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Is the 9/11 era over? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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This week saw the 11th anniversary of 11th of September attacks on New York and Washington which changed the dynamics of the entire world and imposed overdue questions on both the Islamic world and the West. Many incidents have taken place since this landmark year, countries have fallen and others have managed to survive; groups have emerged; trends have collapsed, symbols have been buried and others have come to light. In other words, a new age has begun.

Many things have been said and written on Islam, its contents, history, and ideology, and many things have been said about the Muslim communities. Some have tried to exploit the momentum resulting from the September attacks to use for their own interests, and some have tried to mislead the compass of questions related to self-criticism in order to avoid a painful confrontation with the reality.

However, the greatest event after the first decade of the second millennium has been last year’s Arab spring, which in fact started at the end of the previous year, in December 2010 when the Tunisian fire sparked by Bouazizi, reached Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria and others. At this moment of the Arab spring, the politicized Arab trends, along with those dreaming Arab revolutionaries and the romantics who are affiliated with human rights and the democratic dream in the West applauded what was going on.

The only ones who have not paid attention to this clamor and what has been going on are Al-Qaeda and the jihadist trends since they have another story and different challenge regardless of the attempt by naive individuals to say that the Arab spring is evidence of the end of Al-Qaeda and its ideology and that the rug was pulled from under the feet of the terrorist group. This rhetoric by a number of Arab and foreign writers, as well as some icons of the Muslim Brotherhood, was to propagate a falsehood that Al-Qaeda was a nonexistent boogeyman made up by the fallen regimes. Of course, this talk proved to be both fabricated and false, and here is Egypt of the Muslim Brotherhood bitterly suffering from the jihadist in Sinai.

Recently, it was revealed that fighters affiliated with the Islamic Group in Egypt are present in Syria. Muhammad al-Zawahiri, the brother of Ayman al-Zawahiri, said a few days ago that all Muslims should go to fight in Syria since this is jihad. Muhammad al-Zawahiri was released by President Mursi along with other key jihadist figures. Also in Egypt, Sheikh Mundhir al-Shanqiti, the mufti of the Egyptian Al-Tawhid and al-Jihad Group, which is suspected to be involved in the Taba and Sharm al-Sheikh bombings, announced that he does not recognize the vow of allegiance made to Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood’s governments.

Egypt’s Al-Watan newspaper quoted Al-Shanqiti as saying in a leaflet that includes a number of fatwas that this government has can prove it is not atheist, since it says that it does not seek to impose Sharia rule. Al-Shanqiti added that “the Muslim Brotherhood’s governments are not expected to allow the growth of the jihadists’ strength in the areas under their influence or for preparing for jihad and calling for it, but will seek with their Western allies to wipe out what they call terrorism.” He pointed out that “the Muslim Brotherhood’s project is not concerned with the implementation of Islam on the people’s lives, but it is concerned with imposing its hegemony on the authority and penetrating into the spheres of influence.” He pointed out that “the Islam, which the Muslim Brotherhood seeks to implement is a diluted and distorted Islam and the outcome of a deviant thought,” and that “the assumption of power by the Muslim Brotherhood will not be an embodiment of Islam on the ground, but will be an experiment that will show the people how deviant this group is and how it is far from God’s sharia, and the authority of Hamas in Gaza and Ennahda Party in Tunisia are examples of this.”

You can say such thing about the jihadists in Tunisia – Tunisia’s Ennahda Movement and Ghannouchi, and you can say the same about Morocco. The idea is that these groups and trends are not concerned with the issue of democracy at all. Their issue is different. The interpretation of the Muslim Brotherhood in the past is false, as well as the interpretation of some naive individuals on the left, that believe that the reason behind the creation of the jihadist trends was that no room was left for moderate Islam (that is the Muslim Brotherhood) which led these jihadist groups to stay alone in the arena. The Muslim Brotherhood may have directly or indirectly marketed this idea to the West and the East, and probably this is what interprets the clear US welcome given to the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule of the concerned Arab countries; Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and probably Yemen.

We have already asked: Is this US gamble realistic, real, and guaranteed? The initial signals do not say so.

Has Al-Qaeda benefited from the Arab spring? The opposite of this question is: Has the Arab spring harmed the ideology and popularity of Al-Qaeda?

The reality says that the activities of the groups of Al-Qaeda and the jihadist trends have increased as a result of the Arab spring in particular. Now we see the horrible activities of Al-Qaeda in the Great Sahara in Africa and at present it is occupying northern Mali and has toppled the Malian Government. It is disturbing Mauritania, and is declaring the creation of its emirate, the Emirate of Ansar al-Din, and it is spreading its activities outside the Sahara and the Tuareg areas and is changing them into an area that attract and recruit for Al-Qaeda at the international level. Such an image is similar to what is going on in Yemen where it has become a haven for Al-Qaeda’s activists, particularly the Saudis, in spite of the US and Yemeni campaigns.

In Afghanistan and the border strip, nothing has changed, but the evil and activities of these people have increased.

With a glance at the map, you can see that the far east of the Islamic world, in Afghanistan and Pakistan; the south and center of the Islamic world, in Yemen; and the far west of the Islamic world, the areas of the Great Sahara in Africa, have changed into focal points for Al-Qaeda’s jihadist trends, and this image has taken place due to issues that have taken place before the Arab spring and as a results of some issues of the Arab spring, as the case in northern Mali, which has been influenced by the turbulent situation taking place in the Arab countries of North Africa.

The question is: What have the young men and ideologues of Al-Qaeda to do with the Arab spring? And why should the Arab spring be a reason for a retreat of these groups? I do not understand this arbitrary link. Al-Qaeda and all those who represent its ideology and options have other leanings and dreams that have nothing to do with freedom and democracy. In short words, Al-Qaeda is going ahead with its programs and approach, and will try to use all the changes taking place in its interest, and the best situation is that when the grip of the authority – any authority – becomes loose.

Does this mean that the survival of the defunct regimes has been beneficial? Of course no, but it means that the problem of Al-Qaeda, like the problems of poverty, unemployment, overpopulation are separate problems that have their own survival mechanisms, and their solution is through a cultural, social, economic, and political confrontation. What is more important is to criticize the mentality that is controlling us.

This is a confrontation that we have not carried out until now. It is not the sacking of Mubarak, the fleeing of Ben Ali, the killing of Gaddafi, or the dismissal of Saleh that will necessarily wipe out these problems in a direct way. These analyses on the elimination of Al-Qaeda as a result of the Arab spring have been mere wishes and warm dreams.

To those who dreamt and thought that the Arab spring has ended the repercussion of 11 September incidents on us, we say: You are dreaming.

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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