For nearly two decades, the leaders of al Qaeda have denounced the Arab world’s dictators as heretics and puppets of the West and called for their downfall. Now, people in country after country have risen to topple their leaders — and al Qaeda has played absolutely no role.
In fact, the opposition movements that have appeared so suddenly and proved so powerful have shunned the two central tenets of the Qaeda credo: murderous violence and religious fanaticism. The demonstrators have used force defensively, treated Islam as an afterthought and embraced democracy, which is anathema to Osama bin Laden and his followers.
So for al Qaeda the democratic revolutions that have gripped the world’s attention present a crossroads. Will the terrorist network shrivel slowly to irrelevance?
Or will it find a way to exploit the chaos produced by political upheaval and the disappointment that will inevitably follow hopes now raised so high?
For many specialists on terrorism and West Asia, though not all, the past few weeks have the makings of an epochal disaster for al Qaeda, making the jihadists look like ineffectual bystanders to history while offering young Muslims an appealing alternative to terrorism.
“So far — and I emphasize so far — the score card looks pretty terrible for al Qaeda,” said Paul R Pillar, who studied terrorism and the Middle East for nearly three decades at the CIA and is now at Georgetown University. “Democracy is bad news for terrorists. The more peaceful channels people have to express grievances and pursue their goals, the less likely they are to turn to violence.”
But Abu Khaled, a Jordanian jihadist who fought in Iraq with the insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, suggested that al Qaeda would benefit in the long run from dashed hopes.
“At the end of the day, how much change will there really be in Egypt and other countries?” he asked.
“There will be many disappointed demonstrators, and that’s when they will realize what the only alternative is. We are certain that this will all play into our hands.”
The New York Times