Opinion

Bernd Debusmann

Egypt, America and a blow to al Qaeda

By Bernd Debusmann
February 14, 2011

These must be difficult times for Osama bin Laden and his Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. The uprising that swept away Hosni Mubarak after 18 days of huge demonstrations, none in the name of Islam, does not fit their ideology. In the war of ideas, al Qaeda suffered a major defeat.

Its leaders preach that the way to remove “apostate” rulers — and Mubarak was high on the list — is through violence. Al Qaeda’s ideology does not embrace the kind of people power that brought down the Berlin wall, forced Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines into exile, and filled Cairo’s Tahrir Square with tens of thousands of peaceful protesters day after day.

They waved the red-white-and-black flags of Egypt, not the green banners of Islam, in peaceful demonstrations that amounted to “a huge defeat in a country of central importance to its image,” in the words of Noman Benotman, the former leader of a Libyan group often aligned with al Qaeda. “We are witnessing Osama bin Laden’s nightmare,” wrote Shibley Telhami, an Arab scholar at the University of Maryland.

Long before al Qaeda struck against what it calls “the far enemy” on Sept. 11, 2001, its leaders exhorted Arabs to take on the “near enemy” — Arab regimes that failed to run their countries under sharia law — with bloody attacks against its leaders and institutions. Violent jihad was the only way. First Tunisia, then Egypt, showed that the argument was flawed.

Which is probably the reason al Qaeda, an organization of considerable Internet savvy and communications skills, has been largely silent on the unrest that first flared in Tunisia, rolled over to Egypt and now keeps rulers awake at night from Algeria to Saudi Arabia, Syria and Bahrain.

According to SITE, a U.S.-based organization that monitors statements from al Qaeda, its offshoots and followers, the first reaction to the turmoil in Egypt came on Feb. 8, day 15 of the mass uprising, in an online forum. The “doors of martyrdom” had opened, the message said, and Egyptians must ignore secularism, democracy and nationalism.

With peaceful demonstrators jamming Tahrir Square, calls to martyrdom sounded as irrelevant and off-key as some of the statements from the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama which zigged, zagged and at least initially shone a spotlight on Washington’s decades-old policy of backing dictators detested by the people they rule.

America’s top diplomat, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, looked particularly out of touch, with her remark, on the first day of the mass protests, that “our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interest of the Egyptian people.”

That raised some eyebrows but should not have come as a surprise, coming from the woman who, during her first visit to Egypt in 2009, said that “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family and I hope to see him often here in Egypt and in the United States.”

AL QAEDA BYPASSED IN THE STREETS OF CAIRO
Why bin Laden and al-Zawahiri have remained silent is a matter of conjecture. Some U.S. experts think that the two are bottled up in the mountains along the Afghan-Pakistani border by American drone strikes and have logistical problems getting a message out. Others say the murderous pair realize it would sound hollow.

“Al Qaeda and Zawahiri know they have been bypassed in the streets of Cairo,” wrote Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official now with the Brooking Institution, a Washington think-tank. “This is not their revolution and they are not its inspiration…” The worst thing that could happen to al Qaeda’s credibility, Riedel argues, would be a post-Mubarak future in which the Muslim Brotherhood, after free and fair elections, would form part of a government coalition and contribute to reforming the country.

That would fly in the face of bin Laden’s philosophy that Islam must triumph over democracy, not participate in it.

The kind of nuanced argument Riedel and other experts are making goes down badly with America’s right-wing radio and cable TV talk show hosts who tend to conflate Islam with terrorism. Some of them portray a nightmarish sequence of events stemming from the popular uprising in the Arab world’s biggest country.

The Muslim Brotherhood, so the fear-mongering forecasts goes, will take control of Egypt. From there, an Islamist wave will roll over Arab country after Arab country. Europe will come next. And eventually the United States. The word “Islamist” is enough to strike fear into the hearts of many Americans.

It is a fear based on ignorance, sometimes wilfull ignorance, and is given voice by politicians who should know better. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the Republican chairwoman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, has warned against allowing the Brotherhood to emerge as a powerful force. How so? By America rigging Egyptian elections?

