Egyptian activists and politicians rejected Ayman al-Zawahiri's recent calls on Egyptians to abandon the concept of a secular state and adopt an Islamic state. They said al-Qaeda's second in command appeared to be out of touch with Egyptian youth, who chose peaceful means to bring about the opposite of what al-Qaeda preaches.
In an audio message released Friday (February 19th), al-Zawahiri attacked what he called the "secular government" in Egypt, and criticised former President Hosni Mubarak and his son Gamal. Analysts told Al-Shorfa the audio message was likely recorded before Mubarak's resignation and subsequent assumption of authority by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
In the message, which al-Zawahiri said will be one of a series of messages he will record for Egyptians, he said that the reality of Egypt is that "of deviation from Islam and what resulted in acceptance of corruption, immorality, apprehension, oppression and dependency. There is ideological, political, economic, financial, social and moral corruption."
Al-Zawahiri accused Mubarak of being a corrupt leader, claiming that his reign was marred by fraudulent elections and widespread corruption.
Dr. Nageh Ibrahim, a leader in the Islamic Group in Egypt, which formally renounced violence in 1997, said al-Zawahiri's message was delivered in isolation of current events. Mubarak is a former president, and he and his son are no longer in the political arena.
He told Al-Shorfa, "The messages of al-Qaeda, no matter how powerful and eloquent, will have no impact on the Egyptian revolution, or on Egyptian youth who chose peaceful means to achieve their goals of freedom, justice and rejection of oppression, and not through killing the innocent and terrorizing the peaceful, the way al-Qaeda does."
Ibrahim said al-Qaeda's purpose behind this message is to establish its presence and give them impression that it is following events in Egypt closely. "However, the timing of the message shows that it is far removed from events in Egypt. The message did not even mention the Egyptian revolution that shook the world. Instead, al-Zawahiri came out criticising Mubarak."
Ibrahim said the message was probably recorded some time ago, pointing out that the security conditions in which al-Zawahiri lives might not have provided him time to record another message after the revolution.
Al-Zawahiri's calls for an Islamic state in Egypt came at a time when all the nation's political forces, including the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Group, agreed on the necessity of establishing a new political system founded on secular principles that do not distinguish between people of different faiths.
Saad al-Katatni, the official spokesperson of the Muslim Brotherhood group, said in an interview on Egyptian television Saturday that the ultimate authority in the state will be the laws, the Supreme Constitutional Court, and the Legislative Council.
"The Iranian model is rejected by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt," he said.
Issam al-Aryan, a Muslim Brotherhood leader, told Al-Shorfa, "The Muslim Brotherhood opposes a religious state that creates fear in the West, because Islam is against such a state. We support a secular state because Islam believes in freedom of religion and does not want anyone to impose his faith on someone else."
He said peaceful means are the only way to realise change, eliminate corruption, reduce poverty, and achieve social justice.
Abdullah Hilmi, a human rights activist and a founder of the Reform and Development Party, told Al-Shorfa that al-Zawahiri’s message is out of context because the general population, both young and old, along with the entire political spectrum support a secular state. Any talk about an Islamic state is a relic of the past, he said.
Hilmi said, "Al-Qaeda kills innocent people and uses violence in all parts of the world in the name of 'fighting oppression' by recruiting elements who are weak in spirit and who live in conditions that nurture extremism. The Egyptian revolution was a fight against totalitarianism and corruption through peaceful means."
He said one of the goals of the Egyptian revolution is to eradicate poverty and oppression, noting that this was one of the main ingredients contributing to the spread of extremism in Egypt and Arab society in general.
Hilmi emphasised that Egyptians will not give up on "the dream of a secular state that gives all political forces the opportunity to participate in the transformation of society on the basis of political programmes and not based upon their religion or ethnicity."