Compendium -- which would be taught alongside Essential Guide in al Qaeda's Afghan training camps -- was the zenith of Sharif's career as a jihadi apologist, but it also marked the beginning of the end. Zawahiri -- who had taken a manuscript copy of the book before publication -- altered it significantly, cutting sections that criticized groups whose favor he was courting. Frustrated with Zawahiri's blind insistence on continuing attacks in Egypt, and irritated with al Qaeda's lack of religious rigor, focus, and strategy, Sharif was put over the edge by Zawahiri's edits. He wrote off the entire jihadi enterprise in 1994 and went back to practicing medicine anonymously in Yemen until he was arrested there in 2001.
Handed over to Egypt in 2004, Sharif remains in prison today. Since his incarceration, his writings have taken aim at the very heart of the ideology that he once helped build. According to Sharif, this represents no particular epiphany: He claims he came to realize that the haphazard use of violence by Islamist groups causes more harm than good with respect to Islamic law, an idea he had been pondering since he left terrorism in the early 1990s.
In 2007, Sharif went public with those qualms, issuing Rationalizing Jihad in Egypt and the World, in which he argued that al Qaeda's version of jihad was not in compliance with Islamic law and, therefore, unjustifiable. Jihad, he wrote, is still a duty for Muslims and can include use of violence. There are, however, strict legal constraints governing that violence, constraints that he now argues al Qaeda has violated. One of the most significant of those is ensuring that other Muslims are not injured in the process. But al Qaeda, he points out, has built its post-9/11 reputation on killing Muslims.
In 2009, Sharif added to his case for nonviolent jihad with Gaza: Waving the Bloody Shirt, an attempt to reclaim the Palestinian cause from violent hard-line groups such as Hamas, which he thinks have unnecessarily spilled Muslim blood. It is one more brick in the counterideological bulwark that he is building against extremist jihadi terrorism.
An important metric for how vulnerable al Qaeda feels about a given topic is how much its leaders publicly discuss it. Not only has Zawahiri responded to Sharif in multiple video statements and interviews, but in early 2008 he published an entire book on the Internet, titled Exoneration, in which he states that Sharif is blatantly lying and manipulating facts to suit the agenda of his captors. Other al Qaeda leaders, supporters, and surrogates have released their own attacks on Sharif.
Sharif's recent writings have re-energized a community of former Egyptian terrorists who now stand against the use of violence. Coming from within the movement, he has been able to subvert it in a way no one else ever has.