CAIRO — Al-Qaida's deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, issued the terror network's first message since the upheaval began in Egypt, saying the country's rule has long "deviated from Islam" and warning that democracy "can only be non-religious."
The wave of popular protests that ousted Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak, appeared to have caught al-Qaida off guard. The terror group had long called for the destruction of Mubarak's regime — and al-Zawahri, an Egyptian doctor, was part of a militant uprising against Mubarak in the 1990s that was crushed.
But the demonstrations were led by secular, liberal activists calling for greater democracy — in stark contrast to the Islamic state that al-Zawahri and al-Qaida call for. In past videos and messages, al-Zawahri has frequent denounced democracy because it replaces God's laws with man's.
In the 34-minute videotape issued Friday, al-Zawahri makes no mention on the protests or Mubarak's fall. The video is dated to the Islamic lunar month of Safar, which corresponds with the dates Jan. 5-Feb. 3. It gives no more specific date for its creation.
The only hints that it may have been made since the upheaval that began Jan. 25 were its title, "A Message of Hope and Glad Tidings to Our People in Egypt," and a vague reference by al-Zawahri to "what happened and happens in Egypt."
In it, he gives a long, detailed lecture on Egypt's modern history from the 18th Century, blaming Western colonialists for implanting secular, un-Islamic law, according to a transcript by the SITE Intel group, a U.S. group that monitors militant messages. It said the video, which showed only a still photo of al-Zawahri as his voice is aired, was posted on Islamic militant websites.
The video said it was the first of two parts, aimed at answering the question "what is the reality through which Egypt is living?"
"The reality of Egypt is the reality of deviation from Islam," al-Zawahri said.
He called the Egyptian regime — apparently referring to Mubarak's rule — "a regime that rules the people through the use of torture, rigged elections, corrupt media and an unjust justice system."
He dismissed the claims by Mubarak's regime of democracy, and then dismissed democracy in general. Democracy, he said, "means that sovereignty is to the desires of the majority, without committing to any quality, value or creed. A democratic state can only be secular, meaning non-religious."
For the remainder of the video, he describes Egypt's fall into secularism from its former Islamic rule under the Ottoman Empire.
The video did not say when the second part was to be released, but it appeared that in it al-Zawahri was to answer a second question, "How do we change this reality to what Islam wanted us to have."
Al-Zawahri, like al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden, is believed to be in hiding in the mountainous border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan.