"The World's Second Most Wanted Man" 
by Amir Raafat
The Star (Amman)
22 November 2001

[FBIS Transcribed Text]      Under ordinary circumstances Ayman Al Zawahri 
should have figured as yet another doctor in the infinite list of 
successful medics that characterizes his father's extended family. If an 
uncle, Mohammed Al Zawahri features among the country's top 
demmatologists, another is ex-dean of Cairo University's school of 
medicine. There is also the relation who is senior executive of the 
Egyptian branch of Swiss phammaceutical giant Hoechst. And if a half 
dozen other Zawahris practice medicine at Al Azhar, Islam's oldest 
university, mention should also be made of the Zawahri cousins who are 
surgeons and dentists in the Gulf And let's not forget the Zawahri medics 
in the USA, including a dentist, a GP, a consultant and a neurologist. 

      When he passed away on 9 August 1995, Ayman's father, Dr Mohammed 
Rabie Al Zawahri was deputy chair of the department of akakeer -- 
pharmacology at Cairo's Ein Shams University. Although Ayman's two 
brothers are engineers, two out of Ayman's three sisters are doctors. 

    Typically, they married MDs bringing the total list of physicians 
belonging to the Al Zawahri clan to over 40. 

    As Osama Bin Laden's chief lieutenant, Ayman Al Zawahri is excluded 
from the above roll call. Instead, he features at the top of another list 
"America's "Most Wanted". 

    In the quest of finding out why Ayman Al Zawahri changed course we 
inevitably come face-to-face with the two families that produced him.   
The Al Zawahris and the Azzams. 

    Born in June 1951, Ayman grew up in what was then a tiny suburb 
situated 10 kilometers south of Cairo. Maadi was then a bedroom community 
known for its cosmopolitan temperament where the babble of a half dozen 
languages was heard at the local sporting club. Created by the British in 
1906, the suburb was something of a United Nations, proud of its 
multi-ethnic and multi-racial composition. 

    Until the mid-1950s the town's shops were owned by Greeks, the sports 
club by the British and the inhabitants a mix of French, Italians, 
Gemmans, Levantines and Egyptians. Maadi was severely secular where 
Christmas was sometimes more evident than Islamic holidays. The town had 
more churches than mosques (two Catholic, one Anglican and one Coptic 
church, as opposed to one Sefardi synagogue and one mosque). 

     Equally important, and what still makes Maadi attractive today 
despite the downhill turn that came with Nasser's socialism, are two 
schools much in demand: The Cairo American College and the French Lycee 

    Although Ayman did not go to any of Maadi's foreign-language schools 
-- his family preferring to place him in the local state-run secondary 
school system--he must have come into contact with a variety of 
non-Egyptians in his youth. Were these encounters counter productive, 
especially for a boy from a more traditional family and known to be 
somewhat of an introvert? 

    Perhaps Maadi's Zawahris and the provincial Azzams were themselves a 
speck out of place in this prosperous pseudo-westem enclave?! 

    Except for Ayman's father, most of the Zawahris lived in sections of 
Cairo far less urbane then Maadi where western women still stroll in 
shorts and men jog year round. Decidedly, Ayman's child-hood home was on 
the wrong side of Maadi's tracks, smack in the town's more popular area, 
frequented mostly by shop-keepers and lower income state employees. Could 
this disparity have affected him in his younger years? 

    On the right side of the tracks stood stately homes surrounded by 
gardens with manicured lawns. It was there that Ayman's more fortunate 
Azzam cousins lived after moving to Maadi from Helwan a few years 
earlier. One of them was "great-uncle" Abdelrahman Hassan Azzam Pasha. 
Although a late comer to Maadi he chose for his twilight years a lovely 
colonial villa once occupied by a British general and a French author. 

    Today the villa is home to his son Engineer Omar Azzam and the 
pasha's affluent grandsons, owners of a trendy online publishing house in 

    The Azzam clan originated in the Arabian Peninsula. Like many other 
nomadic tribes they settled all over the Fertile Crescent (Greater Syria, 
Palestine and Egypt) some two or three centuries ago. 

    The Egyptian branch established itself in El-Shoubek Gharbi, Giza 
where family loyalty and tribal vendettas are still very present. One 
such vendetta survived several generations of Azzams and was only settled 
a few years ago. 

    Claiming ancestry to the Prophet Mohammed, the Egyptian Azzams 
produced several learned Al Azhar graduates. An excellent example is 
Ayman's maternal grandfather, the late Dr Abdel Wahab Mohammed Azzam bey, 
born in 1893. 

