Spitfire List Web site and blog of anti-fascist researcher and radio personality Dave Emory.

For The Record  

FTR #1025 The So-Called “Arab Spring” Revisited, Part 1

Dave Emory’s entire life­time of work is avail­able on a flash drive that can be obtained HERE. The new drive is a 32-gigabyte drive that is current as of the programs and articles posted by the fall of 2017. The new drive (available for a tax-deductible contribution of $65.00 or more.)

WFMU-FM is podcasting For The Record–You can subscribe to the podcast HERE.

You can subscribe to e-mail alerts from Spitfirelist.com HERE.

You can subscribe to RSS feed from Spitfirelist.com HERE.

You can subscribe to the comments made on programs and posts–an excellent source of information in, and of, itself HERE.

This broadcast was recorded in one, 60-minute segment.

Ibn Khaldun: Muslim Brotherhood economics role model, regarded by the IMF as the first advocate of privatization

Introduction: In this program, we review and present information about the Muslim Brotherhood and the phenomenon that became known as “The Arab Spring.”

The Muslim Brotherhood is an Islamic fascist organization, allied with the Axis in World War II. After the war, the organization gravitated to elements of Western intelligence, where it proved to be a bulwark against Communism in the Muslim world.

It is our view that the Brotherhood was seen as useful because of its military offshoots (Al-Qaeda in particular) were useful proxy warriors in places like the Caucasus and the Balkans and because the Brotherhood’s corporatist, neo-liberal economic doctrine was in keeping with the desires and goals of the trans-national corporate community.

(The Afghan Mujahedin were a direct offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood and the successful war conducted by that group was a successful manifestation of “Brotherhood” as proxy warriors. Of course, Al-Qaeda grew directly from the Afghan jihadists.)

In FTR #’s 733 through 739, we presented our view that the so-called Arab Spring was a U.S. intelligence operation, aimed at placing the Brotherhood in power in Muslim countries dominated either by a secular dictator or absolute monarchy.

In FTR #787, we solidified our analysis with definitive confirmation of our working hypothesis presented years earlier.

About the Muslim Brotherhood’s economic doctrine: ” . . . . . . . In Mus­lim liturgy, the deals cut in the souk become a metaphor for the con­tract between God and the faith­ful. And the busi­ness model Muham­mad pre­scribed, accord­ing to Mus­lim schol­ars and econ­o­mists, is very much in the laissez-faire tra­di­tion later embraced by the West. Prices were to be set by God alone—anticipating by more than a mil­len­nium Adam Smith’s ref­er­ence to the ‘invis­i­ble hand’ of market-based pric­ing. . . . The Mus­lim Broth­er­hood hails 14th cen­tury philoso­pher Ibn Khal­dun as its eco­nomic guide. Antic­i­pat­ing supply-side eco­nom­ics, Khal­dun argued that cut­ting taxes raises pro­duc­tion and tax rev­enues, and that state con­trol should be lim­ited to pro­vid­ing water, fire and free graz­ing land, the util­i­ties of the ancient world. The World Bank has called Ibn Khal­dun the first advo­cate of pri­va­ti­za­tion. His found­ing influ­ence is a sign of mod­er­a­tion. If Islamists in power ever do clash with the West, it won’t be over com­merce. . . .”

Ronald Reagan resonated with the Brotherhood’s economic doctrine when promoting his supply-side economics: “President Reagan, in his news conference yesterday, cited a 14th century Islamic scholar as an early exponent of the ”supply-side” economic theory on which his Administration bases many of its policies. An authority on the scholar later said that the reference seemed accurate. . . . Responding to a question about the effects of tax and spending cuts that began taking effect yesterday, Mr. Reagan said the supply-side principle dated at least as far back as Ibn Khaldun, who is generally regarded as the greatest Arab historian to emerge from the highly developed Arabic culture of the Middle Ages. . . .”

The U.S. view on the Brotherhood and Islamism in general was epitomized by CIA officer Graham Fuller, who ran the Afghan Mujahadin: ” . . . . . . . Fuller comes from that fac­tion of CIA Cold War­riors who believed (and still appar­ently believe) that fun­da­men­tal­ist Islam, even in its rad­i­cal jihadi form, does not pose a threat to the West, for the sim­ple rea­son that fun­da­men­tal­ist Islam is con­ser­v­a­tive, against social jus­tice, against social­ism and redis­tri­b­u­tion of wealth, and in favor of hier­ar­chi­cal socio-economic struc­tures. Social­ism is the com­mon enemy to both cap­i­tal­ist Amer­ica and to Wah­habi Islam, accord­ing to Fuller. . . .’There is no main­stream Islamic organization…with rad­i­cal social views,’ he wrote. ‘Clas­si­cal Islamic the­ory envis­ages the role of the state as lim­ited to facil­i­tat­ing the well-being of mar­kets and mer­chants rather than con­trol­ling them. Islamists have always pow­er­fully objected to social­ism and communism….Islam has never had prob­lems with the idea that wealth is unevenly dis­trib­uted.’ . . . .”

Next, we present the reading of an article by CFR member Bruce Hoffman. Noting Al Qaeda’s resurgence and Al Qaeda’s emphasis on the Syrian conflict, Hoffman cites the so-called “Arab Spring” as the key event in Al Qaeda’s resurgence. ” . . . . The thousands of hardened al-Qaeda fighters freed from Egyptian prisons in 2012–2013 by President Mohammed Morsi galvanized the movement at a critical moment, when instability reigned and a handful of men well-versed in terrorism and subversion could plunge a country or a region into chaos. Whether in Libya, Turkey, Syria, or Yemen, their arrival was providential in terms of advancing al-Qaeda’s interests or increasing its influence. . . . It was Syria where al-Qaeda’s intervention proved most consequential. One of Zawahiri’s first official acts after succeeding bin Laden as emir was to order a Syrian veteran of the Iraqi insurgency named Abu Mohammad al-Julani to return home and establish the al-Qaeda franchise that would eventually become Jabhat al-Nusra. . . .”

Hoffman notes that Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State were, at one  time, part of a unified organization: ” . . . . Al-Qaeda’s chosen instrument was Jabhat al-Nusra, the product of a joint initiative with al-Qaeda’s Iraqi branch, which had rebranded itself as the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). But as Nusra grew in both strength and impact, a dispute erupted between ISI and al-Qaeda over control of the group. In a bold power grab, ISI’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, announced the forcible amalgamation of al-Nusra with ISI in a new organization to be called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Julani refused to accede to the unilateral merger and appealed to Zawahiri. The quarrel intensified, and after Zawahiri’s attempts to mediate it collapsed, he expelled ISIS from the al-Qaeda network. . . .”

An Egyptian newspaper published what were said to be intercepted recordings of Morsi communicating conspiratorially with Muhammad al-Zawahiri, the the brother of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the head of Al-Qaeda. Much of this checks out with information that is already on the public record.

