Thursday, June 30, 2005

Reviewing "Knights Under the Prophets Banner"

Part I: Creating Zawahiri

About four months ago, I put up a link to the book Knights Under the Prophet's Banner written by Zawahiri in 2001 and published by Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper in an 11 part excerpt series.

In light of many current conversations going around the political world and blogosphere, I thought it was time to do a more thorough review of this book and note those important things which he wrote that have come to pass or apply to the current situation in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Special thanks to Liberals Against Terrorism for cleaning up the translated version from FAS and finding links to other books and information on the subject.


In the introduction to the book Al-Jihad leader says: "I have written this book for an additional reason, namely, to fulfill the duty entrusted to me towards our generation and future generations. Perhaps I will not be able to write afterwards in the midst of these worrying circumstances and changing conditions. I expect that no publisher will publish it and no distributor will distribute it."

The main part of the book, his personal history, history of the Al Jihad movement in Egypt and issues with the west, including reasons and strategies for fighting, was written just prior to 9/11 and the remaining sections about the ongoing war in Afghanistan was obviously written in October and November 2001. Thus the introduction discussing "worrying circumstances and changing conditions" written at this time. This might even have been the reason why US commanders at the time felt that they had been very close to Zawahiri and bin Laden at some point of the war (Tora Bora?)

To understand Zawahiri, a brief history of his introduction and involvement in Al Jihad in Egypt and his development from fighting against the Egyptian government to recognizing the west, in particular, the United States, as the true enemy of Islam.

Al-Zawahiri, who comes from a wealthy Egyptian family, joined the ranks of the opponents of the late Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat when he was only 16 [as published; when Al-Sadat became President, Al-Zawahiri was already 20, since he was born in 1951]. He was later imprisoned on the charge of involvement in Al-Sadat's assassination.

Al-Zawahiri formed a group all of his own, of which he was the leader [amir]. It included his brother Muhammad, nicknamed the Engineer, who was extradited by the United Arab Emirates to Egypt in 2000.

Prior to October 1981 [month in which Al-Sadat was assassinated] Al-Zawahiri was introduced to military intelligence officer Abbud al-Zumar, who persuaded him to join Abd-al-Salam Faraj's group. Al-Zawahiri was arrested in connection with the assassination of former President Anwar al-Sadat and spent three years in jail. In 1985 he left Egypt for Peshawar and there he succeeded in uniting the Afghan Arab groups.

The question to answer is why after all that time being involved in the Islamic Jihad did they decide to assassinate Sadat?

On November 19, 1977 Sadat became the first Arab leader to officially visit Israel when he met with Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin and spoke before the Knesset in Jerusalem. He made the visit after receiving an invitation from Begin and he sought a permanent peace settlement (much of the Arab world was outraged by the visit). In 1978, this resulted in the Camp David Peace Agreement, for which Sadat and Begin received the Nobel Peace Prize. However, the action was extremely unpopular in the Arab and Muslim World. Many believed that only a threat of force would make Israel negotiate over the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the Camp David accords removed the possibility of Egypt, the major Arab military power, from providing such a threat. As part of the peace deal, Israel withdrew from the Sinai peninsula in phases, returning the entire area to Egypt by 1983.

In September of 1981, Sadat cracked down on Muslim organizations and Coptic organizations, including student groups; the arrests totaled nearly 1600, earning worldwide condemnation for the extremity of his techniques.

Meanwhile, internal support for Sadat disappeared due to his style of government, economic crisis and suppression of dissidents. On October 6, the month after the crackdown, Sadat was assassinated during a parade in Cairo by army members who were part of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad organization, who opposed his negotiations with Israel as well as his use of force in the September crackdown. He was succeeded by his Vice-President Hosni Mubarak.

During Nasser's time in office he had received monetary and military assistance from the Soviets. By 1981, the Soviet money mill was already showing signs of weakening. Egyptian economy was suffering and needed another infusion of capital that would not be forth coming from the Soviets. Sadat made several conciliatory moves towards the west and Israel. The issue of the Sinai Penninsula can be explained by its location and the Suez Canal the total control of that and ports were important to improving Egypts economy.

While Zawahiri might have been against the secular, socialist government and wished to over throw it to establish an Islamic government, he found this to be the ultimate betrayal. On top of that, directly after the treaty, the crackdown on slamic dissidents began in earnest. Zawahiri felt that this was at the behest of the western powers in an attempt to save Israel and in payment for the financial aide package that was offered.

Further betrayal was on the way as Mubarak took control after Sadat and continued his brutal crackdown on the extremists while taking money from the west. Zawahiri determined that he and his compatriots idea for an Islamic Egypt would never take place as long as the United States was a tacit backer of the regime.

For the United States, these extremists were hardly a blip on the screen. Its major concerns at the time were in securing Israel's existence and off setting the growth of Communism in the African Continent and the Middle East in the post Viet Nam era. "Flipping" Sadat to the west was just one move in the game of chess being played.

For Zawahiri, it was much more personal.


Cigarette Smoking Man from the X-Files said...

Israel has cost us so much, they have no idea. And for what? Some biblical notion that that's what Yahweh wants?

Kat said...

Well, I would say that Israel has served our purposes as well. In a strategic since of the area, the fact that it was a friendly democracy in an area where the USSR was attempting to make inroads supporting different rebellions, I would say that we were most interested in supporting it for more than some ideological parallel, regardless of what reason Israelis determined to settle there.

On the other hand, it's ineresting that Zarqawi makes a brief (incredibly brief) mention of the Israel/Palestine situation in his historical account of what turned him to Islamic JIhad. His original focus was on creating an Islamic Egypt and then spreading this idea as a pan Arab coop. Israel seems to be a "fly in the ointment". His main angst appears to be that he felt their plan for an Islamic Egypt was thwarted by the US propping up Sadat/Mubarek who in turn, did not suppress the dissidents simply for the sake of our support for Israel as much as it was to consolidate their power in the state against the only other group that could potentially, popularly oppose him.

It is just an inconvenient fact that giving them money to flip them from Soviet influence coincided with these guys getting down on the dissidents.