Al Qaeda is trying to muscle its way to the unrest in some Arab countries. The group would like to claim outright that it had engineered the revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. However, it cannot do so since it is abundantly clear that Al Qaeda had very little, if at all, to do with the rebellions that brought down the regimes of Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali of Tunis and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.
It is only a matter of time Libya’s Muammar Qadhafi would be toppled, but Al Qaeda is not in the picture although the Libyan strongman is trying to tell the West something else: That Libya is an ally in the battle against Al Qaeda and therefore the group had influenced a few “misguided” Libyan youths into an effort to oust him from power.
It does not need much of imagination to see through Qadhafi’s self-deceptive declaration. In the case of Yemen, Al Qaeda does have a presence but not strong enough to lead a revolt against the regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Those involved in the revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen are ordinary Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans and Yemenis who took it upon themselves to protest against their long oppression and seek regime change. It takes only a cursory look to realise that none of the revolts’ leaders is likely to have anything to do with Al Qaeda. The rebellions were instantaneous and did not have any sign that they were preplanned.
If anything, Al Qaeda rejects democracy and civil liberties as opposed to the Islamic faith and that makes it a non-starter in any push for democracy anywhere.
Let us not make any mistake. The Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt or its counterparts in Jordan or any other country, would not touch Al Qaeda with a pole. Neither would they allow any Al Qaeda infiltration either.
Al Qaeda never had or has a serious and strong foothold in any Arab country — except perhaps Yemen. It is a group that offered an outlet for disgruntled unemployed youth to fight against what they saw as denial of social justice to vent their anger.
Slowly, their anger was given a misguided religious dimension and not many of them took notice of the fact that everything Al Qaeda did and preached was and is against the noble principles of Islam. It suited them to believe what they were told, particularly in view of the consequences of the biased policy of the West, particularly the United States, in dealing with the Middle East conflict and many other issues of concern to the broader Muslim World.
We in Jordan were the first to suffer from the workings of Al Qaeda. The names of the group and Osama Bin Laden appear in court records of the early 1990s, when few others in the region ever heard of it. It was in Jordan that the word “Arab Afghan” was coined to describe the Arab volunteers who fought alongside the Afghan resistance against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan during the 80s. Effectively, it was and is some of those “Arab Afghans” who form of the core of Al Qaeda.
There were dozens of attempted Al Qaeda-engineered bombings in Jordan in the early 1990s and we did raise warnings, but few appeared to have taken serious notice. Many even contented that Jordan was exaggerating the threat. It was not until the bombings against US installations in Saudi Arabia and then the US diplomatic missions in Kenya and Dar Es Salam that many realised the seriousness of the threat. Then came the Sept.11 2001 attacks that were blamed on Al Qaeda.
The 2006 suicide blasts at two Amman hotels were the worst terrorist attacks that Jordan suffered and our wounds are still not healed. Jordan’s experience with Al Qaeda’s machinations do give us a better position to see what the group is capable of doing in Arab and Muslim countries.
In practical terms, the unrest in Arab countries caught Al Qaeda by surprise, and now its activists are frantically trying to fish in the murky waters. It will never give up and will continue its campaign to seek more recruits. And that is where the changes sweeping the Arab region have to make their mark.
There is new hope among the youth that there would be no more denial of social justice, they would not have to see a handful of their people in positions of power leading luxurious life at their expense and that they would find jobs and could lead a normal life. The hopeful youth would shun Al Qaeda and all other militant groups because now they feel that they have something to lose.
They have a stake their country’s future and they realise that change could come through peaceful means and not through gunbarrels. That is the real challenge facing the post-revolt leaders. They should be able to provide jobs and offer a better social environment for their youths to live in.
This cannot be a short-term objective, but it is something that the post-revolt leaders should accept as their prime priority and take steps now to ensure that the first moves are taken and get embedded into the changes that they are trying to bring about. Anything short of that will mean failure of their rebellions.