The Egyptian government sentenced more than 500 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, to the resounding condemnation of Western countries, including the U.S. What we were not told was why. THIS appears to be why. Note the profound connection between the Muslim Brotherhood government of Morsi and Al Qaeda, information that supplements what the Bruce Hoffman paper discusses: ” . . . . Morsi informed Zawahiri that the Muslim Brotherhood supports the mujahidin (jihadis) and that the mujahidin should support the Brotherhood in order for them both, and the Islamist agenda, to prevail in Egypt. This makes sense in the context that, soon after Morsi came to power, the general public did become increasingly critical of him and his policies, including the fact that he was placing only Brotherhood members in Egypt’s most important posts, trying quickly to push through a pro-Islamist constitution, and, as Egyptians called it, trying in general to ‘Brotherhoodize’ Egypt. This second phone call being longer than the first, Zawahiri took it as an opportunity to congratulate Morsi on his recent presidential victory—which, incidentally, from the start, was portrayed by some as fraudulent—and expressed his joy that Morsi’s presidency could only mean that ‘all secular infidels would be removed from Egypt.’ Then Zawahiri told Morsi: ‘Rule according to the Sharia of Allah [or ‘Islamic law’], and we will stand next to you.  Know that, from the start, there is no so-called democracy, so get rid of your opposition.’ . . .”

Note the networking of GOP Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham with Khairat El-Shater of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood while he was in prison. ” . . . . The call ended in agreement that al-Qaeda would support the Brotherhood, including its international branches, under the understanding that Morsi would soon implement full Sharia in Egypt.  After this, Muhammad Zawahiri and Khairat al-Shater, the number-two man of the Muslim Brotherhood organization, reportedly met regularly. It is interesting to note here that, prior to these revelations, U.S. ambassador Anne Patterson was seen visiting with Khairat al-Shater—even though he held no position in the Morsi government—and after the ousting and imprisonment of Morsi and leading Brotherhood members, Sens. John McCain and Lindsay Graham made it a point to visit the civilian Shater in his prison cell and urged the Egyptian government to release him. . . .”

Might there be some relationship between the Graham, McCain/Shater contacts and the evolution of the Benghazi/Clinton emails/Trump election nexus?

Note, also, that Morsi and Zawahiri/Al-Qaeda jihadis were allegedly involved in the Behghazi attack that, ultimately, led to the Benghazi hearings, the  Hillary Clinton e-mail non-scandal and Donald Trump’s ascent: ” . . . . Along with saying that the Brotherhood intended to form a ‘revolutionary guard’ to protect him against any coup, Morsi added that, in return for al-Qaeda’s and its affiliates’ support, not only would he allow them to have such training camps, but he would facilitate their development in Sinai and give them four facilities to use along the Egyptian-Libyan border. That Libya is mentioned is interesting.  According to a Libyan Arabic report I translated back in June 2013, those who attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, killing Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, were from jihadi cells that had been formed in Libya through Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood support.  Those interrogated named Morsi and other top Brotherhood leadership as accomplices. . . .”

1. About the Muslim Brotherhood’s economic doctrine:

“Islam in Office” by Stephen Glain; Newsweek; 7/3–10/2006.

Judeo-Christian scrip­ture offers lit­tle eco­nomic instruc­tion. The Book of Deuteron­omy, for exam­ple, is loaded with edicts on how the faith­ful should pray, eat, bequeath, keep the holy fes­ti­vals and treat slaves and spouses, but it is silent on trade and com­merce. In Matthew, when Christ admon­ishes his fol­low­ers to ‘give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s,’ he is effec­tively con­ced­ing fis­cal and mon­e­tary author­ity to pagan Rome. Islam is dif­fer­ent. The prophet Muhammad—himself a trader—preached mer­chant honor, the only reg­u­la­tion that the bor­der­less Lev­an­tine mar­ket knew. . . .

. . . In Mus­lim liturgy, the deals cut in the souk become a metaphor for the con­tract between God and the faith­ful. And the busi­ness model Muham­mad pre­scribed, accord­ing to Mus­lim schol­ars and econ­o­mists, is very much in the laissez-faire tra­di­tion later embraced by the West. Prices were to be set by God alone—anticipating by more than a mil­len­nium Adam Smith’s ref­er­ence to the ‘invis­i­ble hand’ of market-based pric­ing. Mer­chants were not to cut deals out­side the souk, an early attempt to thwart insider trad­ing. . . . In the days of the caliphate, Islam devel­oped the most sophis­ti­cated mon­e­tary sys­tem the world had yet known. Today, some econ­o­mists cite Islamic bank­ing as fur­ther evi­dence of an intrin­sic Islamic prag­ma­tism. Though still guided by a Qur’anic ban on riba, or inter­est, Islamic bank­ing has adapted to the needs of a boom­ing oil region for liq­uid­ity. In recent years, some 500 Islamic banks and invest­ment firms hold­ing $2 tril­lion in assets have emerged in the Gulf States, with more in Islamic com­mu­ni­ties of the West.

British Chan­cel­lor of the Exche­quer Gor­don Brown wants to make Lon­don a global cen­ter for Islamic finance—and elic­its no howl of protest from fun­da­men­tal­ists. How Islamists might run a cen­tral bank is more prob­lem­atic: schol­ars say they would manip­u­late cur­rency reserves, not inter­est rates.

The Mus­lim Broth­er­hood hails 14th cen­tury philoso­pher Ibn Khal­dun as its eco­nomic guide. Antic­i­pat­ing supply-side eco­nom­ics, Khal­dun argued that cut­ting taxes raises pro­duc­tion and tax rev­enues, and that state con­trol should be lim­ited to pro­vid­ing water, fire and free graz­ing land, the util­i­ties of the ancient world. The World Bank has called Ibn Khal­dun the first advo­cate of pri­va­ti­za­tion. His found­ing influ­ence is a sign of mod­er­a­tion. If Islamists in power ever do clash with the West, it won’t be over com­merce. . . .

2. Placing Stephen Glain’s analysis in a more familiar context, none other than Ronald Reagan cited Ibn Khaldun’s theoretical construct as justification for his supply side economics.

“Reagan Cites Islamic Scholar” by Robert D. McFadden; The New York Times; 10/02/1981

President Reagan, in his news conference yesterday, cited a 14th century Islamic scholar as an early exponent of the ”supply-side” economic theory on which his Administration bases many of its policies. An authority on the scholar later said that the reference seemed accurate. . . .

Supply-side theory, among other things, holds that a cut in tax rates will stimulate the economy and thus generate even greater tax revenues.

Responding to a question about the effects of tax and spending cuts that began taking effect yesterday, Mr. Reagan said the supply-side principle dated at least as far back as Ibn Khaldun, who is generally regarded as the greatest Arab historian to emerge from the highly developed Arabic culture of the Middle Ages. . . .

3. A subsequent article by Stephen Glain about the Brotherhood’s economic doctrine, this one written for The Washington Post after Morsi’s ascension to power following the “Muslim Brotherhood Spring.”

“Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Adopting Caution on Economic Matters” by Stephen Glain; The Washington Post; 01/24/2012

. . . . . Though admired for its patronage systems that provide food, education and health care to Egypt’s poor, the Brotherhood’s economic agenda is informed by an ancient laissez-faire tradition that has more in common with the values of the United States’ tea party than it does with, say, the more heavily regulated economies of Europe. In the 1950s, for example, the group struggled against President Gamal Abdel Nasser as much for his decision to nationalize the Egyptian economy as for his fierce secularism.

Brotherhood members trace their capitalist conceit to the birth of Islam and tend to associate one with the other. “Islam endorses the market economy and free trade,” Abdel Hamid Abuzaid, a Muslim Brotherhood member and economist at Cairo University, said in an interview before his death last year. “It is part and parcel of Islam as a complete way of life.”

