Decline or mutation for al-Qaeda?

2017/12/17 Issue: 136 Page: 12

The Arab Weekly
Ed Blanche

Beirut- Al-Qaeda survived the Middle East’s constant wars and revolutions for the last three decades because it absorbed new ideas and learnt the stay-alive value of turning its enemies’ mistakes — and its own — into opportunities and challenges.

That self-discipline and ability to think in several dimensions, unlike nearly all its rivals in the jihadist constellation that have sought to emulate it, has been al- Qaeda’s not-so-secret weapon.

With its merciless offspring the Islamic State (ISIS) in retreat after the loss of the Islamic cali­phate it proclaimed in Syria and Iraq in June 2014, al-Qaeda once more is the leader of the pack with affiliates across the Middle East and in Africa and Asia.

Even so, some analysts say al- Qaeda is running out of gas.

Daniel Byman of Georgetown University said the organisation is in permanent decline because of the successes of counterterror campaigns by the United States and its allies and wilting sup­port among Muslims after tens of thousands have died in the violence.

There is, Byman said, “good reason to be optimistic that al- Qaeda’s decline is for real and might even be permanent.”

However, many of his peers are not convinced. Ali Soufan is one of them.

A former FBI special agent who hunted down key jihad­ists, he said al-Qaeda, after all the lessons it has learnt the hard way, is mutating from a terrorist group to a global political Mus­lim force. This comes despite it having been written off by many after US special forces as­sassinated the group’s founder, Osama bin Laden, in Pakistan on May 2, 2011.

“The Islamist extremism that al-Qaeda represents will not go away soon,” warned Seth Jones of the RAND Corporation. “The ideology will survive in some form as wars in Africa, Asia and the Middle East continue to rage.”

Ed Blanche has covered Middle East affairs since 1967. He is the Arab Weekly analyses section editor.

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