Jihadis Challenge the Role of the Arab Armies

Andrew McGregor

September 6, 2013

With one Arab army locked in battle against rebels (including Sunni Islamists) in Syria and another apparently set on cleansing the Egyptian political scene of its Islamist presence, a prominent jihadist scholar has questioned the role of Arab militaries in the modern Middle East. In an article entitled “Is There Any Legitimacy Left for the Arab Armies?,” Shaykh Abu Abdulillah Ahmad al-Jijeli calls on Arabs to look closely at the fighting doctrines, methods, education and loyalties of their military elites rather than accept the claims of these militaries that they are guardians of the nation or defenders of the interests of the umma (Islamic community). Al-Jijeli suggests that the leaders of the Arab armies form a corrupt, Westernized elite that exists free of oversight or accountability.

Shaykh al-Jijeli identifies the following as the main problems with modern Arab militaries.

  • Arab militaries have a common allegiance to the “secular trend” and are hostile to Islam.
  • Blind obedience to military commanders comes before obeying the law of Allah. Orders must be executed without reference to the Koran or Sunna.
  • The movement and freedom of Arab armies is inhibited by bilateral and multilateral alliances that tie these armies into a global military and security system.
  •  Rather than following the law, these armies live above it without accountability, making presidents and policies in accordance with their own corrupt principles and the interests of their supporters in Russia, Europe or America.
  •   Under the pretexts of counterterrorism and international legitimacy, the Arab armies allow themselves to be moved about according to the will of the Western “crusader armies.”
  •  The military leaderships ignore mandatory retirement ages in order to perpetuate themselves in power for as long as possible. The shaykh cites as an example Algerian army chief General Ahmed Gaïd Salah, who is “near the end of his ninth decade.”

The shaykh concludes that Arab Muslims have the right “by every standard” to question the legitimacy of these armies following their “horrible crimes.” According to al-Jijeli, the Algerian, Syrian and Egyptian peoples could have avoided their current misfortunes and the crimes of their corrupt militaries if they had owned arms individually, “the only guarantee to remain alive, in a world that only understands the sounds of bullets and only respects the heavy boots.”

Abu Muhammad al-Adnani

Al-Jijeli’s critique was followed a few days later by a statement delivered by Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, a spokesman for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), in which al-Adnani called on Salafists to join the battle against the Egyptian military.

In Sunni Islam, the military traditionally undertakes the functions of defense and jihad on behalf of the community, rendering it basically unassailable by the community it represents. Al-Adnani challenged this basic interpretation by identifying the Arab armies as the defenders of apostate and tyrannical rulers rather than the Islamic community:

The infidelity of the armies protecting the tyrants’ regimes, most prominent of which are the Egyptian Army, the Libyan Army and the Tunisian army, before the revolution and after it. As for the Syrian Army, its infidelity is apparent even to the elderly… The Egyptian Army… is seeking until death to prevent the implementation of the Law of Allah… The Egyptian army and those [other] armies falsely claim that they are protecting and defending Muslims and that they watch for their safety and comfort. These armies were only present to protect the tyrants, to defend them and secure their thrones in the palace. The Egyptian Army… is one that protects the interest-charging banks and brothels. It also protects the Jews, the Copts and the Christians who fight against Allah and his messenger… It is a wild army that has burnt mosques and Qurans, finished off the wounded and burnt the bodies of the dead. How can any sane person say, ‘it is not allowed to fight against this army’ even if he or she considered the army as Muslim?”

The ISIS spokesman also criticized the Muslim Brotherhood (“a secular party disguised as Islamists”) and the Salafist al-Nur Party (which has decided to support the army’s takeover) for being too peaceful at a time when violence is called for (al-Tahrir TV [Cairo], September 1). [2] Al-Nur leader Younis Makhioun says the party has been forced to distance itself somewhat from the military’s “roadmap” for Egypt due to security abuses, but at the same time rejected jihadist calls to fight the military: “There are conspiracies to attack the Egyptian army… Those who carry them out are traitors” (Daily News Egypt, August 28).

As the Egyptian military tries to separate itself from the discredited Mubarak regime, a new decree that ends the practice of Egyptian troops pledging direct loyalty to the Egyptian president is designed to create distance between the military leadership and Egypt’s political leadership (Daily News Egypt, September 2).


1.Shaykh Abu Abdulillah Ahmad al-Jijeli, “Is There Any Legitimacy Left for the Arab Armies?”  al-Andulus Media, August 26, 2013.

2. See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLuiccsV8JE&feature=share

This article first appeared in the September 6, 2013 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.