A market in crisis

Not for nothing, Brotherhood members are fond of reminding Westerners, did Ronald Reagan suggest that the philosophies of Ibn Khaldun, a 14th-century Islamic scholar, anticipated the Laffer Curve by 600 years. . . . .

4. In addition to the apparent use of Muslim Brotherhood/Islamist elements as proxy warriors against Russia and China, the Brotherhood’s corporatist economics are beloved to Graham Fuller, as well as corporate elements cdhampioned by Grover Norquist.

“Chech­nyan Power” by Mark Ames; nsfwcorp.com; 6/5/2013.

. . . Fuller comes from that fac­tion of CIA Cold War­riors who believed (and still appar­ently believe) that fun­da­men­tal­ist Islam, even in its rad­i­cal jihadi form, does not pose a threat to the West, for the sim­ple rea­son that fun­da­men­tal­ist Islam is con­ser­v­a­tive, against social jus­tice, against social­ism and redis­tri­b­u­tion of wealth, and in favor of hier­ar­chi­cal socio-economic struc­tures. Social­ism is the com­mon enemy to both cap­i­tal­ist Amer­ica and to Wah­habi Islam, accord­ing to Fuller.

Accord­ing to jour­nal­ist Robert Drey­fuss’ book “Devil’s Game,” Fuller explained his attrac­tion to rad­i­cal Islam in neoliberal/libertarian terms:

“There is no main­stream Islamic organization…with rad­i­cal social views,” he wrote.Clas­si­cal Islamic the­ory envis­ages the role of the state as lim­ited to facil­i­tat­ing the well-being of mar­kets and mer­chants rather than con­trol­ling them. Islamists have always pow­er­fully objected to social­ism and communism….Islam has never had prob­lems with the idea that wealth is unevenly dis­trib­uted.” . . . .

5. Next, we present the reading of an article by CFR member Bruce Hoffman. Noting Al Qaeda’s resurgence and Al Qaeda’s emphasis on the Syrian conflict, Hoffman cites the so-called “Arab Spring” as the key event in Al Qaeda’s resurgence. ” . . . . The thousands of hardened al-Qaeda fighters freed from Egyptian prisons in 2012–2013 by President Mohammed Morsi galvanized the movement at a critical moment, when instability reigned and a handful of men well-versed in terrorism and subversion could plunge a country or a region into chaos. Whether in Libya, Turkey, Syria, or Yemen, their arrival was providential in terms of advancing al-Qaeda’s interests or increasing its influence. . . . It was Syria where al-Qaeda’s intervention proved most consequential. One of Zawahiri’s first official acts after succeeding bin Laden as emir was to order a Syrian veteran of the Iraqi insurgency named Abu Mohammad al-Julani to return home and establish the al-Qaeda franchise that would eventually become Jabhat al-Nusra. . . .Indeed, al-Qaeda’s presence in Syria is far more pernicious than that of ISIS. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the latest name adopted by al-Qaeda’s local affiliate, is now the largest rebel group in the country, having extended its control last year over all of Idlib Province, along the Syrian-Turkish border. . . . “

In FTR #’s 733 through 739, we presented our view that the so-called Arab Spring was a U.S. intelligence operation, aimed at placing the Brotherhood in power in Muslim countries dominated either by a secular dictator or absolute monarchy.

It is our view that the Brotherhood was seen as useful because of its military offshoots (Al-Qaeda in particular) were useful proxy warriors in places like the Caucasus and the Balkans and because the Brotherhood’s corporatist, neo-liberal economic doctrine was in keeping with the desires and goals of the trans-national corporate community.

In FTR #787, we solidified our analysis with definitive confirmation of our working hypothesis presented years earlier.

“Al Qaeda’s Resurrection” by Bruce Hoffman; Council on Foreign Relations; 3/6/2018.

While the self-proclaimed Islamic State has dominated the headlines and preoccupied national security officials for the past four years, al-Qaeda has been quietly rebuilding. Its announcement last summer of another affiliate—this one dedicated to the liberation of Kashmir—coupled with the resurrection of its presence in Afghanistan and the solidification of its influence in Syria, Yemen, and Somalia, underscores the resiliency and continued vitality of the United States’ preeminent terrorist enemy.

Although al-Qaeda’s rebuilding and reorganization predates the 2011 Arab Spring, the upheaval that followed helped the movement revive itself. At the time, an unbridled optimism among local and regional rights activists and Western governments held that a combination of popular protest, civil disobedience, and social media had rendered terrorism an irrelevant anachronism. The longing for democracy and economic reform, it was argued, had decisively trumped repression and violence. However, where the optimists saw irreversible positive change, al-Qaeda discerned new and inviting opportunities.

The successive killings in 2011 and 2012 of Osama bin Laden; Anwar al-Awlaki, the movement’s chief propagandist; and Abu Yahya al-Libi, its second-in-command, lent new weight to the optimists’ predictions that al-Qaeda was a spent force. In retrospect, however, it appears that al-Qaeda was among the regional forces that benefited most from the Arab Spring’s tumult. Seven years later, Ayman al-Zawahiri has emerged as a powerful leader, with a strategic vision that he has systematically implemented. Forces loyal to al-Qaeda and its affiliates now number in the tens of thousands, with a capacity to disrupt local and regional stability, as well as launch attacks against their declared enemies in the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe, and Russia. Indeed, from northwestern Africa to South Asia, al-Qaeda has knit together a global movement of more than two dozen franchises.* In Syria alone, al-Qaeda now has upwards of twenty thousand men under arms, and it has perhaps another four thousand in Yemen and about seven thousand in Somalia.

The Arab Spring’s Big Winner

The thousands of hardened al-Qaeda fighters freed from Egyptian prisons in 2012–2013 by President Mohammed Morsi galvanized the movement at a critical moment, when instability reigned and a handful of men well-versed in terrorism and subversion could plunge a country or a region into chaos. Whether in Libya, Turkey, Syria, or Yemen, their arrival was providential in terms of advancing al-Qaeda’s interests or increasing its influence. The military coup that subsequently toppled Morsi validated Zawahiri’s repeated warnings not to believe Western promises about either the fruits of democracy or the sanctity of free and fair elections.

It was Syria where al-Qaeda’s intervention proved most consequential. One of Zawahiri’s first official acts after succeeding bin Laden as emir was to order a Syrian veteran of the Iraqi insurgency named Abu Mohammad al-Julani to return home and establish the al-Qaeda franchise that would eventually become Jabhat al-Nusra.

Al-Qaeda’s blatantly sectarian messaging over social media further sharpened the historical frictions between Sunnis and Shias and gave the movement the entrée into internal Syrian politics that it needed to solidify its presence in that country. Al-Qaeda’s chosen instrument was Jabhat al-Nusra, the product of a joint initiative with al-Qaeda’s Iraqi branch, which had rebranded itself as the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). But as Nusra grew in both strength and impact, a dispute erupted between ISI and al-Qaeda over control of the group. In a bold power grab, ISI’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, announced the forcible amalgamation of al-Nusra with ISI in a new organization to be called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Julani refused to accede to the unilateral merger and appealed to Zawahiri. The quarrel intensified, and after Zawahiri’s attempts to mediate it collapsed, he expelled ISIS from the al-Qaeda network.

