The August 14, 2013, clashes between Egyptian security forces and supporters of Mohamed Morsi have reinvigorated calls amongst jihadis for the establishment of armed jihadi groups in the country.
The surge in violence, which has left nearly a hundred people dead and scores injured, recalls many of the predictions and incitements distributed by jihadis in the wake of the coup against Mohammed Morsi, on July 3, 2013. During the past weeks, they have issued political and strategic commentary on the Egyptian Revolution and the legacy of the Muslim Brotherhood. For top leaders of al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda-linked jihadi groups, prominent jihadi ideologues, and online jihadi supporters, the coup that deposed Morsi served as confirmation that democracy is an inherently flawed political system and a foreign import that only supports the interests of Western powers. Consequentially, they called on Muslims to abandon the ballot box and fight for the implementation of a Shariah-based government.
In these calls to arms, al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups can be seen to continue their strategy of attempting to exploit local instability and conflict to open up a new front for jihad and to strengthen their movement. Statements from influential jihadi groups and leaders -- including al-Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri -- and messages posted online by jihadi supporters have addressed supporters of Morsi's Islamist government and attempted to convince listeners that Islamic law and governance can only be established through a-Qaeda's agenda of violence. Attempts to turn events to the benefit of al-Qaeda can be seen in the immediacy and urgency of statements from al-Qaeda and linked groups. For example, within a day of the July 3rd coup, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Shabaab al-Mujahideen Movement, as well the pro-Shabaab Kenya-based Muslim Youth Center (MYC), had posted messages to their official Twitter pages denouncing the proceedings and inciting for jihad. Soon after, responses followed from additional jihadi groups around the world, including the Afghan Taliban, which dedicated two official statements, issued on July 8 and July 15, to condemning the coup.
In one of the first official jihadi responses to the overthrow of Morsi's regime, AQIM released a statement on July 4, 2013, that accused foreign agents of colluding with the Egyptian military and portrayed the political crisis as part of a worldwide attack against Muslim population centers so as to "tame our largest human reservoirs." The message, from AQIM media official Abu Abdul Ilah Ahmed al-Jijeli, called for Egyptians to engage in a violent revolution, stating:
"the youth of Egypt should learn that the price for applying principles on the ground is a mountain of body parts and seas of blood, because evil must be killed and not shown mercy, and righteousness must be achieved by cutting the head of those who corrupt and not reason with them."
On the same day, July 4, 2013, al-Qaeda's affiliate in Somalia, the Shabaab al-Mujahideen Movement, echoed AQIM's calls for violence and uprising in a series of messages posted to their Twitter feed. Asserting that the strategies of the Muslim Brotherhood must change to reflect the failure of implementing an Islamic revolution through democracy, the group asserted that:
"The MB [Muslim Brotherhood] youth should realise by now that Islam can never be fully established without a guiding Qur'an and the sword to support it"
The Shabaab reiterated the point in a follow-up post, commenting:
"It's time to remove those rose-tinted spectacles and see the world as accurately as it is, change comes by the bullet alone; NOT the ballot"
The Muslim Youth Center also commented on the events in Egypt, posting on its English Twitter account that the "Arab Spring turned into Arab Chaos," and after the failure of democracy, and after the mass protests and Morsi's ouster, the situation is "ripe" for jihad. In a series of messages on July 3, it declared:
"simply put, democracy is haram [forbidden] and NOT halaal [permissible]! ...in the next three months egypt is likely to be another jihadi front....strike iron while its hot mujahideen!"
Championing the perspective that Morsi's overthrow proves that the Muslim Brotherhood was misguided in attempting to bring about Islamist rule through democracy, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri called for "the soldiers of the Qur'an to wage the battle of the Qur'an" in a message released to jihadi forums on August 2, 2013. The message, titled "The Democratic Date-Idol", accused the West of seeking to overthrow Morsi in order to implement a Coptic state in Egypt. Zawahiri noted that the Egyptian people have come out no better than if they had implemented Shariah at the outset and called for:
"every honorable, loyal person who loves the victory of Islam to unify the words of the Muslims around the word of tawhid [monotheism].. to shun all methods and ways that oppose the rule of Shariah, and to unite in a mass preaching and inciting.."
