Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat talks to the other Zawahiri | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page

London, Asharq Al-Awsat – Mohamed al-Zawahiri, the brother of notorious Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, has spent half his life on the run from authorities. He was released from prison in March after spending more than a decade in jail for conspiring to overthrow the Egyptian government, the same government that was toppled by the 25 January revolution which heralded the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood’s ascent to power. In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Mohamed al-Zawahiri speaks about numerous topics, including the future of the Al Qaeda movement and democracy and Islam.

Commenting on the future of Al Qaeda following the death of a number of senior members, not least the reported death of senior Al Qaeda member Abu Yahya al-Libi by US drone attack, al-Zawahiri said “Firstly, I am not speaking on behalf of any Islamist group, rather I am talking to you as a Muslim and my views are precisely the same as those of the Sunni community, therefore I am answering your questions on this basis.”

He said “the greatest strength of the Al Qaeda organization, according to all western and American analysis, is its ideology, rather than any physical or material force. What most confirms and strengthens this ideology is when those who hold it die in its defense” adding “as for Abu Yahya al-Libi, the reports of his death have not been confirmed, and the basis of humanity is life.”

Al-Zawahiri, who is the younger brother of Al Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “in our case, Salafist Jihadist ideology puts itself forward as the correct understanding and perception of Islam without adding or removing anything. It is based on the rules of true Islam, and it confronts the enemies of Islam, in terms of the West and America, which are attacking Muslim countries, holy sites and beliefs. Therefore when their non-Muslim enemies kill them, this only serves to strengthen their forces and promote their ideology. As for the leaders who were killed, they are with God, and Islam will not die with their death, for each one will be replaced by dozens more just like them, if not worse.”

As for his position on democracy, al-Zawahiri described this as “kafr [apostasy] because it is not based on Islamic Sharia law.” He stressed that “democracy, according to those who promote this, is the government of the people, by the people, for the people. This is something that completely contravenes the Islamic view of politics and governance…for God Almighty created creation and sent down the Message for one reason, and that is for His worship alone, not for mankind to participate [in rule] with Him. God sent all of His messages with a single religion, namely Islam, and that is for mankind to surrender to Him and worship Him alone, not to involve anybody else in the worship or powers that are reserved for God Almighty. As it is not permissible to worship or pray to anybody except God Almighty, this also applies to governance and legislation…therefore democracy that puts sovereignty in the hands of the people alone contravenes Islam.”

Al-Zawahiri also told Asharq Al-Awsat that “we must confirm that democracy does not mean freedom, and it is not the opposite of tyranny and dictatorship, as those who promote this claim. In the Communist experience in the Soviet Union and elsewhere in other socialist states, governance and sovereignty were in the hands of the people via democratic systems, but these regimes were characterized by suppression, tyranny and dictatorship.”

However he acknowledged that “we do not claim to be infallible, we accept discussion and are willing to listen to any scholar or individual who has genuine evidence from Islamic Sharia law [regarding the religious permissibility of democracy].” He added “as for something being completely haram [religiously impermissible] yesterday but halal [religiously permissible] today, or indeed a legitimate duty, no such change can occur without evidence or a change in reality.”

Al-Zawahiri also spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat about his own incredible life story, going from the son of an upper middle class family in Cairo to being indicted in absentia in the assassination of former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. Al-Zawahiri spent many years on the run, before eventually being arrested in the UAE and renditioned to Cairo. He spent more than a decade in prison before eventually being released following the Egyptian revolution.

He revealed “I had worked in Saudi Arabia for a long period of time (16 years) as an architect, alongside this I fell heavily into studying Islamic Sharia law from scholars and cleric. Egyptian security apparatus began to pursue me and so I fled to Yemen, and then later Sudan, but we were kicked out of there so I went to Azerbaijan. I also lost my job around this time; therefore my first concern was preaching the religion of God and fleeing the security pursuit. I was arrested in the Emirates and sent back to Egypt, hand-cuffed and blindfolded, by military aircraft. I was imprisoned by the General Intelligence for 4 years, I was completely isolated from the outside world, prevented from seeing, speaking, moving or listening, held in a tiny cell less than 4 meters squared. There was no window and only a small opening near the door less than 40 cm; this would be opened by the guard for inspection and then closed again. Even breathing was forbidden except for the minimum to sustain life. I was not allowed any belongings inside the cell.”

He added “there were interrogations and torture and beatings and intimidations, following this I was sent to Egypt’s State Security for 5 months during which time I witnessed true horrors in terms of torture and humiliation, including electrocution and being hung with my hands tied behind my back. Indeed, the torture by the State Security made me wish to return to the General Intelligence once more, and I witnessed horrors there that cannot be described. Following this I was transferred to a high security prison, namely the Alaqrab prison in the Tora prison complex. I was held there for around 7 years during which time I was pressured by the State Security to retract my beliefs. I was released following the revolution, but I was re-arrested after just three days and sent for re-trial. This trial lasted for a year after which the military tribunal acquitted me, along with many other defendants, after everybody became aware that this case, and all cases, during this period, had been fabricated by State Security.”