Although ISIS—which has since rebranded itself the Islamic State—has commanded the world’s attention since then, al-Qaeda has been quietly rebuilding and fortifying its various branches. Al-Qaeda has systematically implemented an ambitious strategy designed to protect its remaining senior leadership and discreetly consolidate its influence wherever the movement has a significant presence. Accordingly, its leaders have been dispersed to Syria, Iran, Turkey, Libya, and Yemen, with only a hard-core remnant of top commanders still in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Advances in commercial digital communication tools, alongside successive public revelations of U.S. and allied intelligence services’ eavesdropping capabilities, have enabled al-Qaeda’s leaders and commanders to maintain contact via secure end-to-end encryption technology.

The Importance of Syria

The number of top al-Qaeda leaders sent to Syria over the past half-dozen years underscores the high priority that the movement attaches to that country. Among them was Muhsin al-Fadhli, a bin Laden intimate who, until his death in a 2015 U.S. air strike, commanded the movement’s elite forward-based operational arm in that country, known as the Khorasan Group. He also functioned as Zawahiri’s local emissary, charged with attempting to heal the rift between al-Qaeda and ISIS. Haydar Kirkan, a Turkish national and long-standing senior operative, was sent by bin Laden himself to Turkey in 2010 to lay the groundwork for the movement’s expansion into the Levant, before the Arab Spring created precisely that opportunity. Kirkan was also responsible for facilitating the movement of other senior al-Qaeda personnel from Pakistan to Syria to escape the escalating drone strike campaign ordered by President Barack Obama. He was killed in 2016 in a U.S. bombing raid.

The previous fall marked the arrival of Saif al-Adl, who is arguably the movement’s most battle-hardened commander. Adl is a former Egyptian Army commando whose terrorist pedigree, dating to the late 1970s, includes assassination plots against Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat, the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and al-Qaeda’s post-9/11 terrorist campaigns in Saudi Arabia and South Asia. He also served as mentor to bin Laden’s presumptive heir, his son Hamza, after both Adl and the boy sought sanctuary in Iran following the commencement of U.S. and coalition military operations in Afghanistan  in late 2001. The younger bin Laden’s own reported appearance in Syria this past summer provides fresh evidence of the movement’s fixation with a country that has become the most popular venue to wage holy war since the seminal Afghan jihad of the 1980s.

Indeed, al-Qaeda’s presence in Syria is far more pernicious than that of ISIS. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the latest name adopted by al-Qaeda’s local affiliate, is now the largest rebel group in the country, having extended its control last year over all of Idlib Province, along the Syrian-Turkish border. This is the culmination of a process al-Qaeda began more than three years ago to annihilate the Free Syrian Army and any other group that challenges al-Qaeda’s regional aspirations.

Filling the ISIS Vacuum

ISIS can no longer compete with al-Qaeda in terms of influence, reach, manpower, or cohesion. In only two domains is ISIS currently stronger than its rival: the power of its brand and its presumed ability to mount spectacular terrorist strikes in Europe. But the latter is a product of Zawahiri’s strategic decision to prohibit external operations in the West so that al-Qaeda’s rebuilding can continue without interference. The handful of exceptions to this policy—such as the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris and the 2017 St. Petersburg Metro bombing in Russia—provide compelling evidence that al-Qaeda’s external operations capabilities can easily be reanimated. Yemen-based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s capacity to commit acts of international terrorism—especially the targeting of commercial aviation—was recently the subject of a revealing New York Times story.

Al-Qaeda’s success in resurrecting its global network is the result of three strategic moves made by Zawahiri. The first was to strengthen the decentralized franchise approach that has facilitated the movement’s survival. Over the years, the leaders and deputies of al-Qaeda’s far-flung franchises have been integrated into the movement’s deliberative and consultative processes. Today, al-Qaeda is truly “glocal,” having effectively incorporated local grievances and concerns into a global narrative that forms the foundation of an all-encompassing grand strategy.

The second major move was the order issued by Zawahiri in 2013 to avoid mass casualty operations, especially those that might kill Muslim civilians. Al-Qaeda has thus been able to present itself through social media, paradoxically, as “moderate extremists,” ostensibly more palatable than ISIS.

This development reflects Zawahiri’s third strategic decision, letting ISIS absorb all the blows from the coalition arrayed against it while al-Qaeda unobtrusively rebuilds its military strength. Anyone inclined to be taken in by this ruse would do well to heed the admonition of Theo Padnos (née Peter Theo Curtis), the American journalist who spent two years in Syria as a Nusra hostage. Padnos related in 2014 how the group’s senior commanders “were inviting Westerners to the jihad in Syria not so much because they needed more foot soldiers—they didn’t—but because they want to teach the Westerners to take the struggle into every neighborhood and subway station back home.” . . . .

6. An Egyptian newspaper published what were said to be intercepted recordings of Morsi communicating conspiratorially with Muhammad al-Zawahiri, the the brother of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the head of Al-Qaeda. Much of this checks out with information that is already on the public record. Note the networking of GOP Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham with Khairat El-Shater of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood while he was in prison, as well as the alleged links between the Egyptian Brotherhood and the cells involved in attacking the U.S. Embassy in Libya.

The Egyptian government sentenced more than 500 members of the Muslim Brotherhood, to the resounding condemnation of Western countries, including the U.S. What we were not told was why. THIS appears to be why.

Note the profound connection between the Muslim Brotherhood government of Morsi and Al Qaeda.

“Exposed: The Muslim Brotherhood/Al Qaeda Connection” by Raymond Ibrahim; Raymond Ibrahim: Islam Translated; 2/4/2014.

. . . . Concerning some of the more severe allegations, one of Egypt’s most widely distributed and read newspapers, Al Watan, recentlypublished what it said were recorded conversations between Morsi and Muhammad Zawahiri, al-Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri’s brother.

In these reports, Watan repeatedly asserts that Egyptian security and intelligence agencies confirmed (or perhaps leaked out) the recordings.

Much of the substance of the alleged conversations is further corroborated by events that occurred during Morsi’s one-year-rule, most of which were reported by a variety of Arabic media outlets, though not by Western media.

In what follows, I relay, summarize, and translate some of the more significant portions of the Watan reports (verbatim statements are in quotation marks).  In between, I comment on various anecdotes and events—many of which were first broken on my website—that now, in light of these phone conversations, make perfect sense and independently help confirm the authenticity of the recordings.

The first recorded call  between Muhammad Morsi  and  Muhammad Zawahiri lasted for 59 seconds. Morsi congratulated Zawahiri on his release from prison, where he had been incarcerated for jihadi/terrorist activities against Egypt, and assured him that he would not be followed or observed by any Egyptian authorities, and that he, Morsi, was planning on meeting with him soon.  Prior to this first call, Refa’ al-Tahtawy, then Chief of Staff, mediated and arranged matters.

The presidential palace continued to communicate regularly with Muhammad Zawahiri, and sources confirm that he was the link between the Egyptian presidency and his brother, Ayman Zawahiri, the Egyptian-born leader of al-Qaeda.

It should be noted that, once released, the previously little-known Muhammad Zawahiri did become very visible and vocal in Egypt, at times spearheading the Islamist movement.

The next recording between Morsi and Zawahiri lasted for 2 minutes and 56 seconds and took place one month after Morsi became president.  Morsi informed Zawahiri that the Muslim Brotherhood supports the mujahidin (jihadis) and that the mujahidin should support the Brotherhood in order for them both, and the Islamist agenda, to prevail in Egypt.