Tim Pawlenty, a possible Republican contender for the 2012 presidential elections, has rebuked President Obama for saying that the Brotherhood “is one faction in Egypt. They don’t have majority support in Egypt.” In the Islam-will-destroy-us-all camp, this amounts to “appeasement.”

So, it is reassuring to know that America’s top spy, James Clapper, sees the link between the Muslim Brotherhood gaining political space and the adverse effect that would have on al Qaeda. “With respect to what’s going on in Egypt,” he told a House Intelligence Committee hearing, “there is potentially a great opportunity here to come up with a counter-narrative to al Qaeda.”

There is.

(You can contact the author at Debusmann@Reuters.com)

Comments
25 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

We must ALL live in the same world..Muslims and Christains MUST live together..Egypt makes me proud!

Posted by TalulaJones | Report as abusive
 

I dont always agree with your opinions, Mr Debusman, but in this you are spot on! An insightful commentary on the situation, lets just hope the fear mongers dont take advantage of this opportunity to miss the opportunity that is not widely talked about in the mainstream.

Posted by abwonkinabi | Report as abusive
 

The righ-wing loons overlook – deliberately – the fact that this revolution is not about religion, it is about corruption and the abuses that flow from it. In a similar fashion the Tunisian uprising which set in motion this whole series of falling Middle Eastern dominoes is not about Islam.

The Muslim Brotherhood is irrelevant. Thay started in 1928 and are considered old-fashioned by the young. They renounced violence a long time ago and it is disingenuous to assume that they are any kind of threat. They are useful for scaremongers in the US and that’s it. They don’t even appear on the radar screen in Europe.

As for James Clapper, let’s not forget that anything that diverts attention from the continuing inept performance of te CIA is very welcome to them.

Posted by bogwart | Report as abusive
 

The left wing loons overlook – deliberately – the fact that Bin Laden, the Muslim Brotherhood, and others, especially IRAN, want to make this a revolution about religion.

By blatently denying that there is a religious faction bent on taking control, the left makes the work of the extremists/terrorists that much easier.

The bottom line is these groups seek power, and unless the Egyptian Military is capable to fill the power vacuum these groups will step in with their “leaders.”

One need look no further than Iran to see how well ignoring the “islam” aspect plays out in these scenarios.

The left told us there was no danger of the Radical Islamists taking control in Iran when the Shah fell.

Perhaps it would behoove the left to pay a bit more attention to factual history rather than the Hollywood revisionist version.

Posted by bobw111 | Report as abusive
 

@bobw111

If you can’t see the differences between the Iranian revolution and this one, then you are beyond hope.

Of course they (extremists) WANT to make it about religion and the more the USA ‘interferes’ in Egypt the better chance the extremists will gain some form of power. The antithesis to extremism is true democracy.

It never ceases to amaze me how similar the right wing radio/tv hosts this article mentions are to the Muslim extremists, both groups are right wing religious fundamentalist groups, one is just Islam while other Christian. The best way to fight both these groups is honesty and openness, both in society and politics.

Posted by Crawdaddy | Report as abusive
 

Cool it, folks. The White House seems loon-free. The Secretary of State seems to have wrong-footed herself with an excess of caution. If anyone there actually thinks that “the Mulsim Brotherhood is irrelevant”, they hide it well. Nobody making foreign policy has publicly denied the obvious: elements in Egypt want an Islamic state. Cairo’s bottom-up revolution offers an opportunity. Left- and right-wing loons in Congress and elsewhere could blow it for us, but I hope that our long relationship with Egypt’s military can help them look beyond the loony rhetoric from our peanut gallery.

Posted by igiveup | Report as abusive
 

Folks,

Our elected officials and there appointed diplomats, are in the front and of no real concern.

The people behind the scenes at the State Dept, and our Intell. services, DOD, etc.. are the ones who will/are monitoring to ensure our national security and our interests(corporate 1st of course) are taken care of. And most importantly the vortex of the current storm of revolution sweeping across this oppressive part of the world, is Isreal.

