Follow-up on Zawahri-Gamaa statement

UPI has an update on the merger between Al Qaeda and the Egyptian Gamaa Islamiya announced by Ayman Zawahri a few days ago. Having now been denied by several former Gamaa leader -- including repentant leaders Karam Zohdy and Nagueh Ibrahim in Egypt -- it looks like Zawahri's statement was either a fake or he was rather badly informed. One thing the Egyptian press has picked up over the last few days is that the statement was issued on the day of the funeral of Sadat assassin Khaled al-Islambuli's father, who is related to Zawahri himself. Zawahri mentioned that Al Islambuli's brother, Muhammad Shawki al-Islambuli, was one of the former Gamaa leaders who had pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda.

Makram Mohammed Ahmed, a prominent state columnist/editor who was instrumental in the government's negotiations with the Gamaa Islamiya and broke the story in his magazine, al-Mussawar, several years ago, wrote in al-Ahram recently that the whole thing is an attempt by Zawahri to reclaim some of the limelight stolen by Hizbullah. And, apparently, to divert attention from this, he has announced (and it has been echoed by security sources in other newspapers) that he has begun a dialogue with imprisoned Islamic Jihad leaders. Initial reports suggest that individual members are amenable to the same kind of recantation the Gamaa carried out, but that there are difficulties because of Jihad's much more cellular structure.

All of this suggests that Zawahri's recent statement was, overall, a failed and badly thought-out PR coup. I like to think about it as the jihadist equivalent of a bunch of gangta rappers, having found fame and fortune and moved from South Central to Beverly Hills, defensively sing about how they're "still G" and from the hood. A bunch of ex-Gamaa types who are on the run or in prisons really doesn't amount to much, much like Zawahri himself (also on the run) struggles to remain in the media's eye even though he really is old news. Does anyone really think that the people behind, for instance, yesterday's airplane alert in Britain are taking direct directions from Zawahri, Bin Laden or former Gamaa leaders? Inspiration (sick, twisted inspiration to be sure) is all these old fogeys can provide. A new generation of wars is generating its own jihadists.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.