CAIRO SUBURB OF MAADI: ISLAMIC MOVEMENT AND REAL ESTATE DEVELOPMENT

August 3, 2010 at 4:34 pm | Posted in Arabs, Books, Economics, Financial, Globalization, History, Islam, Middle East | Leave a comment

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Maadi: Cairo Suburb Islamist Movement Real Estate

A TOWN CALLED MAADI

“Maadi” is the Arabic word for ferry-boats. This is because the town of Maadi which is located on the Nile a few kilometers south of Cairo was once upon a time an important crossing point for caravan routes coming from Arabia en route to the Nile’s west bank at Giza where several important towns were located and from where the long trek to Upper Egypt began.

Modern day Maadi gained its reputation for being Egypt‘s enviable green suburb.

But not for long. Sadat’s infitaheconomic Open Door policy would irrevocably change Maadi when an uncontrolled elimination of those very characteristics which had made this town so attractive, were unleashed.

Maadi’s history is best told in Samir Raafat’s 280-page book Maadi 1904-1962; Society & History in a Cairo Suburb published by Palm Press, Cairo, 1994.

The book includes 70 pictures plus a map of old Maadi. There is also a revealing family tree evidencing how, at its outset, the British incorporated Delta Land Company Ltd. was controlled by a successful Jewish consortium.

Here are excerpts from some book reviews:

– The history of one district can tell you much about the history of a whole country — such is the case with the Cairo suburb of Maadi. Maadi 1904-1962 is a fascinating account of a planned suburban paradise where the events of world importance were mirrored in the everyday lives of residents during this turbulent period of Egyptian history.

– Much of the book’s material relies on oral history which was a primary effort at cataloguing souvenirs and information that is disappearing as Maadi’s second and third generation of inhabitants move on into another world.

– Raafat has painstakingly assembled facts, opinions and rumors about Maadi and it residents, from the suburb’s inception as an English-style garden town (or Tooting-on-the Nile’ as one of its long-standing residents insisted on calling it before the days when Tooting became what it is) to the invasion of high-rise apartments in the ’60s.

– The book provides a detailed history of Maadi’s developments, looking at how it was conceived, planned and, with remarkable efficiency, run by the formidable Delta Land Company. From the solar energy boiler, installed in the first Maadi waterworks in 1913, to the US$ 3 million slush fund payment, made in the 1950s by the US government to certain Free Officers via Maadi resident and CIA operative Miles Copeland who recounts the incident in his book A Game of Nations.

– In 1929, as the world witnessed the catastrophic collapse of stock exchanges across the globe, Lady Percy Lorraine, wife of the British High Commissioner in Egypt was regally opening Maadi’s finest bazaar in the Diamanti Cafe gardens. It was a great and memorable occasion, the climax of months of preparation by the Maadi Ladies Guild.

– In many ways Maadi’s enduring insularity is a testament to its success. The outside world was never meant to impinge, and Maadi the only planned green suburb of Cairo, sits smugly apart from the boisterous sprawling metropolis of the city proper.

– The successful British and Jewish businessmen constituting the Delta Land and Investment Company which created Maadi in 1907 had meticulous ideas about their planned paradise. Built on British colonial lines, it is a far cry from the stately grandeur of New Delhi. It was a place to be lived in rather than looked at. Its growth was carefully monitored — no haphazard urban sprawl was possible with building regulations reminiscent of the inventory of an overbearing landlord.

– But Maadi was never entirely severed from the outside world. World War I opened the gates to Australian, New Zealand, South African and Indian troops and hundreds of orange tents. Maadites, not known for their tolerance of outsiders abhorred the way in which public tennis courts were turned into drill grounds and the outlying deserts ransacked by excited soldiers hunting furiously for antiquities. Ex-pats aside, even the villagers, usually so pleasant and ingratiating, protested angrily against their fruit stolen, their property plundered and their folk molested.

– War passed and life of residents resumed its sedentary ease once again. In 1921, shortly after nationalist leader returned from exile in the Seychelles, the British-run Maadi Sporting Club opened with ginger biscuits, Indian tea and an 18-hole golf course. Members could sit in the main garden enjoying a tall glass of iced coffee overlooking a beautiful pond designed by Maadi resident Llewelyn Hugh-Jones and inspired by Claude Monet’s “The Nympheas”.

– Before the cricket pitch was inaugurated, the only problem being its upkeep. Hundreds of sheep were enlisted to graze the three days at a at time, which seemed a suitable holistic approach in the absence of technology. The triangle within the Maadi British Community operated was son completed with the construction of the Anglican Church at St. John the Baptist in 1930 followed by the English School two years later.

– Within a decade, the effects of the war began to impinge again on the small insular Maadi community, polarizing it into different ethnic groupings, nationalities and religion. Prominent German personalities were welcoming Dr. Joseph Goebbels and making scant effort to obscure their Nazi sympathies much to the concern and chagrin of Maadi’s large Jewish population. Gas masks were distributed to British subjects by the British run Delta Land Company. The place was once again overrun, this time with 76,000 New Zealanders constituting the largest foreign community ever to have resided in and near Maadi.

– The end of World War II closed another chapter in Maadi’s history. The British were on their way out of Egypt. Maadi’s Egyptian residents could not help their mixed feelings. On one hand they were sad that those who made this town so unique were going. On the other hand, it was time for them to leave. The Brits had overstayed their welcome.

