While liberals were jubilant, many Muslims saw it as…
8 May 2011
Last Monday Egypt woke up to the news of the death of al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden. The world was thrilled and Americans overjoyed at the news announced by President Obama who declared: “Justice has been done.”
In Egypt, the news had everyone in a buzz. Online news sites and social network sites, as well as satellite TV channels, carried a variety of visitor and user comments. For the most part, however, these comments talked of Bin Laden as an Islamic hero who was martyred by the Americans.
“Bin Laden was a significant symbol of Islamic jihad,” wrote Seif Eddin on Facebook. “He fought with Muslims in Sudan and Afghanistan, he fought America and defeated it. We see him as a martyr who was killed defending Islam.”
Heba, another Facebook user, wrote that Bin Laden was but an American-manufactured legend that was later liquidated by the Americans. She said she hoped this would teach Americans a lesson not to make a pact with the devil, and kill innocent civilians in the process.
According to a blogger who goes by the name of Tharwat, “The world will definitely be a better place now. I am happy and overjoyed and hope all terrorists meet the same fate.”
Several groups were formed on Facebook to denounce the killing of Bin Laden, the most famous of which was named “We are all Bin Laden”. Their membership quickly swelled into the tens of thousands.
The paper headlines had to wait till the following day since, due to the difference in time zones between Cairo and Washington DC, the Monday papers missed out on the news.
It was very easy to tell the Islamists from the liberals. While the former were devastated at the news, the latter were jubilant. The State-owned daily Al-Ahram’s headline ran: “Finally, a world without Bin Laden,” while the independent daily al-Masry al-Youm’s read “Al-Qaeda loses its head”. The play-on-words was inescapable; al-qaeda translates literally into ‘the base’.
Associating Islam with terrorism
On the official level, and perhaps predictably, the government remained silent on the matter.
The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) denounced the murder of Bin Laden and issued a declaration which said: “We are against violence in general and against assassinations. We are for fair trials for anyone accused of any crime, whatever that may be.” The MB called upon the world to stop associating Islam with terrorism.
For their part, the Salafis voiced their doubts that Bin Laden had been killed. When they can be sure of that, they said, they would issue a declaration on the matter.
According to Sheikh Mohamed al-Shahawi, leader of the Sufi community in Egypt: “Bin Laden’s assassination is a ‘painful blow’ to all jihadi movements.” Sufis see such movements as an affront to Islam. Shahawi anticipated that al-Qaeda’s jihadi activity would be weakened the world over during the coming period.
Several political analysts said that Bin Laden’s assassination is a “loss to Arab leaders”, who used to exploit the terrorist card to delay democratic reform in their countries. Expert in Islamic affairs Hussam Tammam suggests that the assassination of Bin Laden is the first nail in the coffin of Islamist movements. Bin Laden was the main financier of al-Qaeda, Tammam said; now the Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri who is next in line to lead al-Qaeda will have to rely on other sources of finance, in all probability self-finance.
The Islamic Resistance Movement of Hamas, commonly seen as the Palestinian version of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, issued a statement deploring the killing of Bin Laden. The movement’s leader Ismail Haniyeh praised Bin Laden as a martyr. “We regard this as a continuation of the American policy based on oppression and the shedding of Muslim and Arab blood,” he said.
Burial at sea
The grand imam of al-Azhar—Sunni Islam’s topmost authority—Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, condemned the disposal of the body of Osama Bin Laden at sea. The procedure “contradicts all religious values and human norms,” he said. “It is forbidden in Islam to deform the dead, regardless of their beliefs. One honours the dead by burying them.” Washington had announced that the body was prepared for burial “in conformance with Islamic precepts and practice”, then placed in a weighted bag and dropped into the water from the vessel’s deck. Officials said this was to avoid his grave becoming a shrine.
“Burial at sea is allowed in cases of emergency or when burial on land is not possible,” commented Abdel-Moeti Bayoumi, member of al-Azhar’s Islamic Research Centre.
Dr Ammar Ali Hassan, Professor of Sociology at the American University in Cairo, remarked that the assassination of Bin Laden was a moral victory to the US and a moral defeat to al-Qaeda. He said he expected al-Qaeda to retaliate by a counter-attack in order to achieve its own moral victory.
And while many in Egypt expressed concern over whether Egypt may be the scene of an act of al-Qaeda reprisal, political analysts and experts ruled out such a possibility.