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Arab rebellions puncture al-Qaida propaganda

February 2, 2011

The Vancouver Sun, 1 Feb 2011: Revolts in Egypt and Tunisia have struck a blow against al-Qaida’s call to violence as a means of overthrowing autocratic governments, showing “people power” to be a more effective weapon.

The adaptable militant group, with strong roots in Egypt, will work hard to exploit any sense of disappointment if the eventual outcome of the uprising there does not deliver better lives for the Arab world’s most populous country, analysts say.

But for now the group has no easy answer to the evidence presented by the world’s television screens -that ordinary men and women are doing more to weaken the 30-year-old rule of President Hosni Mubarak than years of attacks by armed groups.

Nor is there much comfort here for Western strategists who have argued that the West must prop up Arab autocrats or see the region taken over by violent anti-Western Islamist radicals.

“It’s a huge defeat for al-Qaida in a country of central importance to its image. It has wounded their credibility with potential supporters,” said Noman Benotman, a former organizer for an al-Qaidaaligned group in neighbouring Libya.

Al-Qaida’s regional arm, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, issued a statement praising the Tunisian uprising and calling on youths to join its Algerian bases for training.

But many al-Qaida sympathizers have been waiting to hear from the leadership, Osama bin Laden and his Egyptian deputy Ayman al-Zawahri, who are believed to be based in Pakistan.

So far, there has been silence.

That is a “not very impressive” delay by the group’s ideological chiefs, according to Anna Murison, an expert on Islamist armed groups at London’s Exclusive Analysis.

Al-Qaida has deep roots in Egypt, through al-Zawahri, who led a failed campaign in the mid-1990s to set up a purist Islamic state in Egypt, and through many key operatives.

“The best thing for al-Qaida would be for this uprising to raise, and then dash, popular expectations,” said Jarret Brachman, a U.S. counter-terrorism specialist and author.

“The more al-Qaida can say that ‘the people’ still haven’t had their voices heard, and become a populist advocate for a ‘new Egypt’, the better al-Qaida’s hand will be.”

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