Al Qaeda Absent from Popular Uprisings in Middle East, Gulf, and North Africa: Why Did This Particular Dog Not Bite or Even Bark?

Al Qaeda’s “home-ground” is the Middle East, Gulf and North Africa, the location of the recent popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, and now Syria. Despite all its terrorist activities and its endless propaganda, it has been effectively “missing in action” in all the popular uprisings in these countries over the last three months.


The Al Qaeda narrative, a core part of its ideology, with respect to such activities is simple, clear, and now on the wrong side of history. Based on its experiences in previous struggles in Syria, Egypt, Algeria and elsewhere, after much debate, it concluded:

  • The near enemy (local Muslim regimes) could not be defeated or overthrown; to do so the far enemy (the West in general, the US in particular) would have to be defeated first; this would lead to the inevitable collapse of all local regimes.
  • The far enemy, as enemies of Islam, would always support the local regimes irrespective of the wishes of their people .

Wrong on both counts, as unfolding events show.

The Al Qaeda narrative also believed that only a revolutionary vanguard could lead this struggle, casting the vast majority of the Muslim populations of these countries into the role of those who are expected to do what they are told, supposedly in the name of God.

However the popular uprisings, the exercise in direct “peoples’ power”, in these countries over the last few months amount to a complete rejection of the Al Qaeda ideology, and dramatic proof of its utter irrelevancy to Muslims everywhere.

Local regimes were brought down once popular will expressed itself. This happened mainly by peaceful means, eventually supported, not opposed, by the West. When armed aggression was required it was provided by the West against an existing regime, in Libya. President Obama in particular has done a huge amount, both in his speeches and in the actions of the US, to fatally undermine Al Qaeda’s ideology.

None of this is a surprise. Pew Global Attitudes Surveys have consistently shown declining support for Al Qaeda and its leader bin Laden, and that both are seen in a negative light by the majority of Muslims.

However if the massive expectations from this revolutionary change in the Middle East, Gulf and North Africa are dashed (which must be possible if not likely) tactical opportunities could yet arise for fringe groups such as Al Qaeda. People previously associated with Al Qaeda may emerge in leadership positions in the new order which is struggling to be born.

It also is to be expected that the role of Islam in the governance of these countries is likely to increase – such being the popular will of most of their populations.

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