The view that events in Egypt are leading towards the necessity for violence and the creation of an armed jihadi movement to battle the Egyptian military is reflected in messages posted by members of online jihadi forums, where users have vociferously promoted armed jihad as the next step for Muslims in Egypt. For example, writing in a July 27, 2013, discussion thread on the Ansar al-Mujahideen English Forum (AMEF) chronicling clashes between the Egyptian security forces and Islamists, a user posted the view that:
"...Jihad is the way out for our Egyptian brothers now. I was so upset by the recent statement from ikhwaan [brothers] defeatist where some of them said 'be those among being killed, not those among killers'."
On the same day, a second AMEF user added:
"O Egyptian Muslims! Please wake up now! The west & its allies (esp Egyptian Army) are not interested in muslim governments. Their only solution is Jihad!!
"Its a difficult, but the only solution for muslims throughout the world!"
The appeals were echoed in messages posted to the top-tier Arabic-language jihadi forum Shumukh al-Islam following clashes between Egyptian security forces and supporters of Mohamed Morsi on August 14, 2013. In messages posted on August 14, jihadists called for the establishment of a military "current" to defend the Muslims of Egypt. One user, "Abu al-Kheir al-Filistini," opined that:
"The circumstances are now suitable... and so is the opportunity for a 'military' jihadi armed current to rise to defend Sunnis with the sword and spear."
Further, the analysis posted by "Abu al-Kheir al-Filistini" included a prayer calling on Allah to "quickly send Qaedat al-Jihad [al-Qaeda] to our people in Egypt to defend them" and for the rise of strong powerful jihadi military leaders.
Agitation for a jihadi uprising has continued in the weeks since the Egyptian coup. The sentiment that Egypt is ripe for an armed jihadi front has been reflected both in an uptick of online activity from existing jihadi groups in Egypt and the announcement of the creation of new jihadi organizations, such as Ansar al-Shariah in Egypt, whose online representative issued a statement to jihadi forums on July 5, 2013 declaring the group's formation. Ansar al-Shariah in Egypt charged that the coup is part of a "war declared against Islam in Egypt," and described the group's intent to implement Shariah-based governance by force, if necessary. Explicitly disavowing "the alleged democratic Shariah" as "a disbelieving system that contradicts the Shariah," they directed supporters to:
"Make preparations and acquire means of power such as weapons and training, for these are the most dutiful obligations for Muslims to be able to deter the attackers."
Moreover, Ansar al-Shariah in Egypt described their resolve not to "leave ourselves that weak to let massacres happen to Muslims in Egypt" or lose ground to Christians. Their inaugural statement promised that Ansar al-Shariah's members:
"offer our blood in the place of Muslims and their honor. Let us show Allah from ourselves sincerity, determination and sacrifice. The religion of Allah will be victorious for sure with or without us."
In a message posted to jihadi forums on August 9, 2013, another jihadi group, the Sinai-based Ansar Jerusalem, opined that "the betrayal of the Egyptian army ... has become a clear matter." Lamenting that the Egyptian military "no longer defends the borders of the country and fights its enemies" but rather works against Egyptians at the behest of Israel and the United States, the group asked: "Until when will one stay silent in the face of this??"
These recent events-- including the formation Ansar al-Shariah in Egypt, an uptick in dispatches from al-Salafiyya al-Jihadiyya (Jihadi-Salafis) in Sinai about alleged crimes by the Egyptian military, and indications that a jihadi representative from the Sinai took part in a "conference call" with current al-Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri and other jihadi leaders that prompted the United States to close diplomatic missions around the world—suggest that jihadis may be heeding the calls to action. The mobilization of a jihadi front in Egypt serves al-Qaeda's recent agenda of exploiting local conflicts to further their intent for a jihadi-lead revolution throughout the region, and strongly echoes the al-Qaeda's conversion of instability and civil conflict in Iraq, Libya, and Syria to into strength and capital.