– From among Maadi’s young Egyptians came the officers and the gentlemen. Eventually the officers gained preeminence as they unsettled the established order following the 1952 coup which toppled Farouk. Egypt‘s future prime minister renown for being the architect of its new socialism came from Maadi. Hardly a conducive environment for propagating such unrealistic — and now — defunct values. What was it that had pushed him in that direction?

– After the British it was the turn of the French, the Greeks and the Jews. One by one they left. With excess luggage limits being rigidly enforced, all they could take with them were their memories of paradise. The dirty tricks campaign was about to start.

Today, Maadi remains a favorite with American and European expats perhaps because the American and French schools are located there. Both are run by their respective countries free from any local educational controls and restrictions. Also, because Maadi offers many facilities such as shopping malls, fast food, including Pizza Hut and McDonalds, a sporting club (frequented today mostly by Egyptians) and two access routes into Cairo – the corniche and the autostrada (highway). The town is also served by the Metro with direct access to downtown Cairo.

The disappearance of many of Maadi’s villas and gardens notwithstanding, a few survived as though testimonials of its past. Those pulled down were replaced, in most cases, by smart apartment buildings.

If Maadi had always been exterior-looking taking advantage of each season, today its inhabitants prefer to remain in sealed blocs with the hum of air-conditions replacing the sounds and fragrance of its once abbundant flora and fauna.

And yet, despite changes evoked and lamented in Samir Raafat’s book on Maadi, it remains Cairo‘s greenest suburb.

Five miles south of the chaos of Cairo is a quiet middle-class suburb called Maadi. A consortium of Egyptian Jewish financiers, intending to create a kind of English village amid the mango and guava plantations and Bedouin settlements on the eastern bank of the Nile, began selling lots in the first decade of the twentieth century. The developers regulated everything, from the height of the garden fences to the color of the shutters on the grand villas that lined the streets. They dreamed of an Egypt that was safe and clean and orderly, and also secular and ethnically diverse—though still married to British notions of class. They planted eucalyptus trees to repel flies and mosquitoes, and gardens to perfume the air with the fragrance of roses and jasmine and bougainvillea. Many of the early settlers were British military officers and civil servants, whose wives started garden clubs and literary salons; they were followed by Jewish families, who by the end of the Second World War made up nearly a third of Maadi’s population. After the war, Maadi evolved into a community of expatriate Europeans, American businessmen and missionaries, and a certain type of Egyptian—one who spoke French at dinner and followed the cricket matches.

The center of this cosmopolitan community was the Maadi Sporting Club. Founded at a time when Egypt was occupied by the British, the club was unusual for admitting not only Jews but Egyptians. Community business was often conducted on the all-sand eighteen-hole golf course, with the Giza Pyramids and the palmy Nile as a backdrop. As high tea was served to the British in the lounge, Nubian waiters bearing icy glasses of Nescafé glided among the pashas and princesses sunbathing at the pool. In the garden were flamingos and a lily pond.

But the careful regulations could not withstand the pressure of Cairo‘s burgeoning population, and in the late nineteen-sixties another Maadi took root. “We called its residents the ‘Road 9 crowd,’ ” Samir Raafat, a journalist who has written a history of the suburb, told me. “It was very much ‘them’ and ‘us.’ ” Road 9 runs beside train tracks that separate the tony side of Maadi from the baladi district—the native part of town. Here donkey carts clop along unpaved streets past fly-studded carcasses hanging in butchers’ shops, and peanut venders and yam salesmen hawk their wares. There is also, on this side of town, a narrow slice of the middle class, composed mainly of teachers and low-level bureaucrats who were drawn to the suburb by the cleaner air and the dream of crossing the tracks and being welcomed into the club.

In 1960, Dr. Rabie al-Zawahiri and his wife, Umayma, moved from Heliopolis to Maadi. Rabie and Umayma belonged to two of the most prominent families in Egypt. The Zawahiri (pronounced za-wah-iri) clan was creating a medical dynasty. Rabie was a professor of pharmacology at Ain Shams University, in Cairo. His brother was a highly regarded dermatologist and an expert on venereal diseases. The tradition they established continued into the next generation; a 1995 obituary in a Cairo newspaper for one of their relatives, Kashif al-Zawahiri, mentioned forty-six members of the family, thirty-one of whom were doctors or chemists or pharmacists; among the others were an ambassador, a judge, and a member of parliament.

The Zawahiri name, however, was associated above all with religion. In 1929, Rabie’s uncle Mohammed al-Ahmadi al-Zawahiri became the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, the thousand-year-old university in the heart of Old Cairo, which is still the center of Islamic learning in the Middle East. The leader of that institution enjoys a kind of papal status in the Muslim world, and Imam Mohammed is still remembered as one of the university’s great modernizers. Rabie’s father and grandfather were Al-Azhar scholars as well.

