Zayyat, a famous Islamist lawyer from Egypt, writes an interesting account on the life and times of Al-Qaeda's second in command and al-Jihad leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
The book is worth reading for several reasons. First, most Al-Qaeda books center around the life of Osama bin Laden although it is commonly believed that Zawahiri is the network's chief ideologue. In this way, Zayyat's book fills an important void. The book is penned also by an insider familiar with the players in Egypt's vast Islamist underworld. More importantly, Zayyat provides new information to Western readers. He documents, for instance, "the struggle that took place" between the members of Egyptian terrorist organizations al-Gama‘a al-Islamiyya and al-Jihad over whether Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, now in jail for his plots to destroy several New York City landmarks, "was capable of leadership of the group despite his blindness." He also explains how Zawahiri traveled to Afghanistan, getting around the Egyptian government's refusal to grant him a visa to leave the country. In 1986 Zawahiri met bin Laden in Afghanistan, forging a relationship that eventually led to scores of attacks against the West.
While Zawahiri's life is the book's focus, Zayyat also tells his own story. He writes of his own experiences in the Higher State Security Court in 1982 after the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, which is when he first met Zawahiri (both were accused of being part of the plot). He explains why, after a decade of brutal violence between radical Islamists and the Egyptian government, he surprised fellow Islamists in Egypt by supporting a cease-fire initiative in 1997, an initiative that resulted in bad blood between him and Zawahiri, who sought continued war with the West. Still, Zayyat bristles at Zawahiri's claims that he "called for stopping jihad against the Jews." In other words, Egypt's Islamist-turned-pacifist lawyer still claims to support a war against Jews but believes that "it requires patience in securing the means to ensure a victory."
Zayyat's book is filled with other invective. He asserts that no Islamist "can be a friend of the United States in view of all the crimes it has committed and continues to commit against Muslims, especially Arab Muslims. A complete overview of these crimes would fill many books." He claims to have "infinite respect" for Omar Abdel Rahman. He also has a "close and longstanding friendship" with Rifa‘i Taha, leader of al-Gama‘a al-Islamiyya, the group responsible for the Luxor massacre of 1997. Such sentiments show that despite Zayyat's peaceful initiatives toward Cairo, he still ascribes to the same radical ideology as Ayman al-Zawahiri. Indeed, the self-professed "moderate" author of this book is still very much a part of the problem, not the solution.