The al Qaeda Network Responds to Egypt

July 23, 2013

Mohammed al Zawahiri, the brother of al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri, greets Islamic protesters in Cairo, Egypt, on January 18, 2013. (Reuters)

Historically, there has been no love lost between al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Al Qaeda rejects the Brotherhood’s willingness to participate in a democratic system, arguing that elections contradict shari’a and that violence is the only way to achieve change.[1] Al Qaeda’s emir Ayman al Zawahiri has held this position publicly since the 1990s – he left the Brotherhood for the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and refused to renounce violence.[2]  Members of the al Qaeda network were quick to condemn the ousting of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, whose June 2012 election brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power. Statements from across the network released on a variety of social media platforms and jihadi forums condemned the change in leadership as an outright military coup supported by the West. The reactions completely ignored any role the Tamarod movement and mobilized anti-Morsi protesters might have played in the change of power.

Zawahiri has consistently focused on the evolution of the Arab Spring in Egypt. He congratulated the Egyptian people on the overthrow of Mubarak in 2011 and expressed his desire to see shari’a law implemented in the country.[3] He was, however, critical of the Morsi administration and called on the Egyptian people to “continue” their revolution.[4] Zawahiri expanded his critique of Morsi in October 2012 when he released a statement with a number of questions, seeking the then-president’s opinion of the role of shari’a law, among other things.[5] An April 6 statement critiqued particular articles of the Egyptian constitution that were perceived to be in opposition to shari’a and condemned the “nationalist secular state.”[6] The al Qaeda leader has yet to comment publically on the most recent developments, but he will likely exploit the overthrow of an Islamist leader to double down on his call for violence to achieve shari’a.

The al Qaeda network’s response outside of Egypt is largely consistent with what we have seen so far of Zawahiri’s views: 1) condemnation of secularism and democracy, and the assertion that shari’a is the answer to the issues facing the region; 2) an Islamic government based on shari’a can only be achieved through violence, not democracy; and 3) outside forces, particularly the United States and Christians, continue to meddle in the region, and are responsible for Morsi’s ouster. While several groups and al Qaeda linked individuals have commented, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has been by far the loudest, releasing several longer statements via its Twitter accounts. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, usually slow to comment on global events, has yet to issue a statement. Within Egypt, there has already been a significant uptick in jihadi activity, including the formation of two new groups calling for violent uprisings.[7]

 
Al Qaeda Affiliates
  • Somalia’s al Shabaab was the only group to blame explicitly the Muslim Brotherhood for Morsi’s fall. The group posted a series of tweets under the hashtag “#MBWakeup” on July 4. The messages criticize the Brotherhood for being inept and for attempting to participate in the democratic system in the first place. “It’s now time for the MB to revise its policies, adjust its priorities and turn to the one and the only solution for change: Jihad #MBWakeUp.”[8]
  • AQIM also posted a statement on its media arm’s Twitter account on July 4. The author, Abu Abdul Ilah Ahmed al Jijeli, claims that the U.S. colluded with the Egyptian military, turning “on the choice of the Muslim Egyptian people.”  He argues that the interim president is a Christian, put in place “to isolate Egypt from our Islamic world.” He calls on the Egyptian people to reject the “coup” and support the “Islamic project” of shari’a law. The statement comes to a close ominously: “The youth of Egypt should learn that the price for applying principles on the ground is a mountain of body parts and seas of blood, because evil must be killed and not shown mercy, and righteousness must be achieved by cutting the head of those who corrupt and not reason with them.”[9]AQIM has also issued a slew of statements via its blog “Muslim Africa.”  These statements once again condemned the actions of the military, arguing on July 7, for instance, that Morsi’s ouster was a “coup against Islam” and not just against the Muslim Brotherhood.[10]  AQIM issued another statement entitled “The Wisdom of the Ummah of Zawahiri and the Reality of the Struggle in Egypt” on July 10. This statement reaffirmed the necessity of shari’a law and denounced the military as having been un-Islamic for years.[11] It identified the U.S., secularists, and Christians as participating in the removal of Morsi.[12]
 
Al Qaeda Associates
  • The al Shabaab-associated, Kenya-based Muslim Youth Center (MYC) issued a string of statements on its Twitter account on July 3, almost immediately following the announcement that Morsi had been removed. The tweets focus on the inherent failure of democracy: “Walahi! Democracy is cursed! Akhi, sit back and watch democracies crumble....it's coming....” and on the new opportunity for jihad: “in the next three months egypt [sic] is likely to be another jihadi front....strike iron while its hot mujahideen!” MYC argues that democracy is foreign to Islam: “da kuffars shove democracy down Muslims throats as if its a pancea. Egypt shows democracy alien 2 Islam. Jihad wil sort dis out. Libya? [sic]”[13]
 
