Al-Qaeda’s chances in the ‘Arab Spring’ countries: from Sinai to the black flags!


In light of the events taking place in the Arab region, the talk about an actual or potential terrorist threat against a certain country are no longer a matter of political wrangling. Three groups under the umbrella name of “Ansar al-Sharia” have emerged recently in different countries. Due to several signs, we can see that the chances of al-Qaeda to interact in the Arab Spring countries look legitimate and real.

In a study written to Al Arabiya’s studies center by Hani Nesseira, an expert in Islamist movements, the characteristics of the radical extremist thought becomes clear.

Nesseira writes that former Jihadist Sheikh Ahmed Ashoush, who is the head of “Ansar al-Sharia” group in Egypt, issued a fatwa (religious edict) saying that it is justified to kill anyone involved in the making of the anti-prophet film, Innocence of Islam, which sparked Muslim anger throughout the world.

Nesseira added that Seif-Allah Bin Hassine, known as Sheikh Abi Ayadh was leading “Ansar al-Sharia” group in Tunisia. Security forces had surrounded him at el-Fateh mosque in Tunis after the violent protests against the film.

In Libya, it was difficult to conclude whether “Ansar al-Sharia”‘s attacks against the Tunisian embassy and the U.S. consulate were planned in advance or were just a spontaneous reaction to protests over an anti-Islam film.

There is no doubt that the demonstrations in these three countries emerged as a consequence of the anti-prophet’s film. The same have happened few years ago when a Danish newspaper published cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed.

Several events in 2011 led to the predicted collapse of al-Qaeda. It all started with the Arab revolutions that toppled the regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya in addition to many other events in the region and the Arab world.

With the collapse of these regimes by civilian democratic peaceful demonstrations, al-Qaeda tried to stand against this theoretical challenge, but in vain. It failed to stand on the right side.

Some have thought that these circumstances will deal a knockout blow to the organization, especially after killing many of its pillars, mainly Osama Bin Laden and Attiya al-Misrati.

This was an organizational crisis but not just for al-Qaeda. After the “Arab Spring,” there was an ideological void and an identity crisis at the political and religious levels. The political and electoral competitiveness witnessed many Jihadist and Salafi figures. The difference between al-Qaeda and these Jihadists and Salafis is that the former is unequivocal while the latters are using their speeches in an implicit tactical and temporary phase.

Al-Qaeda and other Islamic movements were not affected by the hypothetical challenge that was imposed by the peaceful civilian and democratic revolutions, despite the fact that late al-Qaeda leader, bin Laden, praised them. He ordered his supporter not to interfere in these revolutions for different reasons, but at the same time, he insisted on giving these revolutions a pure Islamic image.

In a letter that was published after his death, bin Laden described the Arab revolutions as representing a great historical event in the Arab world, “the revolution of the nations against the tyrants” he wrote.

From his part, al-Zawahiri also addressed the Egyptians, advising them to preserve the Islamic nature of the revolution. He also warned them against the secular allies of the West. The leaders of al-Qaeda at that time turned their defeat in light of these revolutions, into the triumph of the organization and the Islamists in general.

Al-Qaeda endured several blows but it is still active, and this was proven through many events and attacks. Al-Qaeda’s activities may be limited and powerful in the mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan unlike the rest of the world; but in others regions, like the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, al-Qaeda witnessed a progress after several groups joined it in the last couple of years.

Another evidence for al-Qaeda’s activities is Taliban in Pakistan: it has at least conducted twenty operations in Pakistan, as retaliation for the killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. It has re-emerged in regions like Iraq, Sinai, Libya and many others.

In the end, we can see that new opportunities for al-Qaeda or any other religious extremist group are looming in the horizon, due to cultural, political and social gaps, characterized by potential jihadists and some organized groups as “Ansar al-Sharia”, in addition to the achievements of al-Qaeda in some regions and the Islamic rise which was not associated with developments or deep adjustments on the speech level, as well as the ongoing identity crisis.