Center for World Conflict and Peace

Center for World Conflict and Peace

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Al-Zawahiri Praised Syrian Protesters

After being silent for a few months and having been abandoned by the runaway Arab Spring train, al-Qaeda finally declared its support for the protesters in Syria. Not surprisingly, the Syrian activists rejected al-Zawahiri's offer of support like plague, declaring it as opportunistic.

There are two take-home points from this incident, though:

1. Al-Qaeda's strength has deteriorated badly. The double-blow of the death of Osama bin Laden and the emergence of Arab Spring damaged its prestige, not to mention the organizational structure.

2. Al-Qaeda is becoming less and less relevant to the "struggles" everywhere. In Afghanistan, the Taliban has been acting independently and actually did pretty well even without al-Qaeda's support. In Iraq, it was Iran that had been more and more influential, especially with al-Maliki's government unable to get its act together to create a strong modern state.

In short, this has been a very bad year for al-Qaeda. Not surprisingly, Douglas E. Lute, President Obama's top adviser on Pakistan was confident enough to declare that the United States has six months to "knock out" al-Qaeda leadership.

By inserting itself in the Syrian demonstrations, al-Qaeda is attempting to reinvigorate itself within the Islamic world. Syria in fact has a great potential for infiltration: it is rugged, ruled by an popular regime that belongs to Alawite Sect, a branch of Shiite Islam that is sometimes seen as heretical by extremists in both Sunni and Shiite branches. Unlike the pro-democracy demonstrations in Egypt, the protest movement in Syria is not especially united, as it is fragmented by different localities and clans.

More importantly, none of the Western powers so far has much interest in interfering in Syria. Both the United States and the European Union have been distracted by their own domestic crises. Not to mention that American and European citizens simply have no appetite to fund any more interventions (even if there is support for intervention, there is no guarantee that Syria's neighbors would allow the use of their airspace, and using Israel's would be politically disastrous).

Al-Zawahri's offer is a calculated gambit to insert al-Qaeda into a possible upcoming civil war in Syria, where it may be invited by a group or a clan which might be desperate enough to beg for help against further government oppression. It was basically an offer to expand its franchise in Syria.

Therefore, it is unwise to simply dismiss al-Zawahri's gesture as just the last swan song of al-Qaeda. It may still have some lives left in it.

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