    As a young man, he accompanied a group of students on scholarship to 
London, and thus became the honorary preacher at the Egyptian Embassy on 
South Audley Street. Obtaining his degree in Literature, he authored 
several books on Islam and later became dean of the School of Literature 
at Cairo University. Later, Professor Abdel Wahab Azzam was elected to 
the distinguished Arabic Language Academy and nominated Egypt's 
ambassador to Saudi Arabia (twice, 1948-51 and 1955-7) and Pakistan   
1952-5. Upon retiring, he was given the task of setting up Riyad 
University in Saudi Arabia becoming its first administrator. When he died 
in office on 18 January 1959, Azzam was befittingly eulogized by the 
elders of the Saudi Royal family. 

    It Professor Abdel Wahab Azzam enjoyed the honorific title of "bey", 
signifying a man of high standing and learning, his kinsman Abdel Rahman 
Azzam was honored on 27 December 1945 with the title of "pasha" by King 
Farouk himself. You could go no higher as tar as titles went, during the 
150 year old Egyptian monarchy. 

    Up until his death in Cannes in June 1976, Azzam Pasha was that other 
family icon exulted and revered by all subsequent generations of Azzams. 
In a family that had contracted so many consanguine marriages, he was the 
clan's favored grandfather and perhaps to some of the younger ones, a 
role model. 

    Born in Giza in 1893 Abdel Rahman Pasha broke away with family 
tradition twice. First, when he chose to study medicine in London in lieu 
of Al Azhar University and second, when he married outside the family, 
tying the knot with the daughter of Khaled Abul Walid, a Libyan 
resistance leader. 

    During his internship at London's St.Thomas Hospital Abdel Rahman 
Azzam joined the Sphinx Society, a student organization calling for an 
end to Britain's occupation of Egypt. There after he became in turn a 
defender of the Turks in the Balkans, a freedom fighter against the 
Italians in Libya, a dissident against the British in Egypt, a Wafdist 
Party parliamentarian in the country's then-active legislature, a 
diplomat to Romania Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan and a statesman 
responsible for the Social Affairs portfolio. Somewhere in the middle he 
wrote several works on Islam including "The Eternal Message of Muhammed" 
recently translated into English. 

    Azzam Pasha is however best remembered as the Arab League's first 
secretary general ( 1945-52) where he became a player in the historical 
formation of the modern Middle East and the Islamic Ummah-nation. 

    On one of his travels to Saudi Arabia, Abdel Rahman Azzam Pasha 
encountered King Abdel aziz Ibn Saud. An old friendship was rekindled 
culminating with the marriage of Azzam's daughter Muna, to Mohammed, the 
eldest son of King Faisal of Saudi Arabia (i.e. Azzam's son-in-law is the 
brother of the Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prince Saud Al Faisal). 

    Whereas several aspiring Azzams joined the Arab League during their 
uncle's heyday, the introduction of a direct family link to the Saudi 
monarchy enabled several younger Azzams to make it too the oil-rich 
kingdom. Others found sinecures in Saudi-financed organizations such as 
the non-interest bearing Faisal Islamic Bank and its regional affiliates. 
But Ayman Al Zawahri was not one of them. Was he out of the loop by 
virtue of his zealotry, or was it Ayman who shunned his sheltered' end 
more privileged relations? 

    It was while Faisal Islamic Bank expanded its local operations during 
President Sadat's "Open Door" economic policy in the late 1970s, that 
Ayman Al Zawahri completed his graduate studies in Medicine. Sadat's 
Coca-Colaization of Egypt had started and colleges across the nation 
brimmed with social unrest so that Islam became the countervailing force. 
This was particularly true of the School of Medicine as opposed to other 
departments at Cairo University. 

    The expanding phenomenon of the hijab-headscarf and the proliferation 
of the perceived Islamic dress code was seen at the time as a temporary 
whim that would go away if ignored. "Bad wind blowing from Iran" remarked 
certain pundits in the late 1970s. 

    As campuses stewed, the political apparatus was busy elsewhere 
hammering out a peace treaty with Israel. Some of the dicey and much 
ballyhooed negotiations took place at the five-star Mena House Hotel at 
the foot of the Giza Pyra midst Covering these groundbreaking events as a 
rookie stringer for America's ABC network and its visiting anchorman! 
Peter Jennings, was Ayman's maternal cousin Ali, a great-grandson of A] 
Azhar's Sheikh Rifa'a AI-Tahtawi (1801- 1873), founder of Egypt's modem 
cultural renaissance. 