This makes sense in the context that, soon after Morsi came to power, the general public did become increasingly critical of him and his policies, including the fact that he was placing only Brotherhood members in Egypt’s most important posts, trying quickly to push through a pro-Islamist constitution, and, as Egyptians called it, trying in general to “Brotherhoodize” Egypt.

This second phone call being longer than the first, Zawahiri took it as an opportunity to congratulate Morsi on his recent presidential victory—which, incidentally, from the start, was portrayed by some as fraudulent—and expressed his joy that Morsi’s presidency could only mean that “all secular infidels would be removed from Egypt.”

Then Zawahiri told Morsi: “Rule according to the Sharia of Allah [or “Islamic law”], and we will stand next to you.  Know that, from the start, there is no so-called democracy, so get rid of your opposition.”

This assertion comports extremely well with his brother Ayman Zawahiri’s views.  A former Muslim Brotherhood member himself, some thirty years ago, the al-Qaeda leader wrote Al Hissad Al Murr (“The Bitter Harvest”), a scathing book condemning the Brotherhood for “taking advantage of the Muslim youths’ fervor by … steer[ing] their onetime passionate, Islamic zeal for jihad to conferences and elections.” An entire section dedicated to showing that Islamic Sharia cannot coexist with democracy even appears in Ayman Zawahiri’s book (see “Sharia and Democracy,” The Al Qaeda Reader, pgs. 116-136).

The call ended in agreement that al-Qaeda would support the Brotherhood, including its international branches, under the understanding that Morsi would soon implement full Sharia in Egypt.  After this, Muhammad Zawahiri and Khairat al-Shater, the number-two man of the Muslim Brotherhood organization, reportedly met regularly.

It is interesting to note here that, prior to these revelations, U.S. ambassador Anne Patterson was seen visiting with Khairat al-Shater—even though he held no position in the Morsi government—and after the ousting and imprisonment of Morsi and leading Brotherhood members, Sens. John McCain and Lindsay Graham made it a point to visit the civilian Shater in his prison cell and urged the Egyptian government to release him.

The next call, recorded roughly six weeks after this last one, again revolved around the theme of solidifying common cooperation between the Egyptian presidency and the Muslim Brotherhood on the one hand, and al-Qaeda and its jihadi offshoots on the other, specifically in the context of creating jihadi cells inside Egypt devoted to protecting the increasingly unpopular Brotherhood-dominated government.

As I reported back in December 2012, Egyptian media were saying that foreign jihadi fighters were appearing in large numbers—one said 3,000 fighters—especially in Sinai.  And, since the overthrow of the Brotherhood and the military crackdown on its supporters, many of those detained have been exposed speaking non-Egyptian dialects of Arabic.

During this same call, Zawahiri was also critical of the Morsi government for still not applying Islamic Sharia throughout Egypt, which, as mentioned, was one of the prerequisites for al-Qaeda support.

Morsi responded by saying “We are currently in the stage of consolidating power and need the help of all parties—and we cannot at this time apply the Iranian model or Taliban rule in Egypt; it is impossible to do so now.”

In fact, while the Brotherhood has repeatedly declared its aspirations for world domination, from its origins, it has always relied on a “gradual” approach, moving only in stages, with the idea of culminating its full vision only when enough power has been consolidated.

In response, Zawahiri told Morsi that, as a show of good will, he must “at least release the mujahidin who were imprisoned during the Mubarak era as well as all Islamists, as an assurance and pact of cooperation and proof that the old page has turned to a new one.”

After that call, and as confirmed by a governmental source, Morsi received a list from Zawahiri containing the names of the most dangerous terrorists in Egyptian jails, some of whom were on death row due to the enormity of their crimes.

In fact, as I reported back in August 2012, many imprisoned terrorists, including from Egypt’s notorious Islamic Jihad organization—which was once led by Ayman Zawahiri—were released under Morsi.

One year later, in August 2013, soon after the removal of Morsi, Egypt’s Interior Ministry announced that Egypt was “preparing to cancel any presidential pardons issued during Morsi’s era to terrorists or criminals.”

During this same call, and in the context of pardons, Morsi said he would do his best to facilitate the return of Muhammad’s infamous brother and al-Qaeda leader, Ayman Zawahiri, back to Egypt—“with his head held high,” in accordance with Islamist wishes—as well as urge the U.S. to release the “Blind Sheikh” and terrorist mastermind, Omar Abdul Rahman.

In March 2013, I wrote about how Morsi, during his Pakistan visit, had reportedly met with Ayman Zawahiri  and made arrangements to smuggle him back to Sinai.  According to a Pakistan source, the meeting was “facilitated by elements of Pakistani intelligence [ISI] and influential members of the International Organization, the Muslim Brotherhood.”

The gist of the next two calls between Morsi and Muhammad Zawahiri was that, so long as the former is president, he would see to it that all released jihadis and al-Qaeda operatives are allowed to move freely throughout Egypt and the Sinai, and that the presidential palace would remain in constant contact with Zawahiri, to make sure everything is moving to the satisfaction of both parties.

Zawahiri further requested that Morsi allow them to develop training camps in Sinai in order to support the Brotherhood through trained militants. Along with saying that the Brotherhood intended to form a “revolutionary guard” to protect him against any coup, Morsi added that, in return for al-Qaeda’s and its affiliates’ support, not only would he allow them to have such training camps, but he would facilitate their development in Sinai and give them four facilities to use along the Egyptian-Libyan border.

That Libya is mentioned is interesting.  According to a Libyan Arabic report I translated back in June 2013, those who attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, killing Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, were from jihadi cells that had been formed in Libya through Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood support.  Those interrogated named Morsi and other top Brotherhood leadership as accomplices.

More evidence—including some that implicates the U.S. administration—has mounted since then.

Next, Watan makes several more assertions, all of which are preceded by “according to security/intelligence agencies.”  They are:

  • That Morsi did indeed as he promised, and that he facilitated the establishment of four jihadi training camps.  Morsi was then Chief in Command of Egypt’s Armed Forces, and through his power of authority, stopped the military from launching any operations including in the by now al-Qaeda overrun Sinai.
  • That, after Morsi reached Pakistan, he had a one-and-a-half hour meeting with an associate of Ayman Zawahiri in a hotel and possibly spoke with him.
  • That, after Morsi returned to Egypt from his trip to Pakistan, he issued another  list containing the names of 20 more convicted terrorists considered dangerous to the national security of Egypt, giving them all presidential pardons—despite the fact that national security and intelligence strongly recommended that they not be released on grounds of the threat they posed.
  • That the Muslim Brotherhood’s international wing, including through the agency of Khairat al-Shater, had provided $50 million to al-Qaeda in part to support the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

One of the longer conversations between Morsi and Zawahiri reported by Watan is especially telling of al-Qaeda’s enmity for secularist Muslims and Coptic Christians—whose churches, some 80, were attacked, burned, and destroyed, some with the al-Qaeda flag furled above them, soon after the ousting of Morsi.  I translate portions below:

Zawahiri: “The teachings of Allah need to be applied and enforced; the secularists have stopped the Islamic Sharia, and the response must be a stop to the building of churches.” (An odd assertion considering how difficult it already is for Copts to acquire a repair permit for their churches in Egypt.)

Zawahiri also added that “All those who reject the Sharia must be executed, and all those belonging to the secular media which work to disseminate debauchery and help deviants and Christians to violate the Sharia, must be executed.”