The moral of any report moving up stream to POTUS and crew, has to define Isreals status and what the events mean to that “friend” of ours. Policy will be curved around that. History dictates it.

At the end of the day/decade, I believe mankind will be in a much better place to continue to prosper and pursue world peace. Oppressive and evil regimes in that part of the world have shelf lives.

Its great to see the people dictating there future. Of course one has watch and wonder with a skeptical eye and ear. What or who else stands to gain, and for what reasons? And is it in our Interests?

Posted by Av8ts | Report as abusive
 

Egypt is also a blow to Republican nut jobs (think Glen Beck) who think all Muslims are shadowy figures trying to impose sharia law on the world.

Secular Egyptians are worried about eating and freedom. Doesn’t fit the story…

Posted by gordo365 | Report as abusive
 

Isn’t it a little early to say since we do not know who will take over? So far not much has changed in Egypt expect who is in charge.

Posted by Skylor | Report as abusive
 

@bobw111

I hope your wrong but you might be right. These so call elections is going to be huge in how it plays out. Going to be very interesting

Posted by Skylor | Report as abusive
 

You are on target. As information is now starting to come out in Egypt about the former regime, there are indications that the Mubarak government was behind the tensions between Muslims and Christians and that his Minister of Interior through his terror apparatus was behind the New Year’s eve explosion at the Church of the Saints in Alexandria.

Posted by Amina25 | Report as abusive
 

Time for all people in all nations to start looking at those in each country that support the international military-industrial complex.

The international military-industrial complex, made up of those who yearn to wear a uniform, thrives on war.

Posted by AdamSmith | Report as abusive
 

While the USA is so preoccupied with supporting the right wing of Israeli politics, it is neglecting Latin America. In the 60s and 70s, similar dictators to Mubarak, and military juntas, were useful to ensure that the USA was not taken over by Hispanic Communists. As in the ME today, the USA could be assured of votes in international forums – for UN endorsement, no foreign aid if education about birth control included etc.
Riot troops and death squads could eliminate the educated and patriotic and leftists who rebelled against the stability and security of the American hemisphere.
There was also good money to be made by investing in the security state apparatus in the USA.
Ah, the great days of the empire, before Vietnam.

Posted by Neurochuck | Report as abusive
 

The best way to change this world, where fear and power are the goals of al Qaeda is by simple democratic freedom. The human belief that stands on its own, which says, “All are created equal” puts away any fear and empowers us all. Overcoming injustice by dictators and their goons of hate,is the single most important goal of democracy. Even those who bread such discourse in the U.S. can not stand in the way of this type of truth and love of freedom.

Posted by Patientman | Report as abusive
 

Whether Egypt is a “blow to Al Qaeda” or not, is irrelevant. What matters is that Al Qeda goes away totally, and that will only happen when United States stops erecting and supporting dictators that infringe on citizens right to life and liberty. Every regime in Middle East and North Africa is included, bare none. US sends them weapons, not food, not medicine, not infrastructure except if it benefits export of their raw materials to the West. This is the reason Al Qaeda exists and thrives. America does not build schools or institutions to help these countries develop on their own.

These dictators US calls its allies, are criminal regimes that torture their citizens and steal Billions out of these countries to deposit in the West, denying needed development. This is what fosters organizations like Al Qaeda.

Recently, the Supreme upheld a ruling that supporters of terrorist can be imprisoned for up to 15yrs. US government has held Iran as “State Terrorists”, meaning they support terrorists. Terrorism by definition includes anyone or nation state who encourages or directly help terrorism. It is reasonable to assume that the US government supports and encourages dictators who terrorize their citizens, with US donated weapons. That makes the US government a supporter of terrorism.

Al Qaeda and the likes of it, are products of US sponsored terrorism, which of course is non-chalantly referred by the US media as Foreign Aid. Whatever you name it, the result is dictatorship, and dictators stay in power not to bring good to the people. These dictators will not be in power without these weapons sent by the US government. These dictators anger their people, who in turn wants revenge on US citizens. This the real reason why “THEY hate US”, as US officials always like to say.

DO AMERICANS ever ask why US is Trillions of Dollars in debt, American schools are worsening, Millions are homeless, Veterans can’t get healthcare promised to them, Millions of Americans are jobless with no healthcare, and the US government still has Billions of Dollars in weapons (Foreign Aid) to send to other governments?

So it is clear to conclude that US government is the reason why US citizens are being terrorized. Until the Americans understand this, and confront their elected officials, Al Qaeda will always be the reason why war on terrorism will be an endless war. And that is what the war mongers in Washington wants. WAKE UP AMERICA, the enemy is at home with you. And they are fellow Americans you elected to office. Congress and the Military Industrial Capitalist are the enemy, not AL Qaeda.

Posted by OCTheo | Report as abusive
 

Whether Egypt is a “blow to Al Qaeda” or not, is irrelevant. What matters is that Al Qeda goes away totally, and that will only happen when United States stops erecting and supporting dictators that infringe on citizens right to life and liberty. Every regime in Middle East and North Africa is included, bare none. US sends them weapons, not food, not medicine, not infrastructure except if it benefits export of their raw materials to the West. This is the reason Al Qaeda exists and thrives. America does not build schools or institutions to help these countries develop on their own.

These dictators US calls its allies, are criminal regimes that torture their citizens and steal Billions out of these countries to deposit in the West, denying needed development. This is what fosters organizations like Al Qaeda.

Recently, the Supreme upheld a ruling that supporters of terrorist can be imprisoned for up to 15yrs. US government has held Iran as “State Terrorists”, meaning they support terrorists. Terrorism by definition includes anyone or nation state who encourages or directly help terrorism. It is reasonable to assume that the US government supports and encourages dictators who terrorize their citizens, with US donated weapons. That makes the US government a supporter of terrorism.

Al Qaeda and the likes of it, are products of US sponsored terrorism, which of course is non-chalantly referred by the US media as Foreign Aid. Whatever you name it, the result is dictatorship, and dictators stay in power not to bring good to the people. These dictators will not be in power without these weapons sent by the US government. These dictators anger their people, who in turn wants revenge on US citizens. This the real reason why “THEY hate US”, as US officials always like to say.

DO AMERICANS ever ask why US is Trillions of Dollars in debt, American schools are worsening, Millions are homeless, Veterans can’t get healthcare promised to them, Millions of Americans are jobless with no healthcare, and the US government still has Billions of Dollars in weapons (Foreign Aid) to send to other governments?

So it is clear to conclude that US government is the reason why US citizens are being terrorized. Until the Americans understand this, and confront their elected officials, Al Qaeda will always be the reason why war on terrorism will be an endless war. And that is what the war mongers in Washington wants. WAKE UP AMERICA, the enemy is at home with you. And they are fellow Americans you elected to office. Congress and the Military Industrial Capitalist are the enemy, not AL Qaeda.

Posted by OCTheo | Report as abusive
 

While most comments fit into some clear camp of thought, OCTheo’s seems to be a square peg. How can it be said without a snicker that all that the US sends is weapons? Ridiculous!

Check out the red, white, and blue bundles of food, medicine and CASH floating all around the ME. I’m against most of it because of the widespread corruption. But to say weapons is it is more than inaccurate. It’s misleading.

OC, you imply that without the US there would be no al Queda. So I’m guessing that without Hebrews in Germany we would have never heard of Hitler. You sound like my 3rd grade teacher who chastised me for running in the hallway to get away from the evil villains chasing me. She said stop running and they can’t chase you. We all know how that turns out. Appeasement starts wars, whether in Austria or Kuwait.

So let’s get the Hebrews to move to Miami when the Cuban embargo is lifted. And let Chavez invade Columbia to finally rid ourselves of cocaine. Don’t forget to hand out the red, white, and blue tasers to the Quds Force quelling the Facebook terrorists in the streets of Tehran. Maybe you can talk Korea into a Rodney King reality show. “Can’t we all just get along?!” gimme a break

Posted by pHenry | Report as abusive
 

pHenry, you may be my new hero. Thanks for calling BS on the absusidty of OCTheo’s oddball rant in the context of this article. I was beignning to fear that it was I who had lost my mind and that OC and the “loons” were the new voice of sanity and reason.