    Ali and Ayman Al Zawahri's mothers are Azzam sisters. Looking back 
one realizes the chasm that separated the two twenty-something cousins. 
Ali, the more gregarious of the two was open-minded and fun loving. 
Living next door to a handsome villa owned by the US Embassy since the 
early 1950s, he was used to and felt comfortable around 

    If Ayman was the axiomatic religious introvert retreating further 
into religion, Ali blended well in Maadi and was anything but xenophobic. 
Each season brought with it new projects--stringer for ABC, commerce in 
Bahrain, selling Arabian horses from a makeshift stud farm in San Luis 
Obispo, California real-estate, antique cars, and still more business 
ventures with the help of his cash rich Saudi-backed relations. 

    This was just about the time when Ayman Al Zawahri MD was serving 
time for his reported association with the Jihad that claimed 
responsibility for President Sadat's October 1981 assassination. There 
had been a downside to the Camp David Accords (a peace treaty with 
Israel) and the concomitant promises of renewed western economic support 
to a now spent regime. An entire generation of disaffected young 
Egyptians had defected to the ranks of Islamist militants egged on by 
rising corruption at home and Khomeni's anti-American rumblings m Iran. 

    After three years in jail where even any confirmed secular will turn 
into a potent militant, Ayman Al Zawahri closed his modest surgery in the 
worn-out section of Maadi and left the country. 

    Some within Ayman's family claim he had been wrongly arrested. In a 
November 2001 CNN interview, a relation who is a lawyer, Mahfouz Azzam, 
stated that Ayman was "an outright humanitarian, hence the reason why he 
joined the Red Crescent Society in Kuwait following his release from 

    From Kuwait, or probably Saudi Arabia, Ayman made it to Pakistan 
about the time when Afghanistan was shrugging off its Soviet occupiers. 
It was while practicing medicine in Peshawar that Ayman Al Zawahri met 
his partner in terror Osama-Bin Laden. We know the rest. 

    Others within the Azzam family will mention in hushed terms that 
Ayman was indeed a member of the Jihad. That he had fumed "fundie" in his 
late teens and that his 1984 release from jail was not so much because of 
the faimess of the judicial authorities, but more likely due to the 
tribal Azzam network looking after its own. That soon after his release 
he was squirreled to Saudi Arabia and from there he initiated his 
apocalyptic mission to "change" the world. 

    But Ayman Al Zawahri wasn't the only indicted Egyptian fugitive to 
skip town during the 1980s. Others made their way to Sudan, the UK, 
Denmark and the USA. They were the newest wave of asylum seekers and 
"political" refugees. How they left Egypt and how they entered the above 
countries remains unclear. One thing is for sure, in a decade where 
regular citizens have a hard time obtaining tourist visas, Egypt's 
undesirables made it across the border with covert logistical support 
from third parties. 

    Whether Ayman Al Zawahri left Egypt from the Cairo Intemational 
Airport or from the backdoor, it is no secret the Azzam clan does not 
lack men in high places. Unlike the medically-minded Zawahri fratemity, 
the Azzams include an [indicted] MP, a former govemor of Giza and several 
state counselors and prosecutors. Likewise, the clan is top heavy with 
senior government administrators and diplomats. Ironically, Egypt's 
sitting Supreme State Security Court Chief Justice is himself a relation 
of Ayman Al Zawahri, his natty Maadi villa guarded round the clock lest 
he become the next victim of a terrorist attack. Several fatal shootings 
this last decade cost the lives of several members of the judicial and 
legislation (including the speaker of parliament) as well as sundry 
police Officers in Upper Egypt and over 70 tourists in Luxor. 

    The rules of the game changed after 11 September. A nation 
perpetually in denial, unwilling to address the root causes of terrorism 
will have to come to terms with reality. Homegrown terrorists can no 
longer be written off as lunatics or as the desperate and destitute pawns 
of a more sinister "foreign" network. That cliche is dead. 

    These unwelcome changes reached Maadi as well. The once liberal 
township that produced three Egyptian Prime ministers, countless 
scientists, magistrates, poets, authors and artists, is today weighed 
down with a terrorist's legacy of hatred. If the respectable Zawahris and 
the upright conservative Azzams unwittingly produced the second most 
wanted man in the world; it will be diffcult to tell where the next 
ultimate terrorist will come from. Alas, as of now the enemy is from 

Footnote:   Ayman's paternal grandfather is Sheikh Ibrahim Al Zawahri and 
not All Azjar's Grand Imam Mohammed Al-Hamadi Al zawahri as mistakenly 
reported by the BBC and a variety of US British and French publications. 

[Description of Source: Amman The Star in English -- Independent 
pro-establishment weekly newspaper.   URL: http://www.star.com.jo]