Al-Qaida’s senior leadership (AQSL) is full of Egyptians, but they have yet to produce an official communiqué about events in their home country. Yesterday, a short message was published by a leading Egyptian jihadi figure. It is not from AQSL, however, but from someone we haven’t heard from for many years. The London-based Al Maqreze Center run by Hani al-Sibai has relayed a message from Thirwat Salah Shahata, a veteran of the old Egyptian Islamic Jihad (Jama’at al-Jihad bi Misr). Now nearly fifty one years old, he has been absent from the spotlight for many years. In 2005, he was reported to be under some sort of house arrest in Iran, and Al-Sharq al-Awsat’s sources claim the message was sent from Tehran. Al Maqreze, however, suggests he is now hiding in “Khurasan” (i.e. the Northern Af-Pak region).
In his communiqué, Shahata speaks on behalf of the Jihad Group (EIJ), not al-Qaida. He expresses his solidarity with the courageous Egyptian people “with all segments of its society” in their fight against tyranny, and says “we wish we could have been on the front line, and shared this honour with you”. In an attempt to explain the jihadis’ absence from the scene, he talks about the imprisonment of numerous EIJ cadres in Egypt, their escape from Egypt during various stages of their struggle with the regime, and their participation in other arenas for jihad. He ends his message by urging Egyptians not to be deceived by the regime’s concessions, but continue the current uprising until the regime is gone. Shahata also addresses the army, urging them to heed the nation’s aspirations and side with the people.
In short, Shahata’s communiqué is rather unremarkable and triggered only measured responses on the jihadi web. In fact, apart from the obligatory “bless you” and “God protect Shaykh Tharwat”, it triggered negative comments about Shahata’s appeal to the army: “I don’t know how he can appeal to the army. This is a secular army … and one that produced the tyrants such as Gamal Abdul Nasser, Sadat and now, the damned (“unblessed”) Mubarak …”
Such a response and the mere fact that this anonymous and murky EIJ figure, issues a message, and not a leading Egyptian al-Qaida member, is significant. Again, it demonstrates the jihadis’ irrelevance to the rapidly evolving situation in Egypt.