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Dr Musa A Keilani: Fighting their own war
May 24, 2011
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

There is no compatibility between the unrest in Arab countries and the kind of “jihadist revolution” advocated by groups like Al Qaeda. If anything, they are at odds with each other. There is no room for democracy in the Al Qaeda “ideology” whereas those waging anti-regime revolts are seeking democracy.

The rebellions in Tunisia and Egypt toppled longtime autocratic regimes centred on individuals rather than any political thought. The same thing is happening in Libya, Yemen and Syria.

If groups like Al Qaeda had any credible role in the Arab unrest, then we would have seen a massive wave of suicide attacks and roadside bombings that would have killed thousands without discrimination.

Libya’s Muammar Qadhafi regime continues to claim that the rebellion in the country is waged by Al Qaeda and its “drugged” followers. There is little truth in that claim, which originated in Qadhafi’s bid to secure some form of Western sympathy by portraying himself as fighting alongside the West against “terrorism.” There could be a handful of Al Qaeda sympathisers in the Libyan rebel ranks but that is sheer coincidence and they are in no position whatsoever to direct the revolt.

In Yemen, there is indeed a strong Al Qaeda presence and the group is fighting a separate war of bloodshed on the regime that has nothing to do with the quest for democracy by the masses.

Al Qaeda does not have what it takes to take over control of the revolt in terms of popular support. All it could hope is to establish pockets of control in some areas that could be overrun anyway in a determined military push. The country’s ruler, Ali Abdullah Saleh, is allowing Al Qaeda to continue its activities in order to keep the US worried that his downfall would mean the group’s emergence as a stronger threat to the West.

In Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood is playing a key role in organising the protests against President Bashar Al Assad, but the Brotherhood is not Al Qaeda.

The Brotherhood has seen the possibility of gaining power through the ballot box and wants to be part of democratic systems that they hope to dominate in the future if not now. This is well pronounced in the posture adopted by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in the post-Mubarak era. Al Qaeda will never be able to forge an alliance with the Brotherhood.

The bottom line is: Al Qaeda could have made some success in gaining support if there was no popular unrest in the countries which were and are hit by anti-regime rebellions. It was betting on the frustration and desperation of the young generation over the denial of social justice and the perpetuation of power of autocratic regimes.

The situation has dramatically changed now. Having witnessed the ongoing anti-regime rebellions, Arab youths are now aware that their future is in their hands. They have sensed that they could bring about changes by themselves through people’s power rather than the suicide vests or roadside bombs handed down to them by Al Qaeda. They are driven by concerns over poverty, corruption, unemployment and the self-centred policies of their regimes rather the kind of doctrines propagated by groups like Al Qaeda, which was caught off guard by the rebellions.

Against that backdrop, Osama Bin Laden was making a desperate appeal when he paid tribute to the revolutions Tunisia and Egypt and Tunisia and called on Muslims to take advantage of a “rare historic opportunity” to rise up.

We are told that Bin Laden, who was killed in a US commando raid in his Pakistan hideout early this month, had prepared an audio tape with a message before his death.

In the message, posted on militant websites by Al Qaeda’s media arm Al Sahab, Bin Laden calls for establishing a council to offer “revolutionary” advice and decide the best timing to spread revolt across the Muslim World.

“A delay may cause the opportunity to be lost, and carrying it out before the right time will increase the number of casualties,” says the message.

“I think that the winds of change will blow over the entire Muslim World, with permission from Allah.”

There is a sureality to the message.

“There is a serious crossroads before you, and a great and rare historic opportunity to rise with the Ummah and to free yourselves from servitude to the desires of the rulers, man-made law, and Western dominance,” it says.

“It is a great sin and immense ignorance to waste this opportunity that was awaited by the Ummah for long decades. So, take advantage of it and destroy the idols, and establish justice and faith.”

Some might see it as a noble objective, given the suffering of tens of millions suffering under the rule of autocratic regimes around the world whose first and foremost priority is own survival rather than the welfare of their people.

However, Al Qaeda is kidding itself if it hopes that this message would galvanise Muslims around the world to embrace its ideology and doctrines.

Fact is that Al Qaeda and like-minded groups have lost their relevance. Muslim masses are seeing through their desperate efforts to survive through exploiting religious sentiments. There might indeed be a tiny minority of misguided people and others with own agendas continuing to stoke the dying ambers. They must be feeling cornered and deprived of raison d’etre in the wave of Arab unrest, but they could be dangerous because of their desperation. We need to be alert always.

The author, a former jordanian ambassador, is the chief editor of  Al Urdun weekly in Amman

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