbered tunnel totals around 1200, and at their height during the 2008-09 Operation Cast Lead a single tunnel could earn up to one million US dollars per day. The tunnel could be rented for one hour at a cost of $20,000 US, with administrative taxes taken on the other side by Hamas.

Before the revolution, Egypt used the tunnels as a foreign policy tool. Whether for pressure on Israel or Gaza, or indirectly on Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar via their Sinai proxies, the flow of goods into Gaza could be variously eased or restricted. The nature of goods, also, could serve the state’s unofficial international policies. Technically, the Bedouins ran the tunnels, for all crossed through their land. But the government watched, which also provided an additional incentive for the tribes to cooperate.

The article also describes the demographic features of the Sinai and estimates the violent, jihadist elements. But given the severity of current political accusations, two lines from the conclusion are vital:

In reference to the information therein he assured its veracity. ‘This is not analysis,’ he said, ‘it is intelligence.’

Arab-West Report has not verified his assertions.

Please click here to read the full article at Arab West Report.

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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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Photos from the Salafi-Jihadi Protest at the French Embassy

There are several strands of Salafism in Egypt, and the differences are not easy to understand. The group which is called Salafi-Jihadi – they do not necessarily call themselves this – is differentiated easily by the second part of their moniker. While many Salafis have joined the political, democratic process in Egypt, these reject it outright. Instead, they favor the continuation of a violent struggle against the Egyptian regime, of which they see the Muslim Brotherhood and other Salafis as selling out to the world anti-Islamic system.

This group held a protest on January 18 against the French military intervention in Mali. In Mali criminal-cum-jihadists have piggybacked onto a tribal Tuareg rebellion in the north. The central government, along with many surrounding Arab and African nations, has sanctioned France’s effort to resist them through force of arms. Salafi-Jihadists, however, support them due to their desire to implement sharia law.

I hope to write more about Salafi-Jihadis soon, but for now, please enjoy the protest through these pictures and video.

Click here for the first video. It is only two minutes long because it represents the length of time necessary for their full march to approach the site. There were only a couple hundred protestors in total.

Click here for the second video. It also is only two minutes because this was about the length of time the protestors jostled with police who had set up a barricade preventing them from reaching the embassy. After that they accepted their place about 100 yards further down the street.

Crowd Pressing

Next to the man in the police cap is Ezzat al-Salamony. He is a leader with the Islamic Group, not the Salafi-Jihadis, and worked to restrain the crowd. He later gave a rousing speech against the French, though, calling for jihad in the lands of the infidels.
Next to the man in the police cap is Ezzat al-Salamony. He is a leader with the Islamic Group, not the Salafi-Jihadis, and worked to restrain the crowd. He later gave a rousing speech against the French, though, calling for jihad in the lands of the infidels.

 

Eventually a car drove up with speakers to serve as a platform for speakers. The police maintained their line, but were left in peace from then on.
Eventually a car drove up with speakers to serve as a platform for speakers. The police maintained their line, but were left in peace from then on.
As speakers condemned France, other protestors set up their banners. This one reads: Jihad will continue until the Day of Judgment.
As speakers condemned France, other protestors set up their banners. This one reads: Jihad will continue until the Day of Judgment.
After a little while the star of the show arrived. Mohamed al-Zawahiri is the brother of Ayman, the leader of al-Qaeda. Everyone pressed around him.
After a little while the star of the show arrived. Mohamed al-Zawahiri is the brother of Ayman, the leader of al-Qaeda. Everyone pressed around him.
As he hung around for hours, eventually the crowds dissipated around him. Here is awaits giving an interview to al-Jazeera.
As he hung around for hours, eventually the crowds dissipated around him. Here is awaits giving an interview to al-Jazeera.
Around 5pm, the police relented and allowed the protestors to advance and demonstrate in front of the embassy, though the police presence guarded it and otherwise surrounded them. Graffiti and other banners were hung in the area, this one across the street on the wall of the Giza Zoo. Pictured are Osama bin Laden and Mohamed's brother Ayman. The sign reads: God have mercy on the jihadists. They are the men who gave victory to God and his prophet. Where are you?!
Around 5pm, the police relented and allowed the protestors to advance and demonstrate in front of the embassy, though the police presence guarded it and otherwise surrounded them. Graffiti and other banners were hung in the area, this one across the street on the wall of the Giza Zoo.
Pictured are Osama bin Laden and Mohamed’s brother Ayman. The sign reads: God have mercy on the jihadists. They are the men who gave victory to God and his prophet. Where are you?!

 

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