Others
  • Mohammed al Zawahiri, Ayman al Zawahiri’s younger brother, posted a statement on his Facebook account on July 2 as the protests were underway. He did not explicitly call for violence, but did attempt to rally jihadists to his cause. He urged Muslims not to be afraid, saying, “‘we will not be defeated.’” He argued that they are prepared for confrontation with the U.S. and “‘its agents in Egypt’” because they have “’nothing to lose.’”[14]
  • A message posted on jihadist forums on July 3 called on Salafists in Egypt to prepare by amassing weapons and training for jihad. The anonymous author advised Salafists to hide in the Sinai Peninsula and hoped to see the establishment of an Egyptian Jabhat al Nusra.[15]
  • A group calling itself Ansar al Shari’a in Egypt announced its founding via a jihadi forum on July 5. The group will seek weapons and training and the establishment of true shari’a law (as opposed to “the alleged democratic shari’a”).[16]
  • A group calling itself “Brigades of Abdullah Azzam in Egypt” announced its founding on July 8.  The group says its way is the Qur’an and a “helping sword” and rejects “despicable partisanship” and “idolatrous democracy.”[17]
  • Mohammed al Zawahiri released another statement on July 12 arguing for the “immediate enactment” of shari’a law. He warns that the institution of shari’a law is an opportunity for the West to avoid further conflict, “otherwise, it will be a factor for the hastening of the completion of the Islamic party's power through battles and the jihadi arenas, but after seas of blood and body parts, which the shari’a has ordered us to avoid as much as possible. The sons of the Islamic party will be forced to this, however, against all who now try to repulse them by preventing them from applying their shari’a and worshiping their Lord as He commanded them."[18]

                     

 

[1] Robert S. Leiken and Steven Brooke, “The Moderate Muslim Brotherhood,” Foreign Affairs, March/April 2007. Available: http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/62453/robert-s-leiken-and-steven-brooke/the-moderate-muslim-brotherhood
[2] Raymond Ibrahim, “Al Qaeda’s Zawahiri, Bigger threat than Osama?” Bloomberg, June 20, 2011. Available: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-06-20/al-qaeda-s-zawahiri-bigger-threat-than-osama-raymond-ibrahim.html
[3] “Zawahiri Encourages Libyan and Syrian Revolts, Calls for Shariah Law in Egypt,” SITE Intelligence Group, May 21, 2011. Available
[4] “Zawahiri Calls for Continuing Egyptian Revolution, Questions Morsi,” SITE Intelligence Group, October 26, 2012. Available at www.siteintelgroup.com [subscription].
[5] “Zawahiri Calls for Continuing Egyptian Revolution, Questions Morsi,” SITE Intelligence Group, October 26, 2012. Available at www.siteintelgroup.com [subscription].
[6] “Zawahiri Calls for Unity in Creed, Attacks Egyptian Constitution,” SITE Intelligence Group, April 6, 2013. Available at www.siteintelgroup.com [subscription].
[7] See David Barnett, “Jihadists issue report on recent Sinai events,” Long War Journal, July 15, 2013. Available: http://www.longwarjournal.org/threat-matrix/archives/2013/07/jihadists_issue_report_on_rece.php.
See also David Barnett, “Jihadists denounce attacks by Egyptian army in Sinai,” Long War JournalJuly 8, 2013. Available: http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2013/07/jihadists_denounce_a.php
[8] “Shabaab Remarks on Events in Egypt, Muslim Brotherhood,” SITE Intelligence Group, July 5, 2013. Available at www.siteintelgroup.com [subscription].
[9] “AQIM Official Sees Foreign Role in Morsi’s Ouster, Calls it Attack on Islam,” SITE Intelligence Group, July 5, 2013. Available at www.siteintelgroup.com [subscription].
[10] Abu el Dardaa Al Saharawi, “A coup against Islam…so where are the Muslims?” Muslim Africa Blog, July 7, 2013. Available: https://twitter.com/Africamuslima/status/353957103804743680
[11] The author identifies the military’s support of the U.S. in Iraq as being particularly problematic.
[12] Nasr al Qaeda[subscription].
[16] “Ansar al Shari’a in Egypt Declares Founding in Wake of Morsi’s Removal,” SITE Intelligence Group, July 5, 2013. Available at www.siteintelgroup.com[subscription].
[17] “Brigades of Abdullah Azzam in Egypt,” SITE Intelligence Group, July 8, 2013. Available at www.siteintelgroup.com [subscription].
[18] “Muhammad al Zawahiri Proposes Shari’a as Solution to Egypt’s Crisis,” SITE Intelligence Group, July 15, 2013. Available at www.siteintelgroup.com [subscription]., “The Wisdom of the Ummah of Zawahiri and the Reality of the Struggle in Egypt,” Muslim Africa Blog, July 10, 2013. Available: https://twitter.com/Africamuslima/status/355037717681291265
[13] “Jihadists React to Egyptian Army’s Ouster of Mohamed Morsi,” SITE Intelligence Group, July 3, 2013. Available at www.siteintelgroup.com [subscription].
[14] Thomas Joscelyn, “Mohammed al Zawahiri Weighs in on Egyptian Political Crisis,” The Long War Journal, July 4, 2013. Available: http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2013/07/mohammed_al_zawahiri_2.php
[15] “Jihadist Advises Salafists in Egypt Prepare for Military Coup Against Morsi,” SITE Intelligence Group, July 3, 2013. Available at www.siteintelgroup.com