Posted by marknick | Report as abusive
 

@pHenry, I do not know why you wanted to play the Holocaust card by implication, if we follow your example, it is absurd. the Hebrews did nothing to provoke the Nazis, unlike the US.

Instead of bashing his ideas, do you have a better solution?

Posted by JkS007x | Report as abusive
 

Extremely well written piece, although I think that’s a given considering the author.

I hope you are right about the future of Egypt and the Arabs, but I fear you are wrong. While most citizens of Egypt are peaceful, freedom loving people, the same can be said about Iran and Turkey.

While Iran continues to languish in self imposed quarantine, and chooses to reject offers of friendship from credible, multicultural friends like India, Turkey seems to be bent on undoing 50 years of amazing progress and slipping back into extremism.

As an Indian Zoroastrian who has lived in and seen a large part of the ME, I may be biased.

Posted by hush | Report as abusive
 

It doesn’t matter who drove the revolution. What matters is who benefits from it.
The Iranian revolution of 1979 was largely driven by young, well-shaven, secular, well-educated middle class city dwellers. Yet in the end the power fell into the hands of old bearded ayatollahs whose power base are uneducated rural poor.
Most of Tahrir crowd cared about democracy and economy, not religion. But come the elections, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is the only organized political force, not counting current ruling party and official lap dog opposition who are totally discredited. And if Egypt buys MB, they’ll get al-Qaeda free.
After all, Hitler came to power in 1933 in a perfectly legal and democratic way. Need I remind what happened next?

Posted by anonym0us | Report as abusive
 

JkSoo7x, James Bond? You put play and Holocaust in the same sentence and apparently agree that al Queda is just our chickens coming home to roost. But my realistic view of world events was formed on the ground, not on this or any other screen. Bashing (as you call it) is needed when riduculous statements are thrown out as answers. Please re-read those statements and tell me which you know to be right instead of wish.

I can tell you had good intentions when you requested my answer(s) for the problem(s) at hand. So try to wrap your head around this. Let’s bring all foreign troops, material, and resources home to America. Then get on FaceBook and express our deepest regrets for imposing ourselves on the unsuspecting world. Then clear our schedule for the next couple of days as the “world” comes begging to let bygones be bygones. I personally am tired of traveling the world with a target on my back-just for trying to help. Yes, there are lieing, cheating, thieving scum Eisenhower first refered to as the Military Industrialists. Take them out back and shoot’em. But don’t tell me and those I served with that US equals al Queda or FARC or Tamil Tigers or Red Army or Baader-Meinhof or PKK or my extremely personal favorites -Dev Sol. Thanks for the nightmares boys, I’m waking up and swimming home.

Posted by pHenry | Report as abusive
 

I wonder what the fear mongers in West will imply on this. The truth is Islam is never against independent religious freedom .

Posted by Ismailtaimur | Report as abusive
 

The truth is Islam is never against independent religious freedom????? Sorry but the headlines every day say otherwise. Americans do not have an innate desire to hate Islam. But we see hatred preached by its Immams, and its foot soldiers come from Mosques and Madrasses.

When muslims are angered by cartoons, they march in the streets by the thousands, when inncocents are bombed in train stations in muslim and western countries, the same streets are silent. Islam is being judge by its actions, or lack there of.

Posted by Inglorius | Report as abusive
 

Inglorius, did the police not hose and beat African American teens for wanting to eat in the same diners as whites? Did some Americans not lynch black men through out the South just for being where blacks were not allowed? Do some of our local Christian religious leaders not preach to remove the infidel from our land? Isn’t it our Congress who blocked trying Muslim terror suspects on U.S.Territory? Many of whom were convicted by liars put on the witness stand by the same team of Federal Prosecutors who did the very same to the late Senator Stevens. Senator Stevens had his conviction overturned and 12 convicted Guantanamo detainees won new trials because of said misconduct. In my state such offenses carry up to a five year prison term. We should not judge a billion people because of the actions of some mobs.

Posted by coyotle | Report as abusive
 

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
  •