Umayma Azzam, Rabie’s wife, was from a clan that was equally distinguished but wealthier and also a little notorious. Her father, Dr. Abd al-Wahab Azzam, was the president of Cairo University and the founder and director of King Saud University, in Riyadh. He had also served at various times as the Egyptian ambassador to Pakistan, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia. His uncle was a founding secretary-general of the Arab League. “From the first parliament, more than a hundred and fifty years ago, there have been Azzams in government,” Umayma’s uncle Mahfouz Azzam, who is an attorney in Maadi, told me. “And we were always in the opposition.” At seventy-five, Mahfouz remains politically active: he is the vice-president of the religiously oriented Labor Party. He was a fervent Egyptian nationalist in his youth. “I was in prison when I was fifteen years old,” he said proudly. “They condemned me for making what they called a ‘coup d’état.’ ” The memory brought an ironic smile to his face. In 1945, Mahfouz was arrested again, in a roundup of militants after the assassination of Prime Minister Ahmad Mahir. “I myself was going to do what Ayman has done,” he said.

Despite their pedigrees, Rabie and Umayma settled into an apartment on Street 100, on the baladi side of the tracks. Later, they rented a duplex at No. 10, Street 154, near the train station. High society held no interest for them. At a time when public displays of religious zeal were rare—and in Maadi almost unheard of—the couple was religious but not overtly pious. Umayma went about unveiled. There were more churches than mosques in the neighborhood, and a thriving synagogue.

Children quickly filled the Zawahiri home. The first, Ayman and a twin sister, Umnya, were born on June 19, 1951. The twins were extremely bright, and were at the top of their classes all the way through medical school. A younger sister, Heba, also became a doctor. The two other children, Mohammed and Hussein, trained as architects.

Obese, bald, and slightly cross-eyed, Rabie al-Zawahiri had a reputation as a devoted and slightly distracted academic, beloved by his students and by the neighborhood children. “He knew only his laboratory,” Mahfouz Azzam told me. Zawahiri’s research occasionally took him to Czechoslovakia, at a time when few Egyptians travelled, because of currency restrictions. He always returned laden with toys for the children. He sometimes found time to take them to the movies; Omar Azzam, the son of Mahfouz and Ayman’s second cousin, says that Ayman enjoyed cartoons and Disney movies, which played three nights a week on an outdoor screen. In the summer, the family went to a beach in Alexandria. Life on a professor’s salary was constricted, especially with five ambitious children to educate. The Zawahiris never owned a car until Ayman was out of medical school. Omar Azzam remembers that Professor Zawahiri kept hens behind the house for fresh eggs and that he liked to distribute oranges to his children and their friends. “Everyone was astonished,” Omar said. ” ‘Why all these oranges?’ He’d say, ‘They’re better than vitamin-C tablets.’ He was a pharmacology expert, but he was opposed to chemicals.”

Umayma Azzam still lives in Maadi, in a comfortable apartment above several stores. She is said to be a wonderful cook, famous for her kunafa—a pastry of shredded phyllo filled with cheese and nuts and usually drenched in orange-blossom syrup. She inherited several substantial plots of farmland in Giza and the Fayyum Oasis from her father, which provide her with a modest income. Ayman and his mother share a love of literature. “She always memorized the poems that Ayman sent her,” Mahfouz Azzam told me. Mahfouz believes that although Ayman maintained the Zawahiri medical tradition, he was actually closer in temperament to his mother’s side of the family. “The Zawahiris are professors and scientists, and they hate to speak of politics,” he said. “Ayman told me that his love of medicine was probably inherited. But politics was also in his genes.”

For anyone living in Maadi in the fifties and sixties, there was one defining social standard: membership in the Maadi Sporting Club. “The whole activity of Maadi revolved around the club,” Samir Raafat, the historian of the suburb, told me one afternoon as he drove me around the neighborhood. “If you were not a member, why even live in Maadi?” The Zawahiris never joined, which meant, in Raafat’s opinion, that Ayman would always be curtained off from the center of power and status. “He wasn’t mainstream Maadi; he was totally marginal Maadi,” Raafat said. “The Zawahiris were a conservative family. You would never see them in the club, holding hands, playing bridge. We called them saidis. Literally, the word refers to someone from a district in Upper Egypt, but we use it to mean something like ‘hick.’ “

At one end of Maadi is Victoria College, a private preparatory school built by the British. During the nineteen-sixties, it was one of the finest schools in the country, and English was still the language of instruction. “You didn’t see these buildings when I was here,” Raafat said, pointing to the high-rise apartments that have taken over Maadi in recent years. “It was all green, tennis courts and playing fields as far as you could see. We came to school in coats and ties.”

Zawahiri, however, attended the state secondary school, a modest low-slung building behind a green gate, on the opposite side of the suburb. “It was the hoodlum school, the other end of the social spectrum,” Raafat told me. The educational standards were far below those of Victoria College. “The two schools never even played sports against each other,” he said. “One was very Westernized, the other had a very limited view of the world. A lot of people will tell you that Ayman was a vulnerable young man. He grew up in a very traditional home, but the area he lived in was a cosmopolitan, secular environment. You have to blend in or totally retrench.”

Ayman’s childhood pictures show him with a round face, a wary gaze, and a flat and unsmiling mouth. He was a bookworm and hated contact sports—he thought they were “inhumane,” according to his uncle Mahfouz. From an early age, he was devout, and he often attended prayers at the Hussein Sidki Mosque, an unimposing annex of a large apartment building; the mosque was named after a famous actor who renounced his profession because it was ungodly. No doubt Ayman’s interest in religion seemed natural in a family with so many distinguished religious scholars, but it added to his image of being soft and otherworldly.

