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June 17, 2005


issandr El Amrani

Wish I'd seen that. What was the question that stopped Al Zayat cold? It must have been a fascinating debate, especially with Al Zayat being so familiar with the way Zawahri thinks (they shared a prison cell once). It reminds me of one of my favorite Al Zayat anecdotes: I attended this conference he organized once on "Islamism after 9.11" during which he read out an email Zawahri had allegedly sent him. At the beginning of the conference everyone went on about how much America was to blame for everything, how it was the central enemy, and so on. Zayat stood up, gave a exasperated sigh, and said: "OK, sure, death to America, death to America, we know we can all agree on that. But where do we go from that?"

(Second favorite anecdote: his email address is monty@...)

Al Zayat is a smart guy who's fashioned himself a niche as an Islamist that the government never touches and represents most non-Brotherhood Islamists in Egyptian courts, as well as serve as the semi-official mouthpiece of the imprisoned Gamaa Islamiya leadership. All this suggests that he has fairly good relations with the regime. But he is also one of the vocal articulator of the idea that hardcore Islamists really have to move on from the Jihadist ideas of the 1970s and offer a political alternative. In other words, he admits that the violent Islamists have lost but wants to salvage something from their project.


Issandr - have you read Zayat's book "The Road to al-Qaeda"? Fascinating stuff, exactly along the lines you've laid out here.


I wish I had paid closer attention to the question which stopped Zayat cold. It was kind of funny. Faisal asked him something about Kefaya and the Islamists competing, I think, and there was just silence. Faisal checks his microphone, says something like "can you hear me, are you there". Then you see the visual of Zayat staring down at the ground, and then starting to speak and then stopping himself. He finally gathered his wits, but it's one of the few times I've seen Zayat at a loss. When I get the transcript, I'm going to have to see what the exact question was...

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