Egypt's Victors


Ty Butler, Senior CorrespondentInternational Development and Conflict Last Modified: 23:59 p.m. DST, 22 August 2013

Egypt Special Troops ,Photo by Mahmoud  Gamal El-DinRAFAH, Egypt - At least 25 Egyptian police officers were killed on Monday near the Rafah crossing with Gaza in Egypt’s increasingly lawless Sinai Peninsula region. The attack occurred as rocket propelled grenades stuck the security force’s transport while it was en route to a police barracks. Those officers not killed in the initial assault were forced onto the ground by gunmen and summarily executed.

The deaths mark one of the single largest attacks on Egyptian security officials in the Sinai since former president Mohamed Morsi was ousted in a military coup in early July. This attack however, was not one likely engaged in by pro-Morsi supporters.

While no group has yet claimed responsibility for the slaughter, it is not characteristic of current violence by Muslim Brotherhood supporters or by angry anti-coup protestors. Instead, it mirrors the tactics taken from the playbook of a third major factional arm of Egypt’s current political sphere which is fighting against both the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian military.

This third major factional grouping, characterized by a mix of international and regional violent jihadi cells and organizations have thus far been the primary victors surrounding the crisis in Egypt. Islamist political organizations in Muslim majority countries tend to act as something of a barrier against violent radicalism. Some analysts of course may disagree and even suggest the exact opposite; that Islamist political parties aid in rooting conservative discourse into political and social spheres and thus nurture an atmosphere that is more conducive to jihadi recruitment.

Evidence from Iraq however, supports the idea that political Islamists who work within Brotherhood style groups do not tend to transfer into jihadi organizations. That being tentatively established, the military crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt becomes rather troublesome, not only for the sake of preserving democracy within Egypt, but in the fight against international and regional terrorism as well.

As political chaos grows, the position of international jihadis within Egypt strengthens. These militant organizations traditionally view the Muslim Brotherhood in very negative terms. Al Qaeda and related groups disagree vehemently with The Muslim Brotherhood’s dedication to gaining power through largely peaceful means, and often outright curse their willingness to participate within formal political processes. This tension can be seen throughout the jihadi community in numerous writings and statements.

Current leader of Al-Qaeda Central Ayman al-Zawahiri was by no means timid in his fairly harsh critique of the Muslim Brotherhood within his “book” Bitter Harvest. Zawahiri accused the Brotherhood of aligning with the West in the greater jihadi struggle, siding with apostate domestic regimes by participating in elections, and even of protecting Israel from Al-Qaeda.

This condemnation is often mirrored by the leadership of other Al-Qaeda affiliates and international jihadi groups; chief among which perhaps is the Islamic State in Iraq (formerly Al-Qaeda in Iraq) which openly blames the Muslim Brotherhood as the primary reason for its failures within Iraq.

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Published: 22 August 2013 (Page 2 of 2)

In Egypt, the current coup has the potential to leave Islamist youths wondering what exactly the Brotherhood’s pragmatism and dedication to formal political processes has gotten it. Military repression of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood opens a door to violent jihadis who are readily exploiting the situation to their advantage. The discord affords jihadis time to establish stronger roots in the region as primary attention is shifted elsewhere, while simultaneously allowing Al Qaeda and affiliated groups to say “we told you so.”

Jihadi propaganda machines have been running overtime rejoicing at the opportunity to discredit what they view as a flawed path at best, and as traitorous collaboration with Western Crusaders and their allies at worst. The days immediately following the coup saw the creation of at least two new public jihadi organizations within Egypt; Ansar al-Sharia Egypt (it is unclear if it has any connections with the existing Egyptian group that already carries the name), and the Brigades of Abdullah Azzam in Egypt.

Even absent jihadi propaganda, the violent reaction that some anti-coup protestors have demonstrated is highly concerning. Scores of Christian churches have been attacked since the coup in some of the worse displays of sectarian violence that Egypt has recently known. The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood may officially stand against sectarian conflict, but that has not stopped disenfranchised individuals (whether or not they claim to support the Brotherhood) from expressing their anger in such ways; a sign perhaps of increasing polarization in the face of current political happenings. Tuesday’s arrest of the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual guide Mohamed Badie is unlikely to do much to help the situation, nor are talks of forcibly dissolving the Brotherhood.

The Muslim Brotherhood is not the ideal political partner in Egypt for the United States and other western countries. There is little denying that the organization is a conservative Islamist party, and one that is often quite vocal in its opposition to US foreign policy. Uncomfortable international dealings aside though, there is little to justify the coup in Egypt.

Simply put, the military ousted a democratically elected leader, dissolved a democratically elected parliament, and suspended a democratically approved constitution. President Morsi’s attempted power grab through the self-granting of extraordinary powers was deeply concerning. It is also true that there was popular disapproval of the political and economic climate under Brotherhood rule; however, such realities does little to diminish the imagery of yet more military strong arming within Egypt in direct violation of democratic mechanisms for the conveyance of disagreement (IE: voting).

