Former Islamic Terrorist Leader Asks Al-Qaida to Consider 'Obama Cease-Fire'

One hesitates to say this will amount to anything, but Marc Lynch notes that Mohammed Essam Derbala, a leader of Ayman Zawahiri's Egyptian terrorist group that merged with al-Qaida in 1998, today urged his former confederates to declare a unilateral cease-fire to "test Barack Obama's pledges to establish a new relationship with the Islamic world and to close Guantanamo." Who's Derbala?


Mohammed Essam Derbala is on the Shura Council of al-Gama'a al-Islamiya, an extremist Islamist organization at the heart of the brutal insurgency which roiled Egypt 1992-97. He was arrested in 1981 following the assassination of Anwar Sadat. Back in 2002, while in prison, Derbala authored the book Al Qaeda Strategy: Mistakes and Dangers, one of the first comprehensive critiques of al-Qaida on behalf of the Gama'a leadership. In November 2006, Derbala was finally released after 15 years in prison, part of a larger project by the Egyptian government to rehabilitate and release old Gama'a members. He has since continued to criticize extremist ideology, has called upon al-Qaida to renounce violence and has frequently criticized al-Qaida.

Let's be clear about a few things: Derbala has no power to call for or enforce any al-Qaida ceasefire. But consider how overwhelmingly significant it is that a former terrorist of such obvious credibility would say something like this. And why'd he say it? Because Barack Obama just renounced torture. He put the United States on a clear path to repudiating the detentions, interrogations and, as important, humiliations that Muslims consider the United States to have inflicted, not just on terrorists, but the entire Muslim world. Part of al-Qaida's entire propagandistic message is that the United States is an unchanging, brutish entity determined to subjugate the Muslim world. What Obama did today severely complicates that narrative. But it's not enough for us to consider the narrative to be complicated -- it takes Muslim figures of credibility to say so. That's what Derbala just did.

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