Although Ayman was an excellent student, he often seemed to be daydreaming in class. “He was a mysterious character, closed and introverted,” Zaki Mohamed Zaki, a Cairo journalist who was a classmate of his, told me. “He was extremely intelligent, and all the teachers respected him. He had a very systematic way of thinking, like that of an older guy. He could understand in five minutes what it would take other students an hour to understand. I would call him a genius.”

Once, to the family’s surprise, Ayman skipped a test, and the principal sent a note to his father. The next morning, Professor Zawahiri met with the principal and told him, “From now on, you will have the honor of being the headmaster of Ayman al-Zawahiri. In the future, you will be proud.” Indeed, that incident was never repeated. “He was perfect in everything,” Ayman’s cousin Omar told me. “In his last year in school, his twin sister used to study so much, but Ayman was not doing the same. One of our cousins said, ‘You will see the result. Ayman will get better grades than she.’ And it happened.”

Ayman often showed a playful side at home. “When he laughed, he would shake all over—yanni, it was from the heart,” Mahfouz says. But at school he held himself apart. “There were a lot of activities in the high school, but he wanted to remain isolated,” Zaki told me. “It was as if mingling with the other boys would get him too distracted. When he saw us playing rough, he’d walk away. I felt he had a big puzzle inside him—something he wanted to protect.”

Ayman al-Zawahiri – THE MAN BEHIND BIN LADEN

by LAWRENCE WRIGHT

How an Egyptian doctor became a master of terror.

II—THE MARTYR
In 1950, the year before Ayman al-Zawahiri was born, Sayyid Qutb, a well-known literary critic in Cairo, returned home after spending two years at Colorado State College of Education, in Greeley. He had left Cairo as a secular writer who enjoyed a sinecure in the Ministry of Education. One of his early discoveries was a young writer named Naguib Mahfouz, who won the 1988 Nobel Prize in Literature. “Qutb was our friend,” Mahfouz recalled recently in Cairo. “When I was growing up, he was the first critic to recognize me.” Mahfouz, who has been unable to write since 1994, when he was stabbed and nearly killed by Islamic fundamentalists, told me that before Qutb went to America he was at odds with many of the sheikhs, who he thought were “out of date.” According to Mahfouz, Qutb saw himself as part of the modern age, and he wore his religion lightly. His great passion was Egyptian nationalism, and, perhaps because of his strident opposition to the British occupation, the Ministry of Education decided that he would be safer in America.

Qutb had studied American literature and popular culture; the United States, in contrast with the European powers, seemed to him and other Egyptian nationalists to be a friendly neutral power and a democratic ideal. In Colorado, however, Qutb encountered a postwar America unlike the one he had found in books and seen in Hollywood films. “It is astonishing to realize, despite his advanced education and his perfectionism, how primitive the American really is in his views on life,” Qutb wrote upon his return to Egypt. “His behavior reminds us of the era of the caveman. He is primitive in the way he lusts after power, ignoring ideals and manners and principles.” Qutb was impressed by the number of churches in America—there were more than twenty in Greeley alone—and yet the Americans he met seemed completely uninterested in spiritual matters. He was appalled to witness a dance in a church recreation hall, during which the minister, setting the mood for the couples, dimmed the lights and played “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” “It is difficult to differentiate between a church and any other place that is set up for entertainment, or what they call in their language, ‘fun,’ ” he wrote. The American was primitive in his art as well. “Jazz is his preferred music, and it is created by Negroes to satisfy their love of noise and to whet their sexual desires,” he concluded. He even complained about his haircuts: “Whenever I go to a barber I return home and redo my hair with my own hands.”

Qutb returned to Egypt a radically changed man. In what he saw as the spiritual wasteland of America, he re-created himself as a militant Muslim, and he came back to Egypt with the vision of an Islam that would throw off the vulgar influences of the West. Islamic society had to be purified, and the only mechanism powerful enough to cleanse it was the ancient and bloody instrument of jihad. “Qutb was the most prominent theoretician of the fundamentalist movements,” Zawahiri later wrote in a brief memoir entitled “Knights Under the Prophet’s Banner,” which first appeared in serial form, in the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat, in December, 2001. “Qutb said, ‘Brother push ahead, for your path is soaked in blood. Do not turn your head right or left but look only up to Heaven.’ “

Egypt was already in the midst of a revolution. The Society of Muslim Brothers, the oldest and most influential fundamentalist group in Egypt, instigated an uprising against the British, whose lingering occupation of the Suez Canal zone enraged the nationalists. In January, 1952, in response to the British massacre of fifty Egyptian policemen, mobs organized by the Muslim Brothers in Cairo set fire to movie theatres, casinos, department stores, night clubs, and automobile showrooms, which, in their view, represented an Egypt that had tied its future to the West. At least thirty people were killed, seven hundred and fifty buildings were destroyed, and twelve thousand people were made homeless. The dream of a cosmopolitan metropolis ended, and the foreign community began to leave. In July of that year, a military junta, dominated by an Army colonel, Gamal Abdel Nasser, packed King Farouk onto his yacht and seized control of the government, without firing a shot. According to several fellow-conspirators who later wrote about the event, Nasser secretly promised the Brothers that he would impose Sharia—the rule of Islamic law—on the country.

