DUBAI - An audiotape purportedly of Al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri hit out at the US concept of freedom Thursday, saying it was a cloak for spreading corruption and injustice in the Islamic world.
Liberty as construed by the Americans was based on "usurious banks, giant companies, misleading media outlets and the destruction of others for material gain," charged the voice in the recording aired by Arabic news channel Al-Jazeera.
Real freedom was "not the liberty of homosexual marriages and the abuse of women as a commodity to gain clients, win deals or attract tourists," said the voice.
"It is not the freedom of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib," it said, referring to US-run prisons in Cuba and Iraq where serious allegations of torture have been levelled.
"Our freedom ... and the reform that we are seeking depends on three concepts - the rule of sharia (Islamic law) ... freeing Islam from any aggressor ... and liberating the human being."
In the Islamic world, the people had the "right to choose its leader, hold him to account, criticise him and isolate him," said the audiotape, in a clear response to US calls for democratic reforms in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
"I do not think that we can achieve reform while we are under American and Jewish occupation."
In his State of the Union address earlier this month, President George W. Bush stepped up US calls for change, urging even traditional US allies Egypt and Saudi Arabia to move towards democracy.
But the new Al-Qaeda tape argued that US allies in the region were the problem not the solution.
"The nation has to confront repression, theft, forgery, corruption and the legacy of the rule which our rulers are exercising with America's blessing and backing," said the tape, whose authenticity could not immediately be verified.
It was the first purported message from Zawahiri since a videotape broadcast by Al-Jazeera on November 29 in which he vowed to pursue the fight against the United States.
The new message made reference to subsequent events, including a December 16 agreement between Egypt and Israel, and historic January 30 elections in Iraq.
"We cannot achieve reform when our leaders are seeking normalisation with Israel and destroying our economies for their own personal gains, like the QIZ (Qualified Industrial Zones) agreement signed by the Egyptian regime with Israel," the voice said.
Reform cannot be achieved "under governments installed by the occupation with forged elections," it said.