Morsi reportedly replied: “We have taken deterrent measures to combat those few, and new legislative measures to limit their media, and in the near future, we will shut down these media stations and launch large Islamic media outlets.  We are even planning a big budget from the [Brotherhood] International Group  to launch Islamic and jihadi satellite stations  to urge on the jihad. There will be a channel for you and the men of al-Qaeda, and it can be broadcast from Afghanistan.”

Undeterred, Zawahiri responded by saying, “This [is a] Christian media—and some of the media personnel are paid by the [Coptic] Church and they work with those who oppose the Sharia… secularist forces are allied with Christian forces, among them Naguib Sawiris, the Christian-Jew.”

Morsi: “Soon we will uphold our promises to you.”

In fact, there was a period of time when the secular media in Egypt—which was constantly exposing Brotherhood machinations—were under severe attack by the Brotherhood and Islamists of all stripes (comedian Bassem Youssef was the tip of the iceberg).  In one instance, which I noted back in August 2012, six major media stations were attacked by Brotherhood supporters, their employees severely beat.

The last call recorded between Muhammad Morsi and Muhammad Zawahiri took place on the dawn of June 30, 2013 (the date of the June 30 Revolution that ousted Morsi and the Brotherhood).  Morsi made the call to Zawahiri in the presence of Asad al-Sheikha, Deputy Chief of Presidential Staff, Refa’ al-Tahtawy, Chief of Presidential Staff, and his personal security.

During this last call, Morsi incited Zawahiri to rise against the Egyptian military in Sinai and asked Zawahiri to compel all jihadi and loyalist elements everywhere to come to the aid of the Muslim Brotherhood and neutralize its opponents.

Zawahiri reportedly responded by saying “We will fight the military and the police, and we will set the Sinai aflame.

True enough, as I reported on July 4, quoting from an Arabic report: “Al-Qaeda, under the leadership of Muhammad Zawahiri, is currently planning reprisal operations by which to attack the army and the Morsi-opposition all around the Republic [of Egypt].”  The report added that, right before the deposing of Morsi, Zawahiri had been arrested and was being interrogated—only to be ordered released by yet another presidential order, and that he  had since fled to the Sinai.

Also on that same first day of the revolution, Khairat al-Shater, Deputy Leader of the Brotherhood, had a meeting with a delegate of jihadi fighters and reiterated Morsi’s request that all jihadis come to the aid of the presidency and the Brotherhood.

As Morsi’s trial continues, it’s only a matter of time before the truth of these allegations—and their implications for the U.S.—is known.  But one thing is certain: most of them comport incredibly well with incidents and events that took place under Morsi’s government.

Discussion

One comment for “FTR #1025 The So-Called “Arab Spring” Revisited, Part 1”

  1. The LA Times had a recent summary on the state of al Qaeda 17 years after 9/11. The conclusion? It’s arguably stronger than ever, with over 20,000 fighters in Syria and Yemen alone:

    The Los Angeles Times

    Seventeen years after Sept. 11, Al Qaeda may be stronger than ever

    By Nabih Bulos
    Sep 10, 2018 | 3:00 AM

    In the days after Sept. 11, 2001, the United States set out to destroy Al Qaeda. President George W. Bush vowed to “starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest.”

    Seventeen years later, Al Qaeda may be stronger than ever. Far from vanquishing the extremist group and its associated “franchises,” critics say, U.S. policies in the Mideast appear to have encouraged its spread.

    What U.S. officials didn’t grasp, said Rita Katz, director of the SITE Intelligence Group, in a recent phone interview, is that Al Qaeda is more than a group of individuals. “It’s an idea, and an idea cannot be destroyed using sophisticated weapons and killing leaders and bombing training camps,” she said.

    The group has amassed the largest fighting force in its existence. Estimates say it may have more than 20,000 militants in Syria and Yemen alone. It boasts affiliates across North Africa, the Levant and parts of Asia, and it remains strong around the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

    It has also changed tactics. Instead of the headline-grabbing terrorist attacks, brutal public executions and slick propaganda used by Islamic State (Al Qaeda’s onetime affiliate and now rival), Al Qaeda now practices a softer approach, embedding itself and gaining the support of Sunni Muslims inside war-torn countries.

    Here’s a look at how Al Qaeda has grown in some key Middle Eastern countries:

    Iraq

    The United States went to war against Iraq in 2003, based in part on the assertion — later debunked — that Al Qaeda had ties to dictator Saddam Hussein.

    That claim turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    In victory, the U.S. disbanded the Iraqi army, putting hundreds of thousands of disgruntled men with military training on the street. Many rose up against what was perceived as a foreign invasion, feeding an insurgency that has never stopped. The insurgency gave birth to Al Qaeda in Iraq, a local affiliate that pioneered the use of terrorist attacks on Shiite Muslims, regarded as apostates by Sunni extremists.

    In its 2007 “surge,” the U.S., in concert with pro-government Sunni militias, largely defeated Al Qaeda in Iraq. But by 2010, the group was “fundamentally the same” as it had been before the boost in troops, according to Gen. Ray T. Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq at the time.

    The 2011 uprisings in neighboring Syria gave the group the breathing space it needed. Two years later it emerged as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS, and split from Al Qaeda’s central leadership.

    It also launched an audacious offensive that saw large swaths of Iraq fall into the hands of the jihadists. Although Islamic State has since lost most of its territory, it remains a threat.

    Yemen

    Al Qaeda was active in Yemen even before Sept. 11: It orchestrated the October 2000 bombing of the U.S. destroyer Cole in the port of Aden. After the World Trade Center twin tower attacks, Bush hailed Yemen’s then president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, as a vital partner in the U.S.-declared war on terrorism.

    Saleh received what he called “limitless” U.S. support to fight the jihadists. He in turn gave the U.S. a free hand to conduct attacks against the group’s operatives, including controversial drone strikes, which began in 2002.

    But by January 2009, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (known as AQAP) had emerged and was soon considered the group’s most dangerous branch.

    President Obama unleashed special forces teams to hunt down AQAP operatives. He also ramped up drone strikes, launching roughly 200 from 2009 to 2016, according to a report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. President Trump has launched 160.

    But the strikes and raids often killed more civilians than militants.

    In late 2014, Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim rebels known as Houthis swept in from the country’s northwest to seize the capital, Sana. Amid the resulting chaos, AQAP netted a prize: the city of Mukalla, with Yemen’s third- largest port. It became the centerpiece of an Al Qaeda fiefdom.

    As early as 2012, Nasser Wuhayshi, AQAP’s self-styled “emir” and founder, had said the group needed to win people over by “taking care of their daily needs.”

    The group rebranded itself as Ansar al Sharia, or Supporters of Islamic Law, and slowly introduced Al Qaeda’s harsh form of Islamic law and governance.

    Under Trump, the United States has largely continued Obama’s policies in Yemen. It has given full support to an air campaign led by Saudi Arabia against the Houthis, despite criticism that the strikes have caused most of the 16,000 civilian casualties in Yemen since the war began.

    But even as the U.S. has continued to carry out airstrikes and raids against AQAP, the group has positioned itself as a virtual ally, battling the Houthis alongside tribal fighters supported by Saudi Arabia.

    Somalia

    The fall of Somalia’s government in 1991 led to the rise of the Islamic Courts Union, a collection of clerical organizations that formed a sharia-based judiciary. It gained legitimacy by offering services such as education and healthcare.