A power struggle developed immediately between the leaders of the revolution, who had the Army behind them, and the Muslim Brothers, who had a large presence in the mosques. Neither faction had the popular authority to rule, but, as Nasser imposed martial law and eliminated political parties, the contest narrowed to a choice between a military society and a religious one, either of which would have been rejected by the majority of Egyptians, had they been allowed to decide.

Nasser was pleased when Sayyid Qutb, who had been one of his closest advisers and chief political ideologues, became the head of the Muslim Brothers’ magazine, Al-Ikwan al-Muslimoun. Presumably, he hoped that Qutb would enhance his standing with the Islamists and keep them from turning against the socialist and increasingly secular aims of the new government. One of the writers Qutb published was Zawahiri’s uncle Mahfouz Azzam, who was then a young lawyer. Azzam had known Qutb nearly all his life. “Sayyid Qutb was my teacher,” he told me. “He taught me Arabic in 1936 and 1937. He came daily to our house. He held seminars and gave us books for discussion. The first book he asked me to write a report on was ‘What Did the World Lose with the Decline of the Muslims?’ “

It quickly became obvious to Nasser that Qutb and his corps of young Islamists had a different agenda for Egyptian society from his, and he shut down the magazine after only a few issues had been published. But the religious faction was not so easily controlled. The ideological war over Egypt‘s future reached a climax on the night of October 26, 1954, when a member of the Brothers attempted to assassinate Nasser as he spoke before an immense crowd in Alexandria. Eight shots missed their mark. Nasser responded by having six conspirators executed immediately and arresting more than a thousand others, including Qutb. He had crushed the Brothers, once and for all, he thought.

Stories about Sayyid Qutb’s suffering in prison have formed a kind of Passion play for Islamic fundamentalists. Qutb had a high fever when he was arrested, but the state-security officers handcuffed him and took him to prison. He fainted several times on the way. For several hours, he was kept in a cell with vicious dogs, and then, during long periods of interrogation, he was beaten. His trial was overseen by three judges, one of whom was a future President of Egypt, Anwar al-Sadat. In the courtroom, Qutb ripped off his shirt to display the marks of torture. The judges sentenced him to life in prison but, when Qutb’s health deteriorated further, reduced that to fifteen years. He suffered chronic bouts of angina, and it is likely that he contracted tuberculosis in the prison hospital.

One line of thinking proposes that America‘s tragedy on September 11th was born in the prisons of Egypt. Human-rights advocates in Cairo argue that torture created an appetite for revenge, first in Sayyid Qutb and later in his acolytes, including Ayman al-Zawahiri. The main target of their wrath was the secular Egyptian government, but a powerful current of anger was directed toward the West, which they saw as an enabling force behind the repressive regime. They held the West responsible for corrupting and humiliating Islamic society. Indeed, the theme of humiliation, which is the essence of torture, is important to understanding the Islamists’ rage against the West. Egypt‘s prisons became a factory for producing militants whose need for retribution—they called it “justice”—was all-consuming.

The hardening of Qutb’s views can be traced in his prison writings. Through friends, he managed to smuggle out, bit by bit, a manifesto entitled “Ma’alim fi al-Tariq” (“Milestones”). The manuscript circulated underground for years. It was finally published in Cairo in 1964, and was quickly banned; anyone caught with a copy could be charged with sedition.

Qutb begins, “Mankind today is on the brink of a precipice. Humanity is threatened not only by nuclear annihilation but by the absence of values. The West has lost its vitality, and Marxism has failed. At this crucial and bewildering juncture, the turn of Islam and the Muslim community has arrived.”

Qutb divides the world into two camps—Islam and Jahiliyya. The latter, in traditional Islamic discourse, refers to a period of ignorance that existed throughout the world before the Prophet Muhammad began receiving his divine revelations, in the seventh century. For Qutb, the entire modern world, including so-called Muslim societies, is Jahiliyya. This was his most revolutionary statement—one that placed nominally Islamic governments in the crosshairs of jihad. “The Muslim community has long ago vanished from existence,” he contends. “It is crushed under the weight of those false laws and customs which are not even remotely related to Islamic teachings.” Humanity cannot be saved unless Muslims recapture the glory of their earliest and purest expression. “We need to initiate the movement of Islamic revival in some Muslim country,” he writes, in order to fashion an example that will eventually lead Islam to its destiny of world dominion. “There should be a vanguard which sets out with this determination and then keeps walking on the path.”

Ayman al-Zawahiri heard again and again about the greatness of Qutb’s character and the terrible things he endured in prison. The effect of these stories can be gauged by an incident that took place one day in the mid-sixties, when Ayman and his admiring younger brother Mohammed were walking home from the mosque after dawn prayers. Hussein al-Shaffei, the Vice-President of Egypt and one of the judges in the 1954 roundup of Islamists, “offered to give them a ride,” Omar Azzam recalls. “We would all have been proud to have the Vice-President give us a ride—even to be in a car! But Ayman and Mohammed refused. They said, ‘We don’t want to get this ride from a man who participated in the courts that killed Muslims.’ “

