Egypt: Al-Qaeda Revival–how the coup in Egypt revives Al-Qaeda & threatens U.S National Security
And so it began on July 3rd, 2013.
There is very little doubt to those of us who have observed the Middle East for decades and still are linked to that region through either cultural or linguistic ties that the greatest defeat of Al-Qaeda was the Arab Spring. What the Arab Spring did to Al-Qaeda, the U.S. fearsome military might couldn’t. The Arab Spring dealt such a blow to Al-Qaeda that it destroyed its main ideological and intellectual claim, rendering it another empty and bankrupted run-of-the-mill terrorist group. But that has changed. It changed on July 3rd in Egypt. On that day, Al-Qaeda got its biggest and scariest victory that it could not hope for, thus increasing the threat to U.S. national security. General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the Egyptian pseudo democrats and liberals handed to Ayman al-Zawahiri the gift of a lifetime, which he was desperately looking for. On July 3rd, while pseudo democrats were dancing in Tahrir Square, al-Zawahiri and his compeers were joyfully dancing in their caves. The military coup in Egypt, the ousting of Morsi from power, and the bloody massacres of the Muslim Brothers throughout Egypt this last month have revived oAl-Qaeda, and pose a clear danger to U.S. national security.
To understand why Al-Qaeda got revived, we have to understand where Al-Qaeda draws its force that has sustained it even under 10 years of relentless military assaults.
Al-Qaeda’s main intellectual and ideological claim is that Islamists parties would never be allowed to rise to power, win elections, compete politically, and rule any Arab or Muslim country. Al-Qaeda leaders like Al-Zawahiri or Bin Laden have always argued that there is a conspiracy between the West—read Israel and the United States—and Arab autocrats, like Mubarak and now General Al-Sisi, to keep Islamist parties from winning and prospering. This ideology and belief of the West and their “deviant” and puppet Arab autocratic leaders–such as Nasser, Sadat, Mubarak, Al-Assad or Al-Saud family and leaders of other sheikdoms–have always conspired to oppress Islam and Islamist parties is deeply embedded in the ethos of Al-Qaeda and all radical islamist movements. This is by no means an original idea of Al-Qaeda; it actually goes back to Islamist thinkers such as Sayyid Qutb and even before him Jamaluddin al-Afghani. However, this is the most powerful and most alluring and mesmerizing idea upon which the whole radical Islamist ideology is based. Qutb famously wrote
“When we [Muslims] came here to appeal to England for our rights, the world [the West] helped England against the justice. When we came here to appeal against Jews, the world [the West] helped the Jews against the justice. During the war between Arab and Jews, the world [the West] helped the Jews, too.”
This is a recurring theme in Qutb’s writing. A theme that the West, which is composed of America, Israel, and England mainly, has always sided against and fought Islam and Muslim communities throughout the world. From there, Qutb develops his idea that the only way to change the destiny or the future of the Muslim world is to fight the West, its ideas, and its puppets that are ruling and oppressing the ummah. Declaring that we are living in a time of Jahiliyyah, Qutb argues that the only way for the Muslim world to reach freedom is for a revolutionary vanguard to physically fight this Jahiliyyah through preaching, and through coercive power, which is another word for Jihad. Thus, Qutb justifies the killing of Muslims by Muslims, and the fighting of Muslims leaders.
This very simple idea became powerful over time, and the whole radical Islamist movement has been founded it and thrived because of it—one element of that movement is Al-Qaeda. It is also the idea that divided the Muslim Brotherhood as an organization for a long time. A fierce intellectual battle was waged inside the MB between those who favored Qutb’s claim and those who opposed it. Since Qutb didn’t believe in democracy and advocated for a sort of anarcho-islamist system (he famously said that “A Muslim has no nationality except his belief”, which means that a pious Muslim doesn’t even need a state or its institutions including democratic representation since a truly Islamic state wouldn’t need a ruler nor judges or army or a police because a Muslim intrinsically obeys the divine laws), it was necessary for those who wanted to defeat Qutbism view of Islam to not only justify democracy from an Islamic perspective, but to also embrace it and make it their own. The fight between the moderate and the radical anarcho-Islamists finished by pushing the radical toward violence, and the moderate toward democratic values. These democratic values represent the core belief of the Egyptian moderate and modern MB. It is a political movement that believes firmly in democratic rules and process. And it is from it that the Freedom and Justice Party was established and rose, and went on to win the presidency and a majority in both chambers of the Egyptian parliament.
