Overtime, Al-Qaeda has also gained a degree of mastery in information warfare. Unsurprisingly, therefore, if Ayman al- Zawahri’s three successive messages since the tenth anniversary of 9/11 suggest anything, it is that Al-Qaeda is pragmatically trying hard, against all the afore-mentioned odds, to remain relevant to evolving social and political ground realities in the Arab world. His 9/11 videotaped message, titled ‘The Dawn of Imminent Victory’, considered 9/11 as the pivotal global event that triggered the Arab Spring. In the last two messages, Zawahri has declared Al-Qaeda’s support for Syrian protestors, urging them to reject Western support for the revolution. Al-Qaeda leadership’s visibly frustrating attempt to link itself to popular Arab movements, or take false credit for political changes in the region that have actually occurred organically, is in a way a reflection of its weak position at present.
Al-Qaeda’s current enigma aside, much will depend on how social and political changes in the Muslim world evolve in coming year. If in the next half a decade, the process of Arab awakening moves forward smoothly, then al-Qaeda’s operational capacity and the appeal of its ideological message of violent jihad in the region will erode further. On the other hand, if the security and political vacuum caused by recent or on-going political revolts became more acute, then al-Qaeda would most certainly attempt to fill it. If public expectations from revolutionary changes remain unfulfilled, then al-Qaeda’s alternative violent course may find support among the disillusioned people.
Equally important is the fact that wherever revolutions have taken place and political process has subsequently taken its course, from Tunisia to Egypt to Libya, Islamist political parties have emerged as leading political forces in the corridors of power. In Egypt, it is Muslim Brotherhood; Ennahda Party in Tunisia, it is the Justice; and in Libya’s case, we have Libyan Islamic Fighting Group leader, Abd al-Hakim Belhaj emerging as an important military leader. As to who may mostly benefit the Syrian revolution, if and when it occurs, is clear from the city of Homs, traditionally an Islamist stronghold, becoming its vanguard.
It is the jihadi discourse articulated by groups like Ikhwan-ul-Muslemeen that produced violent organisations like Al-Gamaa al-Islamiyya and Egyptian Al-Jihad Organization. Al-Qaeda may have its immediate origin in the anti-Soviet Afghan jihad, but its roots can be traced to the evolution of violent jihad movement in Egypt in the last half century. The afore-mentioned groups in Libya and Egypt may have dissociated from al-Qaeda, renounced violence and joined politics, but if recent radical political and social changes produced anarchic outcomes in the foreseeable future, there is no reason why may not once again resort to violence and re-join al-Qaeda.
Moreover, even while in power, the Islamist groups can resort to practices that are in stark violation of democratic norms and peaceful behaviour—an outcome Al-Qaeda may like to capitalise upon. Future social and political turmoil in the Arab Spring states, in situations where revolutions fail to achieve expected goals or the Islamist forces assert to undermine democracy and peace, may have equally devastating trends in their respective external conduct.
For instance, what if Egypt renounces diplomatic relations with Israel? The Islamist organisations reaping the benefits of revolutions made by largely liberal youths, in what constitutes perhaps the biggest irony of the Arab Spring, may not share al-Qaeda’s violent streak, but they do view Israel, America and the West with the Muslim world in almost the same light as al-Qaeda does.
Moreover, Al-Qaeda’s anti-Western discourse has thrived particularly on the conflict in Palestine. And there may be little chance of its amicable resolution in the next five years, which means that Al-Qaeda will continue to thrive on a cause that is generally dear to Muslims across the world. Consider this lingering Muslim grievance along with possible future crisis straining the West’s relationship with the Muslim world—the attack on Iran, for instance—then we can presumably foresee the Al-Qaeda factor becoming more potent than now. Then Iran as a Shiite state will become immaterial for Al-Qaeda, what will matter more is another Muslim country under attack from America/West.