In 1964, President Abd al-Salaam Arif of Iraq prevailed upon Nasser to grant Qutb parole, but the following year he was arrested again and charged with conspiracy to overthrow the government. The prosecutors built their case primarily on inflammatory passages in “Milestones,” but they also cited evidence that Qutb and the Muslim Brothers were planning to assassinate various public figures. “It was a revolutionary court, with no defense,” Mahfouz Azzam, who was Qutb’s lawyer, told me. Qutb received a death sentence. “Thank God,” he said. “I performed jihad for fifteen years until I earned this martyrdom.” Qutb was hanged on August 29, 1966, and the Islamist threat in Egypt seemed to have been extinguished. “The Nasserite regime thought that the Islamic movement received a deadly blow with the execution of Sayyid Qutb and his comrades,” Zawahiri wrote in his memoir. “But the apparent surface calm concealed an immediate interaction with Sayyid Qutb’s ideas and the formation of the nucleus of the modern Islamic jihad movement in Egypt.” The same year Qutb was hanged, Zawahiri helped form an underground militant cell dedicated to replacing the secular Egyptian government with an Islamic one. He was fifteen years old.

Ayman al-Zawahiri – THE MAN BEHIND BIN LADEN

by LAWRENCE WRIGHT

How an Egyptian doctor became a master of terror.

III—AN UNDERGROUND LIFE
“We were a group of students from Maadi High School and other schools,” Zawahiri testified about his days as a young radical, when he was put on trial for conspiring in the assassination of Anwar al-Sadat, in 1981. The members of his cell usually met in one another’s homes; sometimes they got together at a mosque and then went to a park or to a quiet spot on the tree-lined Corniche along the Nile. In the beginning, there were five members, and before long Zawahiri became the emir, or leader. “Our means didn’t match our aspirations,” he conceded in his testimony. But he never seemed to question his decision to become a revolutionary. “Bin Laden had a turning point in his life,” Omar Azzam points out, “but Ayman and his brother Mohammed were like people in school moving naturally from one grade to another. You cannot say those boys were naughty guys or playboys, then turned one hundred and eighty degrees. To be honest, if Ayman and Mohammed repeated their lives, they would live them the same way.”

Under the monarchy, before Nasser‘s assumption of power, the affluent residents of Maadi had been insulated from the whims of the government. In revolutionary Egypt, they suddenly found themselves vulnerable. “The kids noticed that their parents were frightened and afraid of expressing their opinions,” Zawahiri’s former schoolmate Zaki told me. “It was a climate that encouraged underground work.” Clandestine groups like Zawahiri’s were forming all over Egypt. Made up mainly of restless or alienated students, they were small and disorganized and largely unaware of each other. Then came the 1967 war with Israel. The speed and the decisiveness of Israel‘s victory in the Six-Day War humiliated Muslims who had believed that God favored their cause. They lost not only their armies and territory but also faith in their leaders, in their countries, and in themselves. For many Muslims, it was as though they had been defeated by a force far larger than the tiny country of Israel, by something unfathomable—modernity itself. A newly strident voice was heard in the mosques, one that answered despair with a simple formulation: Islam is the solution.

The clandestine Islamist groups were galvanized by the war, and, as Nasser had feared, their primary target was his own, secular regime. In the terminology of jihad, the priority was to defeat the “near enemy”—that is, impure Muslim society. The “distant enemy”—the West—could wait until Islam had reformed itself. For the Islamists, this meant, at a minimum, imposing Sharia on the Egyptian legal system. Zawahiri also wanted to restore the caliphate, the rule of Islamic clerics, which had formally ended in 1924, after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, but which had not exercised real power since the thirteenth century. Once the caliphate was reëstablished, Zawahiri believed, Egypt would become a rallying point for the rest of the Islamic world. He later wrote, “Then, history would make a new turn, God willing, in the opposite direction against the empire of the United States and the world’s Jewish government.”

Nasser died of a heart attack in 1970. His successor, Sadat, desperately needed to establish his political legitimacy, and he quickly set about trying to make peace with the Islamists. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a dissident sociologist at the American University in Cairo and an advocate of democratic reforms, who was recently sentenced to seven years in prison, told me last spring, “Sadat was looking around for allies. He remembers the Muslim Brothers. Where are they? In prison. He offers the Brothers a deal: in return for their political support, he’ll allow them to preach and to advocate, as long as they don’t use violence. What Sadat didn’t know is that the Islamists were split. Some of them had been inspired by Qutb. The younger, more radical ones thought that the older ones had gone soft.” Sadat emptied the prisons, without realizing the danger that the Islamists posed to his regime.

The Muslim Brothers, who were forbidden to act as a genuine political party, began colonizing professional and student unions. By 1973, a new band of young fundamentalists had appeared on campuses, first in the southern part of the country, then in Cairo. They called themselves Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya—the Islamic Group. Encouraged by Sadat’s acquiescent government, which covertly provided them with arms so that they could defend themselves against any attacks by Marxists and Nasserites, the Islamic Group, which was uncompromising in its militancy, radicalized most of Egypt‘s universities. Soon it became fashionable for male students to grow beards and for female students to wear the veil.

Zawahiri claimed that by 1974 his group had grown to forty members. In April of that year, another group of young Islamist activists seized weapons from the arsenal of a military school, with the intention of marching on the Arab Socialist Union, where Sadat was preparing to address the nation’s leaders. The attempted coup d’état was very much along the lines of what Zawahiri had been advocating: rather than revolution, he favored a sudden, surgical military action, which would be far less bloody. The coup was put down, but only after a shootout that left eleven dead.

