Since winning the Arabic Booker in 2009, he has emerged as one of the most outspoken critics of religious extremism and cultural decline in Egypt. His voice is one among a growing number in Egypt calling for cultural change, change that can only happen if Egyptians begin to question dearly held beliefs, especially religious ones.
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Al-Zawahiri recently released a short video entitled Oppression, in which, unsurprisingly, he warns against oppression. The video features at the end a quotation from Ibn Taymiyya, saying, “God will support the just state, even if it is a disbelieving one, but He will not support the oppressive state, even if it is a believing one.” It could also be that this criticism is directed at the experience of the Islamic State, or perhaps it is directed at both the projects of the Islamic State and HTS.
Of these different trends, the ‘mainstream’ reaction to the group’s defeat is the easiest to explain. It is also the least interesting since it follows the same line as much conventional analysis: that is, stressing that IS will ‘remain’ (Arabic: baqiya), and that the loss of territory does not mean the true end of the caliphate. This is a line that IS’ propaganda has promoted for some time.
AQ supporters assert that HTS’ leaders disobeyed Zawahiri and undertook steps without appropriate consultation. For example, prior to the formation of HTS in January 2017, Jabhat al-Nusra had rebranded itself as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham in July 2016, which was presented to the media as some kind of breaks with AQ.
Egypt’s strategy to combat these groups has primarily relied on a security crackdown – specifically on the Muslim Brotherhood – and large-scale military operations against IS in North Sinai. At the same time, the state has set about ‘renewing religious discourse’. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has repeatedly called for a more moderate version of Islam, although the efficacy of the approach to prevent and counter radicalization has been questioned.
The most famous example of a successful initiative to prevent radicalization in Lebanon is a project by the NGO MARCH in Tripoli. It started from 2014 and brought together young people from two rival neighborhoods: the Alawite minority from the Jabal Mohsen area and the Sunni community of Bab el-Tebbaneh. The groups, who live in poor quarters of the city, separated by Syria Street, are known for their sporadic clashes and armed battles in the streets of Tripoli.
Frustrated by the slow pace of government reconstruction, some citizens have begun taking matters into their own hands, with volunteers cleaning the streets and residents rebuilding their own houses and businesses. However, some have accused Baghdad of having sectarian motives for moving slowly on the reconstruction of former IS-held areas, which are primarily Sunni.