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Is the sulky Maadi boy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, actually dead?

Mashari Althaydi

Published: Updated:

News has spread about the “death” of the al-Qaeda leader, Osama Bin Laden’s successor, and the symbol of the Egyptian terrorist organization “Jihad,” Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Ayman, or Sheikh Ayman, or Dr. Ayman, reportedly died of liver cancer in his home, in Doha, Qatar. Other sources claimed he died in Iran. Al-Zawahiri’s death was confirmed when “Hurras al-Deen,” the al-Qaeda branch in Syria, posted the news on their account as cited from American and international media.

Succeeding Osama bin Laden in 2011, al-Zawahiri became al-Qaeda’s leader. Nevertheless, he never had “Sheikh Abu Abdullah’s” charisma, and that’s another story.

Ayman al-Zawahiri is, or was, a living manifestation of the twentieth century crises of the Arab, particularly Egyptian, societies. He also represents irrefutable proof of the faultiness of the claim that extremism is born out of economic deprivation or social marginalization.

Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri calls for more anti-Islam film protests in a speech. (File photo: Reuters)
Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri calls for more anti-Islam film protests in a speech. (File photo: Reuters)

American journalist and former American University in Cairo professor, Lawrence Wright, wrote a remarkable book entitled “The Looming Tower,” in which he traces the lives of Sayyid Qutb, Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri, using a catchy, investigative, narrative.

This biography depicts Ayman as a son of one of Cairo’s high-ranking families, who, as a young student, attended dawn prayers at the mosque of the semi-brotherhood follower and retired actor Hussein Sedky in Cairo’s upscale suburb of new Maadi. His father’s uncle was the late al-Azhar’s grand Imam, Mohammed al-Ahmadi al-Zawahiri. His maternal grandfather, Dr. Abdul Wahab Azzam, was the President of Cairo University, whose uncle, Abdul Rahman Azzam, was the first secretary-general of the League of Arab States.

Speaking of the Azzams, Ayman’s uncle happens to be the radical lawyer and “Qutb Fan,” Mahfouz Azzam, who had a great influence on Ayman, and who later on became his big supporter when he became the symbol of “Jihad.”

According to Lawrence Wright’s book, all these characters are connected. Qutb is linked to Ayman’s uncle, Mahfouz Azzam, as Sayyid Qutb used to be Mahfouz’s teacher in 1936. And, reportedly, Mahfouz was the last one to meet Sayyid, where the latter gave him a copy he had written by hand of the Holy Quran.

Young Ayman became famous in the early 1980s following a few incidents, including the Sadat assassination, then more so in the circles of internal dispute between the political and military wings of the Muslim Brotherhood, and among new group founders.

Ayman presented his vision for the Brotherhood in one of his most famous literature works “The Bitter Harvest,” which was first published in 1988. After praising it for its “pioneering” cultivation of correct consciousness among Muslim youth, Ayman goes on to “bitterly” criticize the Brotherhood for engaging in politics.

The biography and capriciousness of Dr. Ayman, descendant of the high-end al-Zawahiri family of Maadi, to the mountains of Afghanistan, are worth exploring. Once read in depth, they will refute many misleading explanations of the evolution of extremism in our region.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

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