The continued weakening of the Egyptian state apparatus through outright authoritarian crackdowns and the targeted marginalization of historically ideologically non-violent political Islamists can only play into the hands of those who advocate increased violence, both domestically and internationally. International jihadism has found itself an unwitting ally in the Egyptian military, and the repercussions will impact the security of all.

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Mohammed al-Zawahiri arrested in Egypt


Ty Butler, Senior CorrespondentInternational Development and Conflict Last Modified: 02:30 a.m. DST, 19 August 2013

Mohammed al-Zawahiri (Crop)

GIZA, Egypt - The brother of Al Qaeda Central’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has been arrested in Egypt. Mohammed al-Zawahiri was detained at a checkpoint in Giza during a military crackdown on Islamists supposedly supporting ousted President Mohamed Morsi which has seen over 1000 arrested so far.

This is not the first time that Mohammed al-Zawahiri has been arrested. He was sentenced to death in Egypt in absentia in the 90’s for his alleged role in the assassination of Anwar Sadat and was detained in Dubai before being transferred to the Egypt.

Instead of having his death sentence carried out, he instead spent the next 13 – 14 years in Cairo’s Tora prison. Following the fall of Hosni Mubarak from power, the military’s interim government (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) released Zawahiri as part of a general amnesty program. Shortly after he was rearrested and tried under a military tribunal where he was acquitted of charges related to terrorism and the attempted overthrow of the Egyptian state and re-released in March 2012.

Zawahiri’s name stands out among those arrested due to the international jihadi activities of his brother.  Initial speculation over justifications of his arrest surround accusations of an “alliance” with Morsi and suggestions that he has been leading militants in the Sinai Peninsula. The truth behind Mohammed al-Zawahiri’s actual story though is less clear.

Formerly a deputy and military commander of his older brother’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad movement, Zawahiri was linked to some of the organization’s militant jihadi cells in Albania, Bosnia, and Croatia before apparently breaking ranks with the group due to its increasingly closer ties to Al Qaeda (the Egyptian Islamic Jihad would go on to merge with Al Qaeda and from part of the core of Al Qaeda Central’s leadership).

Mohammed al-Zawahiri’s role in international jihadism has, since then, been murky at best. Part of the agreement that saw his execution stayed was allegedly the informing on Egyptian Islamic Jihad activities (in cooperation with the CIA and Egyptian intelligence), coupled with a renouncing of violence.

Upon his release he co-founded the group Ansar al-Sharia Egypt with other former members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. The ideological underpinnings of the group remain unclear. The founding statements of the organization dedicates the group to thesupport of mujaheddin style jihadi groups all over the world. This is a similar stance to Al Qaeda Central and the more public leader of Ansar Al Sharia Egypt, Ahmed Ashush, has made many public statements praising Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and militant groups both overseas and those located within the Sinai Peninsula. Such groups include Ansar Bayt al Maqdis, Al Salafiyya al Jihadiyya, and the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem, who are largely known for their rocket attacks against the state of Israel.

Despite verbal support for such groups, Ahmed Ashush claims that his organization “are not preachers of violence” and that they are not armed. Whether or not one is inclined to believe Ashush or the goals of his organization, Mohammed al-Zawahiri himself has shown considerable public restraint with regards to calls for violence. Six months after being released from prison, Zawahiri publicly called for a peace deal between the West and Islamists. After the military ousting of Mohamed Morsi, Zawahiri likewise issued statements on Facebook that, while aimed at stirring up jihadis, did not explicitly call for violence.

Murky ideological structures aside, it does seem evident that Mohammed al-Zawahiri has strong connections to Ansar al-Sharia Egypt and thus possible connections to more violent militant groups in the Sinai Peninsula, and even to Al Qaeda Central (though no official connections are known to exist). This connection is reinforced through his appearance in both Al Qaeda style propaganda videos and in videos released by the Al Bayan Media Foundation, the propaganda wing of Ansar al-Sharia Egypt.

As the case for Zawahiri’s involvement with jihadi groups in the Sinai strengthens though, the case for him being an ally of former president Morsi simultaneously diminishes. Al Qaeda and international jihadi groups have long been in contention with the Muslim Brotherhood over their participation in democratic processes and failure to implement sharia law. Head of Ansar al-Sharia, Ahmed Ashush has made similar statements and condemnations of Morsi’s government prior to his fall from power. These condemnations have long been echoed by Al Qaeda Central and other affiliated groups.

When Moris was deposed, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and Al Shabaab both wasted little time in utilizing the incident to denounce participation in democratic institutions and to push jihad as the only legitimate way to build a “just” society.  Whatever his role within Egypt’s larger Islamist community, Mohammed al-Zawahiri’s capture is unlikely to either significantly weaken support for Morsi (given his affiliated organization's traditionally negative views of them), or significantly impact the operational capabilities of armed militant groups that have been mobilizing in the Sinai.

Follow Ty Butler on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Staff Writer: @TywButler