Over the last few weeks, Sayyed Imam Al-Sharif, one of the least public yet most important figures in the global jihad movement, has published a long-awaited new work, Wathiqat Tarshid Al-'Aml Al-Jihadi fi Misr w'Al-'Alam ("Document of Right Guidance for Jihad Activity in Egypt and the World"), in which he calls for a stop to jihad activities in the West and also to those against the ruling regimes in Muslim countries.
The new book, which Imam wrote while serving a life sentence in Egypt, was published in serial form in two Arab dailies, the Kuwaiti Al-Jarida and the Egyptian Al-Masri Al-Yawm, and has been the subject of extensive discussion and polemic among Islamists and observers of Islamist movements. The document is at once a book and a formal initiative, and the majority of leaders and members of the Jihad organization in the Egyptian prisons have signed the document and promised to stop armed activities. This entire process was facilitated by the Egyptian authorities, and the document was reviewed by a commission of Al-Azhar scholars. 
The book has generated such interest due to its author's standing and importance among radical Islamists. In addition to his given name, Sayyed Imam Al-Sharif, he is also known as "Dr. Fadl" and "'Abd Al-Qader Bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz." His 1988 book on the laws of jihad, Al-'Umda fi I'dad Al-'Udda ("The Essentials of Making Ready [for Jihad]"), was used as a jihad manual in Al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. 
Some of the most enthusiastic supporters of Sayyed Imam's new document have been leaders of Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiyya, another Egyptian jihad group which, in 1997, began its own process of ideological revisions. These revisions eventually led to a wide-ranging reassessment of their beliefs, and they published a number of polemical tracts against Al-Qaeda.
(See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 309, "The Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiyya Cessation of Violence: An Ideological Reversal," December 22, 2006, http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=ia&ID=IA30906 .)
In recent interviews and statements, members of Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiyya and other like-minded individuals have given an upbeat assessment of the new book's impact, expressing the hope that Sayyed Imam's revisions would lead to something similar in Al-Qaeda itself, or perhaps to an internal split or a weakening of support for Al-Qaeda. 
Al-Zawahiri addressed the issue of Sayyed Imam's new book even before it was published, in the course of a feature-length video produced by Al-Sahab called Quwwat Al-Haqq ("The Power of Truth"). He argued that the revisions, which he calls the "retractions," were simply the product of torture in the Egyptian prisons; he said that he didn't blame their author for having broken down, but rather those outside the prisons who were enthusiastically promoting his new book. These latter he compared to gravediggers, who as soon as they hear that someone is sick, rush to him and wait eagerly for him to die so they can earn their living by burying him.
This line of defense has since been taken up by other Al-Qaeda spokesmen and supporters.The most vocal of these is Hani Al-Siba'i, an Egyptian Islamist living in London, who appears frequently on the Arab satellite stations and in the press. He also heads the Al-MaqrezeCenter for Historical Studies, and runs the website http://www.almaqreze.net/.
A third category of responses is that of independent jihadists. The most important of these to date has been Abu Basir Al-Tartusi, a prominent radical sheikh. Unlike Al-Qaeda, he does not believe that Sayyed Imam was forced to write his new book, and he offers his reasons for believing that it was written out of conviction. Also unlike Al-Qaeda, he undertakes a refutation of the central arguments in the book, and pillories Sayyed Imam for employing what are, in his opinion, weak proofs to try to stop the jihad. He accuses Sayyed Imam of going from extreme to extreme, noting that in the past both he himself and Al-Zarqawi's erstwhile mentor, Sheikh Abu Muhammad Al-Maqdisi, had criticized Sayyed Imam for being too radical and too quick to declare other Muslims apostates.  (For more on Abu Basir Al-Tartusi, see MEMRI Special Report No. 40, "Expatriate Syrian Salafi Sheikh Al-Tartusi Comes Out Against Suicide Attacks," February 10, 2006, http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=sr&ID=SR4006.)
It should be noted that Sayyed Imam's revisions are less far-reaching than those of Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiyya. He does not clearly state that he no longer considers the current rulers of Muslim countries to be apostates; the reason he forbids fighting them is primarily that this jihad has little or no chance of success, and thus does more harm than good. He has also not renounced his previous writings, and claims that they were merely misunderstood. He is much clearer on other topics, like the shari'a prohibition on killing Western tourists, civilians in Western countries, and so on. The question of what precisely the document says and does not say is a complex one that will be taken up in future reports.
In the coming weeks and months, MEMRI will be providing full coverage of Sayyed Imam's new book and the reactions to it. By way of introduction, the following are excerpts from the first two segments of a six-part interview granted by Sayyed Imam to the Al-Hayat daily. In the interview, he deals at length with the 9/11 attacks, his relationship with Al-Zawahiri, and the emergence of Al-Qaeda. He describes the 9/11 attacks as betrayal and perfidy; Al-Zawahiri as a charlatan prone to betraying his friends, bin Laden as lacking a solid religious education, and Al-Qaeda as an organization without a shari'a authority and without a moral compass.
December 15, 2007
MEMRI: Major Jihadi Cleric says 9/11 Was a Sin
Unheard of compunction from a Muslim radical. An important read excerpted from MEMRI:
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