With the Arab Spring came the rise to power of Islamist moderate political parties in Tunisia and Egypt. Those parties competed in fair and transparent elections, and won. Not only did the electoral victories of Islamist political parties such the Freedom and Justice Party (حزب الحرية والعدالة) and the Tunisia’s Ennahda Movement (حركة النهضة) represent a victory for the moderate and democratic wing of the Islamist movement, but it also represented the defeat of Qutb’s doctrine, which by extent was a drastic mortal blow to Al-Qaeda’s intellectual and ideological raison d’être.
Since Islamist parties can arrive to power through democratic means, why would they need to fight? This very simple syllogism bankrupted Al-Qaeda as an organization. There is no need for Jihad because gaining power and ruling can be obtained through democratic means. Therefore, all those who are attracted or believe in moderate Islamist ideology need to do is to form a political party, organize, and participate in elections.
But what would happen if there were no peaceful mechanisms to gain power? That’s where the Egyptian coup turns into a shot of revivatol into Al-Qaeda’s arm.
From September 11th 2001 to July 2013, the United States fought Al-Qaeda mercilessly. As an organization, Al-Qaeda has been severely degraded. It lost several battles. It was crushed and kicked out of Afghanistan, which was its unified command and control base. Afghanistan provided Al-Qaeda with training grounds, logistics, security and protection, formidable fund raising platform, a launching pad for attacks, and a magnificent symbolic place where all aspiring Jihadists who believe in Qutb’s view of Islam would converge to reinforce the ranks of the organization.
After the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan by the U.S, Al-Qaeda migrated and established a foothold in several countries—Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Algeria, Mali and so forth—but it was never able to recreate the stability that Afghanistan provided the organization. On the run, Al-Zawahiri and Osama Bin Laden were forced to decentralize the organization and spread it as a franchise that could be sold across the Arab/Muslim World. It was no longer needed for aspiring Jihadists to travel all the way to Afghanistan to join the group, but just move to a nearby franchise. The result of that is the fragmentation and decentralization Al-Qaeda across the globe. So, we have Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Al-Qaeda in Yemen, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Al-Qaeda Central in Afghanistan, Central Al-Qaeda in Pakistan, El-shabaab in Somalia and Yemen, and recently Al-Nusra Front in Syria. In addition to this large list of franchises, Al-Qaeda moved into the Internet age and marked its presence online, which makes it accessible to everyone with a computer and an Internet connection and serious list of grievances against the West—e.g., the Tsarnaev brothers and the Boston Marathon attack (I will soon write another post on the transformation of terrorism over the last 10 years).
Despite the large numbers of franchises and its presence on the web, Al-Qaeda’s lethal capabilities have substantially diminished. The lack of communication and coordination among the different leaders of the different franchises, scarcity of resources, internal divisions and conflicts, in addition to a relentless drone war conducted by the Obama administration severely weakened Al-Qaeda. Operationally, Al-Qaeda was barely standing. To add insult to injury, in May 2011, the U.S military forces killed its charismatic (and psychopathic) leader, Osama Bin Laden.
So without its founder and charismatic leader, and without a centralized command and control structure, operationally Al-Qaeda was in agony. Its recruitment efforts faltered and its operations had all the hallmarks of amateurism. The only thing that has allowed Al-Qaeda to survive and endure the assault of American, European, and Arab countries military forces is its ideology that girded its base. This belief that the West and its puppets in the Arab Muslim world will always conspire to never allow for an Islamist political party to exist and win, let alone to rule an Arab or Muslim country, persisted and proved to be hard to defeat with military weapons. Only an idea can defeat another idea, as the old saying goes. Radical Islamists have always argued that Islamist parties do well in the polling booths, but the military and the West will always confiscate their victories. Radical Islamists always substantiate this claim by pointing their accusatory finger toward Algeria and the electoral victory of the FIS in 1991, only to be taken away by a military coup encouraged by France; Turkey and the electoral victory of The Welfare Party (Refah Partisi, RP) taken away by a military coup encouraged by the European Union and the US in 1997; Gaza and the electoral victory of Hamas only to be thwarted by the United States and Israel; and now they can add to that already long list Egypt and the victory of MB in 5 consecutive elections only to be overthrown and physically crushed by the military with the acquiescence of the West.
