Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – Senior Egyptian Islamist figure, Mohamed al-Zawahiri, brother of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, told Asharq Al-Awsat that Cairo should not be seeking to disarm the jihadist groups present on the Sinai Peninsula at the present time, as this will have a negative impact on security there. He said that he would only support disarmament if all parties present on Sinai were disarmed, including drugs and arms smugglers and criminal gangs.
The senior Egyptian Islamist also revealed that Cairo had failed to respond to his proposal to host talks between the government and Sinai-based jihadist groups to put an end to the violence in the Sinai Peninsula, adding that he had not imposed any conditions on the talks and that he only wanted to strengthen security in the region.
The Egyptian army is currently carrying out a broad military operation across the Sinai Peninsula after suspected jihadists attacked a group of Egyptian border guards earlier this year resulting in the deaths of 16 officers and soldiers.
Egyptian forces successfully carried out a number of attacks on suspected jihadists bases and hideouts, making dozens of arrests and seizing illegal arms, including rockets and other heavy weaponry.
Nobody claimed responsibility for the 5 August attack that resulted in the deaths of 16 Egyptian soldiers; however Egyptian Salafist jihadist groups present in Sinai warned the Egyptian army last week that they could seek to respond to the military campaign on the Sinai Peninsula.
For his part, Mohamed al-Zawahiri stressed that he is doing everything that he can to achieve “goodness and peace for the Islamic ummah”, including volunteering to mediate talks between the Egyptian military and Sinai-based jihadist organizations. He revealed that Cairo had failed to respond to his proposal, stressing that it would be impossible for any successful mediation to take place without the assent and agreement of both parties.
Mohamed al-Zawahiri was a senior member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad group in the late 1970s. He was arrested against the backdrop of the assassination of former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, spending a total of 14 years in prison. After his release, he left the country, living abroad in numerous countries across the Arab world including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates. He was convicted and sentenced to death in absentia in 1998 in the “Returnees from Albania” case. Al-Zawahiri returned to Egypt following the ouster of the Hosni Mubarak regime on 11 February 2011. He was arrested on his return, but acquitted of all charges against him by military tribunal last March.
The senior Egyptian Islamist figure stressed that the jihadist groups present in the Sinai Peninsula have no preconditions for a ceasefire, save for the fear of being subject to mistreatment and injustice at the hands of the Egyptian authorities.
He told Asharq Al-Awsat “they want to maintain a minimum level of protection” adding that these groups would refuse to disarm unless the entire Sinai Peninsula was disarmed.
Al-Zawahiri also asserted that “it would not be right for drug smugglers, human traffickers and arms dealers to be armed, and then for the rest of those in the Sinai Peninsula to be told: put down your weapons.”
Mohamed al-Zawahiri, the brother of Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, also stressed that “if security is restored to Sinai, then everybody must be disarmed, but this is not possible today. The tribal nature of the Sinai Peninsula, the fact that everybody is armed, not to mention the security risks, means that it would be difficult to implement this at the present time.”
Al-Zawahiri also told Asharq Al-Awsat that “all parties are close to one another; however we must sit down and talk.” He added “even in terms of their jihad against Israel in the Sinai Peninsula, this is something that can be discussed as part of negotiations with the Egyptian government, in order to find solutions.”
The senior Egyptian Islamist stressed that “the reason for the problems there [in the Sinai Peninsula] is due to the presence of former regime security agencies continuing to think in the same old ways, or actively seeking to create instability, so that they are not held accountable for their mistakes of the past.”
As for the issue of implementing Islamic Sharia law in Egypt, al-Zawahiri told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the current situation under the presidency of Mohamed Mursi is, no doubt, a thousand times better than the previous era.” However he acknowledged “we are very far from implementing Islamic Sharia law.”
Mohamed al-Zawahiri has also put forward a peace plan between the West and Islamists. In an exclusive interview with CNN, al-Zawahiri volunteered to serve as an intermediary between the Islamists and the United States and the West, adding that if anyone can talk his brother – Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri – out of violence, it’s him.
CNN revealed the six-page peace proposal includes a number of pre-conditions, including America ceasing to intervene in Muslim lands and in Muslim education, as well as Washington ending its “war on Islam” and releasing all Islamist prisoners. The peace plan also called on Islamists to stop attacking Western and US interests, stop provoking the US and the West and even protect legitimate western and US interests in Muslim lands.
Al-Zawahiri revealed that he had told Egyptian authorities during his detention that he could work a truce with Islamists, but said that his jailers were not interested. He told CNN “if this idea had succeeded, September 11 would not have happened in the first place” adding “I hope this opportunity today is not wasted.”