CAIRO: After a year of silence, Sayed Imam will return to the spotlight with the publication of his new book, “Al-Taareya (The Exposure), which is expected to reveal new details about Jihad operations in Egypt and abroad.
Considered the founder of the Egyptian Jihad Group, Imam’s writings will be printed in serial form in Al-Masry Al-Youm starting today.
Imam, also known as Dr Fadl, first became active in militant circles as a student at Cairo University in the 1970s. Following President Anwar Sadat’s assassination in 1981, Imam fled to Afghanistan and participated in the campaign against the Russians, and served as the Emir of Tanzim Al-Jihad from 1987 to 1993.
He was compelled to resign to be replaced by his rival Ayman Al-Zawahiri. After 1993, Imam distanced himself from militant activity to work as a surgeon in Yemen. He was extradited to Egypt in 2002.
His influence, however, persisted through his writings, especially the 1,000-page “Compendium of the Pursuit of Divine Knowledge, written in the early 1990s, which was used by various militant groups to justify their use of terrorism.
Following his extradition to Egypt, Imam led a series of jail-house seminars between members of Al-Jihad, which led to the modification of some of their hard-line positions, especially regarding the use of violence.
In November 2007, the new ideas – usually referred to as the Revisions – were published in a book called “Rationalizing Jihad in Egypt and the Arab world.
Most of the imprisoned members of Jihad endorsed the Revisions and in response, the government released about 3,000 from jail.
The book received extensive coverage in the Arabic press, nearly all of it positive, and the overwhelming consensus amongst specialists in Islamist movements, such as Diaa Rashwan and Rafiq Habib, is that they were serious and consistent with the greater anti-violence trend that has dominated Egyptian militant thought since the Islamic Group’s 1997 initiative to end violence.
However, a small minority of Jihad members living in Europe, claiming to represent the “historical leadership abroad, denounced the Revisions.
Hanai Sibai, a London-based Egyptian leader who received political asylum from the United Kingdom, published several articles attacking Imam’s new position, saying they were a result of coercion and inconsistent with his previous writings which sanctioned violence.
Dr Fadl responded by aggressively questioning his critic’s leadership credentials. In a Dec. 12 interview with Al-Hayat, he mocked those abroad who opposed his Revisions, saying “there is no such thing as the leadership abroad, because a ‘leader does not leave his followers but rather he leads them. When a ship is sinking, the captain is always the last one to abandon ship and if even one passenger remains, he goes down with the ship.
Fadl challenged his critics, saying “if they are so serious about Jihad, why don’t they come back to Egypt to show us, instead of “fighting remote-control Jihad from “the cover of political asylum in infidel countries.
Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the second-in-command of Al-Qaeda, also tried to downplay the significance of Fadl’s Revisions, asking “do they now have fax machines in Egyptian jail cells? I wonder if they are connected to the same line as the electric-shock machines.
Yet for all of Zawahiri’s bombast, he was clearly thrown off guard by an unprecedented attack from a highly respected militant and felt compelled to write a 200-page response to Imam’s Revisions.
Essentially, Sayyid Imam’s 2007 book was an attack on Al-Qaeda and similar groups that use violence. He based his argument on the cost-benefit analysis that Jihad is counter-productive. For example, he is a bitter critic of the 9/11 operations because it provoked American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, thus causing more harm to Muslims.
The significance of Imam’s new release will depend upon the extent to which the author has gone beyond simple anti-violence declarations and the maturity of his ideas about dealing with greater political and social causes.