    Washington, suspecting links to Al Qaeda, supported the group’s enemies, and enlisted the Ethiopian army to crush it, which it did in 2006. In the de-facto occupation that followed, the Islamic Courts Union’s radical youth wing, the Shabab, grew as an independent resistance movement that took over most of Somalia’s central and southern regions.

    Despite its unpopular application of fundamentalist Wahhabi doctrine, residents tolerated the Shabab because it fought the Ethiopians, who are mostly Christian and have a long-standing enmity with Somalis.

    In 2012, it was declared as the new Al Qaeda affiliate. The change of status attracted a significant number of foreign fighters, including some from the United States.

    The Obama administration’s policy of drone strikes along with support for African Union peacekeeping forces, flushed the Shabab out of the capital, Mogadishu, in 2011. It lost control of most of Somalia’s towns and cities.

    And in September 2014, a U.S. drone strike killed its leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr.

    But the group held sway in rural areas, where its estimated 4,000 to 6,000 militants make it one of Al Qaeda’s largest franchises. They carry out guerrilla attacks on African Union forces and civilian targets and have launched attacks in others parts of East Africa, including the 2013 attack on the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya.

    Syria

    On Dec. 23, 2011, a car bomb struck a residential neighborhood of Damascus, Syria, that was home to the State Security Directorate.

    The building was all but destroyed. Drivers unfortunate enough to be near the explosion were burned alive. A second car bomb detonated soon after. All told, 44 people were killed.

    That attack marked the debut of Al Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s branch in Syria.

    The Syrian government had once given the jihadis passage to Iraq to fight coalition forces there. With the civil war, many had now come to return the favor. Nusra’s battle-hardened fighters delivered dazzling successes to the rebel coalition seeking to overthrow President Bashar Assad.

    It was so effective that U.S. officials, including former CIA Director David Petraeus, suggested arming and deploying the Al Qaeda jihadis to fight their former comrades in Islamic State.

    And despite its adherence to a strict Islamist code of behavior and its imposition of sharia in areas it controlled, the group enjoyed popular support from civilians tired of dealing with rapacious opposition factions more interested in looting than fighting.

    Yet here again, the affiliate did not declare a caliphate. Instead, it rebranded itself, publicly cutting ties with Al Qaeda even while retaining some of the group’s top operatives.

    The group, now known as the Organization for the Liberation of Syria, is estimated to have 10,000 to 15,000 fighters, including foreigners from as far as Albania and China.

    Libya

    Officially, there is no Al Qaeda group in Libya. Its affiliate, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, was disbanded in 2011; its members renounced violence but distinguished themselves as relatively disciplined rebels once the revolution against Libyan strongman Moammar Kadafi kicked off.

    Since then, some, such as former group leader Abdel-Hakim Belhaj, who fought with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and was renditioned by the U.S. after 2001, have become powerful Islamist leaders, with a significant role in Libya’s chaotic politics.

    Others have gone over to Islamic State’s Libyan branch or joined other Islamist groups, including a number that took over the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

    But while the U.S., other Western nations and the United Arab Emirates have focused almost exclusively on dislodging Islamic State from its bastions in the north and northeast, Al Qaeda has enjoyed a resurgence, according to an August report from the United Nations.

    The group’s threat in Libya registered with the U.S. only this year. In March, the Pentagon’s Africa Command said it had killed two Al Qaeda militants in a drone strike, including what was said to be a high-ranking official, Musa Abu Dawud.

    ———-

    “Seventeen years after Sept. 11, Al Qaeda may be stronger than ever” by Nabih Bulos; The Los Angeles Times; 09/10/2018

    “Seventeen years later, Al Qaeda may be stronger than ever. Far from vanquishing the extremist group and its associated “franchises,” critics say, U.S. policies in the Mideast appear to have encouraged its spread.”

    Yep. U.S. policies in the Mideast appear to have encouraged its spread. In addition, changes in tactics have also helped increase the group’s appeal, with fewer high-profile terror attacks and a greater emphasis on taking the sides of Sunnis inside war-torn countries. It’s a reminder that war in the Middle East, any war, is the kind of ‘policy’ that’s going to inevitably create a massive opportunity for a terror group like al Qaeda to increase its popular appeal. They simply need to pick a side in the war and assume the role as protectors:


    The group has amassed the largest fighting force in its existence. Estimates say it may have more than 20,000 militants in Syria and Yemen alone. It boasts affiliates across North Africa, the Levant and parts of Asia, and it remains strong around the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

    It has also changed tactics. Instead of the headline-grabbing terrorist attacks, brutal public executions and slick propaganda used by Islamic State (Al Qaeda’s onetime affiliate and now rival), Al Qaeda now practices a softer approach, embedding itself and gaining the support of Sunni Muslims inside war-torn countries.

    And that strategy of befriending Sunni populations in war-torn countries was played out over and over. Simultaneously, the fact that ISIS technically split off for al Qaeda allowed the Sunni extremist movement to have a sort of ‘good cop’/’bad cop’ approach: as long as al Qaeda wasn’t as extreme as ISIS, it was seen in a more ‘moderate’ light:


    Iraq

    The United States went to war against Iraq in 2003, based in part on the assertion — later debunked — that Al Qaeda had ties to dictator Saddam Hussein.

    That claim turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    In victory, the U.S. disbanded the Iraqi army, putting hundreds of thousands of disgruntled men with military training on the street. Many rose up against what was perceived as a foreign invasion, feeding an insurgency that has never stopped. The insurgency gave birth to Al Qaeda in Iraq, a local affiliate that pioneered the use of terrorist attacks on Shiite Muslims, regarded as apostates by Sunni extremists.

    In its 2007 “surge,” the U.S., in concert with pro-government Sunni militias, largely defeated Al Qaeda in Iraq. But by 2010, the group was “fundamentally the same” as it had been before the boost in troops, according to Gen. Ray T. Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq at the time.

    The 2011 uprisings in neighboring Syria gave the group the breathing space it needed. Two years later it emerged as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIS, and split from Al Qaeda’s central leadership.

    It also launched an audacious offensive that saw large swaths of Iraq fall into the hands of the jihadists. Although Islamic State has since lost most of its territory, it remains a threat.

    In Yemen, al Qaeda’s offshoot, AQAP, managed to take over Yemen’s third-largest port in 2014. Flash forward to today and we have reports of the Saudis and UAE (with US backing) paying off AQAP to retreat from seized cities. And they only slowly introduced al Qaeda’s ultraconservative form of Islamic law while trying to win people over the “taking care of their daily needs.” It’s a reminder that, for all the attention ISIS has received for becoming a terror outfit with actual territory, al Qaeda has been doing the same, but with far less attention paid to it:


    Yemen

    Al Qaeda was active in Yemen even before Sept. 11: It orchestrated the October 2000 bombing of the U.S. destroyer Cole in the port of Aden. After the World Trade Center twin tower attacks, Bush hailed Yemen’s then president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, as a vital partner in the U.S.-declared war on terrorism.

    Saleh received what he called “limitless” U.S. support to fight the jihadists. He in turn gave the U.S. a free hand to conduct attacks against the group’s operatives, including controversial drone strikes, which began in 2002.

    But by January 2009, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (known as AQAP) had emerged and was soon considered the group’s most dangerous branch.

    President Obama unleashed special forces teams to hunt down AQAP operatives. He also ramped up drone strikes, launching roughly 200 from 2009 to 2016, according to a report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. President Trump has launched 160.

