The BBC asks the question about the relevance of AQ in the Arab Spring. Actually, I am going to disagree in part with some of the conclusions of the writer of the piece because I think that he has not been able to spot the influence of AQ in a couple of countries, such as in Morocco. On the other hand, I note that one of his sources is a Libyan who is an ex-AQ operative:
“What we are witnessing now is completely against their methods or understanding of how to make change,” argues Noman Benotman, a former Libyan jihadist who knew Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan but now works at the counter-extremist think tank, the Quilliam Foundation.
Although Nato’s military commander talked of “flickers” of al-Qaeda in Libya, European officials say they see no signs of a significant presence for the organisation.
And while some Islamists, often former members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, are involved, they are seen as focused on confronting Colonel Muammar Gaddafi at home and not being subscribers to al-Qaeda’s wider ambitions.
Mr Benotman also says he has seen jihadists whom he knows in Libya change the way they behave and talk in the past two months.
“The way they start to make statements or to understand the conflicts is unbelievable, beyond my imagination. The only explanation I can offer is because they have been affected – whether they like it or not – by the wave of democracy.”
These are the same points that I have raised about how these Libyans have been behaving. It would seem that they are only serious up to a point, at least for now, whilst they are fighting for their own country, and their own families. (a bit different than fighting an alleged enemy in another country).
The author only identifies Yemen as having potential for AQ to exploit, but I disagree with him on that score. I would suggest that there is a possibility of AQ exploiting the situation in Syria as well as in Yemen. The reason is that the Salafists are tied to AQ. This is also true with regard to the control that Hamas wields over the Gaza strip, where they are being challenged by Salafists (which might explain the negotions between Hamas and Fatah – the Salafists being a common enemy to both). I think it is probable that the Salafists are behind the trouble in Syria – the Iranian Republican Guard has been in Syria and has been assisting with the bloody crackdown over more recent weeks that has led to a sharply increasing death toll in Syria.
Also, whilst AQ has been caught on the back foot, it would seem that the political aims of MB are coming to fruition in the region. I can see no real difference between the major aims of both groups, but I can see religious differences between them. This means that there is a double threat, from AQ as well as from MB, and perhaps the writer is blind to the influence of Muslim Brotherhood, as well as the inherent dangers of the rise of Iran that would be assisted if Muslim Brotherhood was to seize power in Egypt.
In Bahrain it would seem that the protests have been backed by Iran, and this explains the manner in which the crack down has taken place. Although the crackdown has been brutal it has not been as bad as in Syria or Libya were most of the deaths have occurred. It is hard to tell whether AQ has had a role in Bahrain, probably because those leading the protests have been Shia rather than Sunni. The Salafists and AQ tend to be Sunni.
The strongest evidence of AQ is in Morocco, and also in Germany, where there are sleeper cells. A few months ago the Germans were on alert for a terrorist attack. Now comes the news that one cell has been busted in relation to that terror alert. There are sleeper cells in various countries, but this does not solve whether or not AQ is behind the Arab spring uprisings, or whether there are other agents of trouble, such as Iran, at work. I think it is a mixture, Iran, Communists, Salafists (AQ), Muslim Brotherhood, and other provocateurs. It is also probable that Russia has had a hand in the uprisings as well.