The leader of Al-Qaeda, Aymen al-Zawahiri has been preparing all his life for this exact moment. And we didn’t have to wait for long to hear from him. From his cave in Pakistan where he’s believed to dwell, we heard his last message, which was nothing but a severe rebuke to MB for believing in democracy. One day after the military coup, El-shabaab released a statement in which they blamed the MB and Morsi for attempting to gain power by following the democratic process. On August 3rd, Al-Zawahiri followed up with another statement in which he settled old scores with his mortal enemies, the Muslim Brotherhood. In it, Al-Zawahiri argues
The government of Mohamed Morsi was not attacked because it was the government of the Brotherhood; rather, it was an attack on any Islamic direction, for the Brotherhood government had sought to appease America and the secularists with what it could.
To Al-Zawahiri, the MB is as evil as America and the West combined. It represents the threat that if successful, it could bankrupt the organization he leads.
So as expected, al-Zawahiri’s “I told you so!” was heard loud and clear throughout the Muslim world. Not only has al-Zawahiri been proven right by the Egyptian generals, he has also been reinforced in his belief by the tergiversations of western leaders. Instead of a clear condemnation of the Egyptian coup, we heard a slight collective sigh of relief coming from European capitals and the White House. For the first time, a military coup is not a coup, but a “correction” of the political course, or “a military-backed popular revolution,” and many other nonsensical semantic gymnastics and confusions. These tergiversations are seen as a clear proof and even a confirmation that the West doesn’t want an Islamist party to rise to power in any Arab or Muslim country.
What will happen to all this new young generation of Egyptian Islamists who came to firmly believe in democracy as the only way to arrive to power? Not only have their dreams and aspirations been dashed and smashed, but they have also been persecuted and massacred. After all, they formed a party, supported it, played by the rules, and won. So, “why are we vilified? and why is our victory stolen?” they might ask. Undoubtedly, all of them will go through all the stages of grief, but a large portion of them will stop at the second stage—i.e., the anger stage. And this is where the “I told you so!” will resonate so true them. It will become their mantra, and its seductive powers will increase, and its pull will become irresistible. And so, some of them will join Al-Qaeda with a clear conscience knowing that they have tried everything legitimate in their power to do the right thing. We are talking about a very young educated, intellectually capable, English speaking, and electronically savvy generation. The new possible recruits of Al-Qaeda will become a formidable and hard force to stop. Naturally, their first target on the list will be the United States. The narrative of the whole coup will fit like a glove in the old and almost defeated Qutbism ideology to revive it, and give it a booster shot that will carry it for the next half a century.
This is what the Egyptian military coup did. It revived Al-Qaeda from its ideological death; it blew a breath of fresh life in its agonizing corps; and it provided it with a new batch of recruits. It is in the utmost national security interest of the United States to stop this madness that is happening in Egypt. It is in our security interest to see that a fair and equitable solution is to be found. We cannot allow for another country to undermine our security, especially when we have legitimate reasons and grievances against the Egyptian military. Everyone knows the outline for a negotiated solution to this crisis. It is not hard to spell out: 1) all military violence must stop immediately; 2) all prisoners must be released; 3) Morsi must be released so he can bring a semblance of legality to the anarchy that Egypt has dove in; 3) Morsi should be tasked with organizing early presidential elections; 4) a national unity interim government must be formed to oversee the drafting and the ratification of a new amended constitution; and finally 5) the organization of legislative elections.
The key to these 5 steps is in the hands of general Al-Sisi. The United States has to use all its diplomatic and coercive power to pressure Al-Sisi to back off from the edge of the abyss. The longer we wait, the greater becomes the prospect of instability and of a protracted civil strife. The long-term national security of the United States dictates that general Al-Sisi must act, not only in the interest of his own country, but also in the interest of ours.
Staff of la Septieme Wilaya
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