Zawahiri studied medicine at the University of Cairo and served as a surgeon in the Egyptian military for three years. He later became involved with the Red Crescent Society, where he provided medical care to wounded refugees in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Zawahiri claims one of his role models was his uncle, Mahfouz Azzam, who preached to Zawahiri the works of his lifelong friend Sayyid Qutb. The works of Qutb, a leading Muslim Brotherhood intellectual, heavily influenced radical Islamic movements. Qutb detailed the loss of Muslim identity as the Muslim world became Westernized and advocated for a violence response. Qutb's ideology includes religious-based hatred of Jews. For example, Qutb wrote that "the struggle between Islam and the Jews continues in force and will thus continue, because the Jews will be satisfied only with the destruction of this religion [of Islam]."
Zawahiri also studied under Dr. Abdallah Azzam, a Palestinian Muslim whose call for Muslims to fight the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan helped begin the Arab involvement in that war. Azzam was also key influence on Osama Bin Laden and through Azzam, Zawahiri met bin Laden in Pakistan in the late 1980s.
In addition to the impact the teachings of others had on Zawahiri's radical views, Zawahiri cites Egypt's loss in the 1967 Six Day War with Israel as a turning point in his life. In his memoirs, Zawahiri recalls, "The most important event that influenced the Jihad movement in Egypt was the 'Naksa' [or 'the Setback'] of 1967."