According to the Associated Press, in a new video, al-Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri “said the military coup that ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi provides proof that Islamic rule cannot be established through democracy and urged the Islamist leader’s followers to abandon the ballot box in favor of armed resistance [i.e., jihad].”
In fact, in the Arabic video, Zawahiri gloats over two points that he has championed for decades despite widespread opposition: that the Brotherhood was foolish to engage in democracy and elections in the first place, and that the triumph of Islam can only be achieved through jihad.
Interestingly, these two points go back to a long but internal debate between nonviolent Islamists, like the Muslim Brotherhood, and violent jihadis, like al-Qaeda. While both groups pursue the same exact goals—a Sharia-ruling caliphate followed by the subjugation of the “infidel” world, according to Islamic teachings—they follow different strategies. The Brotherhood has long argued that, because the Islamic world is militarily weaker than the West, now is not the time for an all-out jihad, but rather a time for infiltration and subversion, a time for taqiyya and short-lived promises. Conversely, jihadis generally disavow pretense and diplomacy, opting for jihad alone.
Since the 1960s in Egypt, Ayman Zawahiri was an outspoken proponent of jihad (see “Ayman Zawahiri and Egypt: A Trip Through Time for a brief biography). In the early 1990s, he wrote an entire book titled Al Hissad Al Murr, or “The Bitter Harvest,” where he argued that the Brotherhood “takes advantage of the Muslim youths’ fervor by bringing them into the fold only to store them in a refrigerator. Then, they steer their onetime passionate, Islamic zeal for jihad to conferences and elections…. And not only have the Brothers been idle from fulfilling their duty of fighting to the death, but they have gone as far as to describe the infidel governments as legitimate, and have joined ranks with them in the ignorant style of governing, that is, democracies, elections, and parliaments.”
Even so, after the terror strikes of 9/11, many became critical of al-Qaeda, whose actions were seen as setting back the Islamist agenda by creating more scrutiny and awareness in the West. The attacks further set off the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and gave many Arab governments—including former President Mubarak’s—free reign to suppress all Islamists. As Montasser al-Zayyat, Zawahiri’s biographer, wrote:
The poorly conceived decision to launch the attacks of September 11 created many victims of a war of which they did not choose to be a part…. Bin Laden and Zawahiri’s behavior was met with a lot of criticism from many Islamists in Egypt and abroad…. In the post-September 11 world, no countries can afford to be accused of harboring the enemies of the United States. No one ever imagined that a Western European country would extradite Islamists who live on its lands. Before that, Islamists had always thought that arriving in a European city and applying for political asylum was enough to acquire permanent resident status. After September 11, 2001, everything changed…. Even the Muslim Brotherhood was affected by the American campaign, which targeted everything Islamic.
If the West “targeted everything Islamic,” that was obviously short lived; for, from a different perspective, the post 9/11 world has proven to be the heyday of the Muslim Brotherhood. For starters, many Islamists began to see the wisdom of the Muslim Brotherhood’s strategy of publicly renouncing violence (jihad) and appropriating Western language and paradigms in an effort to infiltrate and subvert.
And it certainly worked: the Brotherhood got what they wanted; their strategy of opting for elections and renouncing jihad, coupled with a highly sympathetic Obama administration, culminated with the Brotherhood leaving Egypt’s prisons and filling the highest posts of government, beginning with the presidency.
However, now that the Brotherhood and Morsi have been ousted, the jihadis—chief among them Zawahiri, leader of al-Qaeda—are in full “we told you so” mode, renewing the argument that Islamic Sharia can never be established through infidel democracy, but rather only through jihad, long recognized as the only way to force people—including Muslims themselves—to comply with Allah’s rule on earth. And it’s becoming harder for nonviolent Islamists to argue otherwise, especially the now disgraced Brotherhood.
Thus, among an increasing number of Islamists, al-Qaeda’s strategy—jihad and terror—have been justified and may well return in full force. Indeed, it’s in this context that one must understand recent news that the U.S. “ordered the unprecedented closure of embassies in 19 countries across the Middle East and Africa,” a decision sparked by Ayman Zawahiri’s recent communiques.
No doubt Western apologists will now argue that it’s in the West’s interest to support and make concessions to the Muslim Brotherhood, since the alternative will be a renewal in jihadi terror. However, aside from the fact that such an argument is tantamount to submitting to blackmail—not to mention the fact that the resumption of jihad is just another reminder that al-Qaeda and the Brotherhood are two faces of the same coin—is it not better to get the ugly truth out in the open now, while the U.S. still has some power and influence, rather than later, when it will likely be even more infiltrated and handicapped?
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