Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri
|Name||Dr. Ayman Muhammad Rabie al-Zawahiri (19 June 1951- )|
|Also Known As||Also spelt Zawaahiri or Zawahri
Abu Mohammed Nur al-Deen, Abu Mohammed, Nur
Abu al-Mu'iz, Abdel Muaz
|Biography||Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri was born in Egypt on the 19th of June, 1951. He is regarded by some as the brains behind Usama bin Laden, who is the spiritual leader or figurehead of al-Qaeda.|
Like bin Laden, al-Zawahiri was born into well-connected, establishment family, part of his country's elite. Al-Zawahiri studied a degree in medicine at Cairo's al-Azhar University, graduating as a paediatrician. While at University, al-Zawahiri became involved in Salafi political groups and joined a jihad cell. He also came into contact with Muhammad Qutb, brother of Sayyid Qutb, and with the academic Abdullah Azzam, a seminal figure in the foundation of al-Qaeda.
|1 Ayman al-Zawahiri, Knights Under the Prophet’s Banner, in Rubin and Rubin, Anti-American Terrorism and the State, p47. Given that al-Zawahiri's book puts polemics above accurate history, it seems fair to assume that he found the trip providential (as suggested by his comment that it was "predestined"), but that his understanding of the theoretical value of the base in Afghanistan was more retrospective than these quotations suggest.|
2 The term jihadi/rejectionist is a specific designation used in the thesis from which some of this content is taken. A definition will be provided on this webpage in the future.
3 The prison sentences of Al-Zawahiri and several hundred other activists ended in 1984. Most went on Hajj to Saudi Arabia, then on to Afghanistan. See Gilles Kepel, Bad Moon Rising: A Chronicle of the Middle East Today, 2003, p12.
|In 1980, al-Zawahiri travelled to Peshawar with another doctor, ostensibly to provide medical services to the mujahideen. Speaking retrospectively, al-Zawahiri has claimed that another motivation for his 1980 trip to Peshawar was|
to get to know one of the arenas of jihad that might be a tributary and a base for jihad in Egypt and the Arab region
[find] a secure base for jihad activity in Egypt [... due to the activity of] the security forces and because of Egypt’s flat terrain, which made government control easy, for the River Nile runs in its narrow valley between two deserts that have no vegetation or water. Such a terrain made guerrilla warfare in Egypt impossible.1
|This reference to Afghanistan as a solid base (al-qaeda al-sulbah) for operations against foreign countries shows that the specific interpretation of Muhammad's hijra that distinguishes al-Qaeda from earlier groups may have been already forming in 1980, assuming al-Zawahiri has not simply imposed a contemporary interpretation for polemical purposes.|
|In 1981, Egypt's President Anwar Sadat was assassinated by Muhammad Abd al-Salam Faraj's al-Jihad organisation, and many Islamists were rounded up. Television footage from this time shows a young al-Zawahiri shouting from a prison cell crowded with bearded prisoners. It is difficult to determine from the evidence at hand how al-Zawahiri came to be the head of his own organisation, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ). The historical record of the hasty coalescence of al-Jihad and its demise after Sadat's assassination is patchy and filled with contradictions. What can be said is that al-Zawahiri emerged from prison in 1984 as the leader of EIJ, a very radical jihadi/rejectionist group.2 Although it is unclear whether EIJ split from al-Jihad or was simply known by a different name, al-Zawahiri does appear to have been disillusioned with the failure of Faraj's model, as his group diverged substantially from Faraj's ideological course.|
|In Afghanistan, bin Laden and al-Zawahiri struck up an alliance and friendship, and there has been significant interaction between EIJ and al-Qaeda. The two groups have now essentially merged, with much of the leadership being composed of EIJ's hard-core veterans. Whether because, as some claim, bin Laden leaves matters of theory to al-Zawahiri, because they have developed the programme of al-Qaeda together, or because they deliberately present a unified front in their propaganda, the two now appear to hold a consensus on ideological matters.|
|See Also||Usama bin Laden, Abdullah Azzam, Muhammad Abd al-Salam Faraj, Al-Qaeda's Revolutionary Model, The Evolution of al-Qaeda.|