The Cairo University medical school, where Zawahiri was specializing in surgery, was boiling with Islamic activism. And yet Zawahiri’s underground life was a secret even to his family, according to a recent article in the Egyptian press, which quoted his younger sister, Heba, on the subject. It was also a secret to his friends and classmates. “Ayman never joined political activities during this period,” I was told by Dr. Essam Elerian, who was a colleague of Zawahiri’s and is now the leader of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt. “He was a witness from outside.”

Zawahiri was tall and slender, and he wore a mustache that paralleled the flat lines of his mouth. His face was thin, and his hairline was in retreat. He dressed in Western clothes, usually a coat and tie. He did not completely hide his political feelings, however. In the seventies, while he was in medical school, he gave a campus tour to an American newsman, Abdallah Schleifer, who is now a professor of media studies at the American University in Cairo. A gangly, wiry-haired man who wears a goatee, a throwback to his beatnik phase in the late fifties, Schleifer was a challenging figure in Zawahiri’s life. He was brought up in a non-observant Jewish family on Long Island. He went through a Marxist period and then, during a trip to Morocco in 1962, he encountered the Sufi tradition of Islam. One meaning of the word “Islam” is to surrender, and that is what happened to Schleifer. He converted, changed his name from Marc to Abdallah, and has spent his professional life since then in the Middle East. In 1974, when Schleifer first came to Cairo, as the bureau chief for NBC News, Zawahiri’s uncle Mahfouz Azzam became a kind of sponsor for him. “Converts often get adopted, and Mahfouz was fascinating,” Schleifer told me. “To him, it was sort of a gas that an American had taken Islam. I had the feeling I was under the protection of the whole Azzam family.”

Recalling his first meeting with Zawahiri, Schleifer said, “He was scrawny and his eyeglasses were extremely prominent. He looked like a left-wing City College intellectual of thirty years earlier.” During the tour, Zawahiri proudly pointed out students who were painting posters for political demonstrations, and he boasted that the Islamist movement had found its greatest recruiting success in the university’s two most élite faculties—the medical and engineering schools. “Aren’t you impressed by that?” he said.

Schleifer replied that in the sixties those same faculties had been strongholds of the Marxist youth. The Islamist movement, he observed, was merely the latest trend in student rebellions. “I patronized him,” Schleifer remembers. “I said, ‘Listen, Ayman, I’m an ex-Marxist. When you talk, I feel like I’m back in the Party. I don’t feel as if I’m with a traditional Muslim.’ He was well bred and polite, and we parted on a friendly note. But I think he was puzzled.”

Schleifer encountered Zawahiri again at a celebration of the Eid festival, one of the holiest Muslim days of the year. “I heard they were going to have outdoor prayer in the Farouk Mosque in Maadi,” he recalls. “So I thought, Great, I’ll go pray in their lovely garden. And who do I see but Ayman and one of his brothers. They were very intense. They laid out plastic prayer mats and set up a microphone.” What was supposed to be a meditative day of chanting the Koran turned into a contest between the congregation and the Zawahiri brothers with their microphone. “I realized that they were introducing the Salafist formula, which does not recognize any Islamic traditions after the time of the Prophet,” Schleifer told me. “It was chaotic. Afterward, I went over to Zawahiri and said, ‘Ayman, this is wrong.’ He started to explain. I said, ‘I’m not going to argue with you. I’m a Sufi and you’re a Salafist. But you are making fitna‘ “—a term for stirring up trouble, which is proscribed by the Koran—” ‘and if you want to do that you should do it in your own mosque.’ ” According to Schleifer, Zawahiri meekly responded, “You’re right, Abdallah.”

Eventually, in the late seventies, the various underground groups began to discover each other. Four of these cells, including Zawahiri’s, merged to form Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Their leader was a young man named Kamal Habib. Like Zawahiri, Habib, who had graduated in 1979 from Cairo University‘s Faculty for Economics and Political Science, was the kind of driven intellectual who might have been expected to become a leader of the country but turned violently against the status quo. Arrested in 1981 on charges related to the assassination of Sadat, he was released from prison after serving a ten-year sentence. In Cairo earlier this year, Habib told me, “Most of our generation belonged to the middle or the upper-middle class. As children, we were expected to advance in conventional society, but we didn’t do what our parents dreamed for us. And this is still a puzzling issue for us. For example, Ayman finished his degree as a doctor, specializing in surgery, and set up a clinic in a duplex apartment that he shared with his parents in Maadi. Anybody else would have been happy with this. But Ayman was not happy, and this led him into trouble.”

Zawahiri graduated from medical school in 1974, then spent three years as a surgeon in the Egyptian Army, posted at a base outside Cairo. He was now in his late twenties, and it was time for him to marry. According to members of his family, he had never had a girlfriend. “Our custom is to have friends or relations suggest a spouse,” his cousin Omar told me. “If they find acceptance, they are allowed to meet once or twice, then start the engagement. It’s not a love story.” One of the possible brides suggested to Ayman was Azza Nowair, the daughter of a prominent Cairo family. Both her parents were lawyers. Azza had been born in a villa and brought up in a handsome Maadi home. In another time, she might have become a professional woman or a socialite going to parties at the Sporting Club, but at Cairo University she adopted the hijab, the headscarf that has become a badge of conservatism among Muslim women. Azza’s decision to veil herself was a shocking disavowal of her class. “Before that, she had worn the latest fashions,” her older brother, Essam, told me. “We didn’t want her to be so religious. She started to pray a lot and read the Koran. And, little by little, she changed completely.” Soon, Azza went further and put on the niqab, the veil that covers a woman’s face below the eyes. According to her brother, Azza spent whole nights reading the Koran. When he woke in the morning, he would find her sitting on the prayer mat with the Koran in her hands, fast asleep.