    But the strikes and raids often killed more civilians than militants.

    In late 2014, Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim rebels known as Houthis swept in from the country’s northwest to seize the capital, Sana. Amid the resulting chaos, AQAP netted a prize: the city of Mukalla, with Yemen’s third- largest port. It became the centerpiece of an Al Qaeda fiefdom.

    As early as 2012, Nasser Wuhayshi, AQAP’s self-styled “emir” and founder, had said the group needed to win people over by “taking care of their daily needs.”

    The group rebranded itself as Ansar al Sharia, or Supporters of Islamic Law, and slowly introduced Al Qaeda’s harsh form of Islamic law and governance.

    Under Trump, the United States has largely continued Obama’s policies in Yemen. It has given full support to an air campaign led by Saudi Arabia against the Houthis, despite criticism that the strikes have caused most of the 16,000 civilian casualties in Yemen since the war began.

    But even as the U.S. has continued to carry out airstrikes and raids against AQAP, the group has positioned itself as a virtual ally, battling the Houthis alongside tribal fighters supported by Saudi Arabia.

    In Somalia the group has an estimate 4-6 thousand militants. And while it’s harsh version of Islam may have made it unpopular with the populace, it was still more popular than the Ethiopian army that the US enlisted to crush the group. One more example of how trying to militarily defeat a militaristic ultraconservative ideology – an ideology that inherently becomes more acceptable to stressed out populations facing mortal danger because human simply because more conservative under stress – probably isn’t going to end well:


    Somalia

    The fall of Somalia’s government in 1991 led to the rise of the Islamic Courts Union, a collection of clerical organizations that formed a sharia-based judiciary. It gained legitimacy by offering services such as education and healthcare.

    Washington, suspecting links to Al Qaeda, supported the group’s enemies, and enlisted the Ethiopian army to crush it, which it did in 2006. In the de-facto occupation that followed, the Islamic Courts Union’s radical youth wing, the Shabab, grew as an independent resistance movement that took over most of Somalia’s central and southern regions.

    Despite its unpopular application of fundamentalist Wahhabi doctrine, residents tolerated the Shabab because it fought the Ethiopians, who are mostly Christian and have a long-standing enmity with Somalis.

    In 2012, it was declared as the new Al Qaeda affiliate. The change of status attracted a significant number of foreign fighters, including some from the United States.

    The Obama administration’s policy of drone strikes along with support for African Union peacekeeping forces, flushed the Shabab out of the capital, Mogadishu, in 2011. It lost control of most of Somalia’s towns and cities.

    And in September 2014, a U.S. drone strike killed its leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr.

    But the group held sway in rural areas, where its estimated 4,000 to 6,000 militants make it one of Al Qaeda’s largest franchises. They carry out guerrilla attacks on African Union forces and civilian targets and have launched attacks in others parts of East Africa, including the 2013 attack on the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya.

    But it’s in Syria – where al Qaeda affiliates got to claim the ‘moderate extremist’ mantle in comparison to ISIS – that we saw al Qaeda really ascend in terms of popular acceptance. And not just acceptance among the locals. It was none other than former CIA Director David Petraeus who suggested arming and deploying al Qaeda to fight ISIS in 2015. And, of course, arming al Qaeda in Syria is exactly what the US’s allies like Saudi Arabia and Qatar were doing all along. And then there’s the weapons the CIA was providing to the moderate rebel groups that were almost entirely ended up in extremist hands. If there was a country where the US’s long-held schizophrenic approach towards Islamist militant is full display it’s Syria:


    Syria

    On Dec. 23, 2011, a car bomb struck a residential neighborhood of Damascus, Syria, that was home to the State Security Directorate.

    The building was all but destroyed. Drivers unfortunate enough to be near the explosion were burned alive. A second car bomb detonated soon after. All told, 44 people were killed.

    That attack marked the debut of Al Nusra Front, Al Qaeda’s branch in Syria.

    The Syrian government had once given the jihadis passage to Iraq to fight coalition forces there. With the civil war, many had now come to return the favor. Nusra’s battle-hardened fighters delivered dazzling successes to the rebel coalition seeking to overthrow President Bashar Assad.

    It was so effective that U.S. officials, including former CIA Director David Petraeus, suggested arming and deploying the Al Qaeda jihadis to fight their former comrades in Islamic State.

    And despite its adherence to a strict Islamist code of behavior and its imposition of sharia in areas it controlled, the group enjoyed popular support from civilians tired of dealing with rapacious opposition factions more interested in looting than fighting.

    Yet here again, the affiliate did not declare a caliphate. Instead, it rebranded itself, publicly cutting ties with Al Qaeda even while retaining some of the group’s top operatives.

    The group, now known as the Organization for the Liberation of Syria, is estimated to have 10,000 to 15,000 fighters, including foreigners from as far as Albania and China.

    Finally, in Libya we find former al Qaeda leaders assuming significant roles in the country’s politics. That’s how wildly successful the Islamist have been in the post-Qaddafi environment:


    Libya

    Officially, there is no Al Qaeda group in Libya. Its affiliate, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, was disbanded in 2011; its members renounced violence but distinguished themselves as relatively disciplined rebels once the revolution against Libyan strongman Moammar Kadafi kicked off.

    Since then, some, such as former group leader Abdel-Hakim Belhaj, who fought with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and was renditioned by the U.S. after 2001, have become powerful Islamist leaders, with a significant role in Libya’s chaotic politics.

    Others have gone over to Islamic State’s Libyan branch or joined other Islamist groups, including a number that took over the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

    But while the U.S., other Western nations and the United Arab Emirates have focused almost exclusively on dislodging Islamic State from its bastions in the north and northeast, Al Qaeda has enjoyed a resurgence, according to an August report from the United Nations.

    The group’s threat in Libya registered with the U.S. only this year. In March, the Pentagon’s Africa Command said it had killed two Al Qaeda militants in a drone strike, including what was said to be a high-ranking official, Musa Abu Dawud.

    And this is all why experts like Rita Katz warn that al Qaeda can’t simply be destroyed militarily because at it’s core is an ideology:


    What U.S. officials didn’t grasp, said Rita Katz, director of the SITE Intelligence Group, in a recent phone interview, is that Al Qaeda is more than a group of individuals. “It’s an idea, and an idea cannot be destroyed using sophisticated weapons and killing leaders and bombing training camps,” she said.

    And that warning from Katz is especially important to keep in mind in the larger context of long-standing Western backing for the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist offshoots. Because if you look at the harsh form of Islam al Qaeda advocates, that’s what the Muslim Brotherhood advocates too, which is why Al Qaeda could be viewed as basically the military wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. So as long as the West backs the Muslim Brotherhood in a quest to find a Muslim movement that is corporatist-friendly and hostile to socialism and the redistribution of wealth and social justice, al Qaeda is basically destined to win in the end across the Sunni Muslim world. In other words, if the US was really interested in defeating al Qaeda, it wouldn’t be supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. It would be promoting secular socialism, a model that could actually improve people’s lives and is fundamentally at odds with al Qaedas ideology in almost every way. Which, if course, won’t happen. And that’s a big reason why we shouldn’t expect al Qaeda to go away any time soon. The movement’s fundamental ideology – an ideology of hyper-authoritarianism, strict capitalism, and an acceptance of extreme inequality – is an ideology that is unfortunately not exclusive to al Qaeda.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 26, 2018, 3:25 pm

Post a comment