In the Fifth Edition of its English-language online magazine released in March 2011 al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula decided to discuss the Arab Spring. The main areas of discussion were the events of the Arab Spring, the Western view of ‘al-Qaeda’s Arab Spring’ and where the revolutions should head next.
The Tsumani of Change
“The friends of America and Israel are being mopped out one after the other.” Al-Qaeda’s view of the Arab Spring is viewed through the trans national prism of defeating the influence of its enemies within the Islamic world. The fall of Mubarak was historic for the region but was also “a day that exposed America’s two-faced policy on democracy.” It is also claimed that “The issue of Palestine in central to the Muslim ummah and now that the masses have spoken, there is no doubt that it will be back to the forefront.” Through their revolutions the ummah’s voice is saying “Here we start and in al-Aqsa we’ll meet.” Their is high hopes in that the revolution will lead to calls for jihad coming to the fore, with a united Mujadhidin leading the charge meeting at the doors of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.
Anwar al-Awlaki provides the centre piece of this edition, with his article entitled The Tsunami of Change. He refers back to the removal of Anwar Sadat in October 1981 as “the first large-scale operation by the modern jihad movement.” It brought the fall of Sadat, who’s crimes included ruling without Sharia and signing a peace treaty with the Israeli’s. However, “Mubarak proved to be no better” and the Egyptian populous collectively removed him from power. Awlaki is adamant that this “tsunami of change has already benefited the ummah.” The most important of which is the mental change, the change “to the collective mind of the ummah.” The Tunisian and Egyptian examples have shown that the tyrants are not irremovable. Awlaki also prophesies where the revolutions will head next, as he is sure that the spirit of revolution will spread. Next up, Awlaki believes is Yemen. “Then there are great expectations of what will come out of the Arabian Peninsula when the revolts reach the shores of the Gulf.” Awalki questions whether the west really understands the threat that the revolutions represent. With the fall of Gulf governments, Jihadi’s will be released from prison and then Western interests will be truly under threat.
Al-Qaeda’s Arab Spring according to the West
Yahya Ibrahim, Editor of Inspire tells us in his editorial that “The West believes that the revolts are bad for al-Qaeda. This is not the case. Why would the freedoms being granted to the people be bad for al-Qaeda? If freedom is so bad for al-Qaeda, how come the West has been practising a restriction on the freedoms of expression when it comes to the message of the mujahidin?” Freedom for the populations that revolted in the Arab Spring is viewed as representing a contradiction of the Western policy of repressing what Jason Burke terms al-Qaeda’s “idea, world-view, and ideology.” This aims to discredit the Western discourse of the damage that the Arab Spring brought to the Al-Qaeda’s idea. This view is recognised and rejected by Ibrahim. He acknowledges that because the revolts “were peaceful” the West believes that “they proved al-Qaeda – which calls for armed struggle – to be wrong. This is another fallacy.” Ibrahim views al-Qaeda as not having limited to the use of force, they agree with peaceful change, just do not deny the use of force.
Awlaki also disputes the Western discourse that views the peaceful protests discrediting al-Qaeda’s call for the use of the force. He highlights the view of Fareed Zakaria, former editor of Newsweek, who believes “the Arab revolts of 2011 represents a total repudiation of al-Qaeda’s founding ideology.” Awalki is adamant that he is wrong! Awalki aims to discredit Zakaria and the wider Western discourse by providing a two arguments. Firstly he is sure that “the outcome doesn’t have to be an Islamic government for us to consider what is occurring a step in the right direction.” Whatever governments emerge, Awalki is sure Islamist will not face the same repression. The second argument that Awalki puts forward is to provide greater legitimacy, in his eyes, to al-Qaeda’s ideology by claiming the inheritance of Qutbist ideology. He believes that you can “see clearly the strong influence of the Egyptian Islamic Movement. It was Sayyid Qutb…that represented the ideological basis for today’s jihad work.” Awlaki also looks to discredit Peter Bergen, CNN’s National Security correspondent, who “believes that al-Qaeda is viewing the events with glee and despair.” However Awlaki is adamant that al-Qaeda is filled with “Glee yes, but not despair.” As the revolutions continue, Awlaki believes that America “an exhausted empire, (will have) to spread itself thin, which in turn would be a great benefit for the mujahidin.”
Abu Suhail, in his article titled The Way Forward takes the argument against the Western view the furthest, claiming that the Arab Spring has “proved that al-Qaeda’s rage is shared by the millions of Muslim’s across the World whether they are in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, Yemen or elsewhere.” What is most important to al-Qaeda however is the final result of the Arab Spring, where will they stand in this much changed Arab landscape.
Consolidating the achievements for al-Qaeda
When it comes to deciding what the Arab Spring should lead to and how it should advance to the decided conclusion that internal disagreements can be located within al-Qaeda. We have already seen above that Awlaki believes that the greatest benefit will be the spread of the current revolutions, to allow the loosening of repression on Islamists and provide the necessary conditions to bring about further, Islamic change. Samir Kahn, the American al-Qaeda ideologue discusses in his article entitled The Egyptian how the Egyptian people should use their new found freedom. In particular he focusses on how the Egyptians will now define themselves as a collective identity. He dismisses culture as a means of definition and tells the Egyptian people that “your loyalty should be to Allah and his Messenger.” He tells them also that they “are now faced with a complex interconnection between what is democratically acceptable and what is Islamically acceptable.”
Ayman al-Zawahiri discusses The Short and Long Term Plans After the Protests. He is sure that the Crusader Enemy “won’t be able to face a mass wave of resentment and anger.” Zawahiri is sure, even with the precedent set up aspects of the Arab Spring that “whatever its form, method and means, force remains a necessary element for bringing about change.” The successes of the Arab Spring are only the beginning for Zawahiri, the winner will be the one who takes “advantage of the opportunities that present themselves.” In order for al-Qaeda to be the group that capitalises on the opportunities Zawahiri presents both Short and Long term plans. In the Short-term the ummah must target Crusader and Jewish interests within their domestic arenas. In the Long-term, the ummah will bring success by “hurrying to the fields of jihad like Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia for jihad preparation and training.” This call to training contradicts what I consider to be the overarching purpose of Inspire, which aims to propagate, train and bring forth Individual acts of jihad.
Zawahiri in a separate article on the Revolutions provides a stark warning, that gives legitimacy to his two part plan that appears earlier in the issue. he warns that:
“It is a new government that gives people minor aspects of freedom, slight reforms and the freeing of some detainees with bails for a period of time.
However, holding the reins of the government’s rule remains in the hands of America’s representatives, agents and soldiers.”
The hand of America will always be seen to hold influence. Zawahiri’s view of where the Arab Spring should go next is set within a trans-national prism with American and Israeli interests at the centre. In contrast Awalki and Samir Kahn, two of the central figures of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, see the next step within an Arab domestic arena. Those who have already fought for change must be the ones who decide where they want the Revolution to go. They must decide on the means by which they will define themselves and with new governments providing a less hostile arena for Islamists to act within, change is sure to go the way that al-Qaeda would desire.