The niqab imposed a formidable barrier for a marriageable young woman. Because of Azza’s wealthy, distinguished family, she had many suitors, but they all insisted that she drop the veil. Azza refused. “She wanted someone who would accept her as she was,” her brother told me. “Ayman was looking for that type of person.”

At the first meeting between Azza and Ayman, according to custom Azza lifted her veil for a few minutes. “He saw her face and then he left,” Essam said. The young couple talked briefly on one other occasion after that, but it was little more than a formality. Ayman never saw his fiancée’s face again until after the marriage ceremony. He had made a favorable impression on the Nowair family, who were a little dazzled by his distinguished ancestry. “He was polite and agreeable,” Essam says. “He was very religious, and he didn’t greet women. He wouldn’t even look at a woman if she was wearing a short skirt.” He apparently never talked about politics with Azza’s family, and it’s not clear how much he revealed about his activism to her. She once confided to Omar Azzam that her greatest desire was to become a martyr.

Their wedding was held in February, 1978, at the Continental-Savoy Hotel, which had slipped from colonial grandeur into dowdy respectability. According to the wishes of the bride and groom, there was no music, and photographs were forbidden. “It was pseudo-traditional,” Schleifer recalls. “Lots of cups of coffee and no one cracking jokes.”

Ayman al-Zawahiri – THE MAN BEHIND BIN LADEN

by LAWRENCE WRIGHT

How an Egyptian doctor became a master of terror.

Zamalek:

Zamalek (Arabic: az-zamālik) is a district of Cairo encompassing an island on the Nile River. It is connected with the river banks through three bridges on the east and west side of the island. It has witnessed many phases of growth affected by many economical and political currents which led to a the crowding of the island and great reductions in its green areas. Zamalek along with Maadi and some parts of Mohandessin, Heliopolis and Garden City are considered Egypt’s top class residential areas[1].

History

Under Khedive Ismail the Island was called “Jardin des Plantes” (garden of plants), because of its great collection of exotic plants shipped from all over the world. De la Chevalerie designed the island’s landscaping and nurseries. On the east shore a kiosk was built for attending the island and supervising its development. The kiosk was updated later to a U-shaped summer mansion called the Gezira Palace, which today is a Marriott Hotel. It was designed by Julius Franz Pasha and decorated by Karl Von Diebitsch. The palace was constructed in 1869 and used for guests attending the opening of the Suez Canal.[1]

Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria and Eugénie, Empress of the French were some of the noble guests of the palace. Other palaces were also built like Prince Sa’id Toussoun‘s palace, which is now a branch of the council of ministers and Prince Amr Ibrahim’s palace, which is now the Ceramic Museum.[2] In 1882 the Gezira Sporting Club was built in the southern region of the island.[3] Later a fish garden known as the “Grotto Garden” was introduced by Captain Stanley Flower. The garden housed a rare collection of African fish.

Demography

As of 2010, over 1.8 million people live on the island.

Landmarks

· Gezira Sporting Club (1882), the oldest club in Egypt.[3]

· Cairo Tower (1960), the tallest concrete construction in Egypt, built near the Gezira Sporting Club.[4]

· Opera House (1988), built near the Cairo Tower and one of the best art venues in the Middle East.[5] , Egyptian Opera House

References

1. a b “Zamalek Today”. e-dar.com. http://www.e-dar.com/html/Zamalekhistory.html. Retrieved 15 June 2010.

2. Jimmy Dunn. “Zamalek”. touregypt.net. http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/zamalek.htm. Retrieved 8 August 2008.

3. a b Samir Raafat (17 February 1996). “Gezira Sporting Club milestones”. egy.com. http://www.egy.com/landmarks/96-02-10.shtml. Retrieved 8 August 2008.

4. Samir Raafat (16 August 1997). “The Cairo Tower”. egy.com. http://www.egy.com/landmarks/97-10-16.shtml. Retrieved 8 August 2008.

5. “Egypt hosts London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra”. travelvideo.tv. 1 February 2007. http://travelvideo.tv/news/more.php?id=10645_0_1_0_M. Retrieved 8 August 2008.

6. Free Zamalek property listing

The “distant enemy”—the West—could wait until Islam had reformed itself. For the Islamists, this meant, at a minimum, imposing Sharia on the Egyptian legal system. Zawahiri also wanted to restore the caliphate, the rule of Islamic clerics, which had formally ended in 1924, after the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, but which had not exercised real power since the thirteenth century. Once the caliphate was reëstablished, Zawahiri believed, Egypt would become a rallying point for the rest of the Islamic world. He later wrote, “Then, history would make a new turn, God willing, in the opposite direction against the empire of the United States and the world’s Jewish government.”

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