Transatlantic Security Task Force Series
Dictatorships have been replacedby weak governments thathave failed to satisfy people’saspirations and that can nolonger control all of their nationalterritories.
single-minded focus on terrorism as an instrument of political change would be severely and irretrievably delegitimized. Tis would indeed be a genuinely strategicblow.
Te administration’s new counterterrorism strategy — published in June 2011 — reected this consensus.
Presenting the document in Washington, DC, JohnBrennan, the president’s counterterrorism advisor, told hisaudience: “It will take time, but make no mistake, al-Qaedais in its decline.”
Consequences of the Arab Spring
wo years later, the optimism has aded. Contrary to thehopes and expectations o many ocials, the uprisings o early 2011 have ailed to transorm Arab dictatorships intoliberal democracies. In Libya, the new government hasailed to establish any meaningul authority, leaving largeparts o the country in the hands o militias that pursuetheir own agendas and spread weapons and conict acrossthe region. In Egypt, the downall o President HosniMubarak was ollowed by the Muslim Brotherhood’s riseand — most recently — a military coup, which was causedand accompanied by instability and increasing socialpolarization. Even in unisia, initially hailed as the mostpromising candidate or transition toward democracy, theconstitutional process has stalled and extremist movementshave gained support. In all cases, dictatorships have beenreplaced by weak governments that have ailed to satisy people’s aspirations and that can no longer control all o their national territories.Rather than undermining terrorism, this dangerouscocktail o state collapse, lacking institutional legitimacy,ungoverned spaces, and prolierating weapons has createdopportunities or al-Qaeda to return to places in whichthe group had long been beaten. In Libya, or example,supporters o al-Qaeda attacked a U.S. consulate, killing theambassador and three other U.S. citizens. Libyan weaponshave shown up in the Sinai and Syria, uelled the Islamistinsurgency in northern Mali, and strengthened Algeria’sal-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
In the Sinai,
4 Benjamin, op. cit.5 “National Strategy for Counterterrorism,”
6 Brennan, quoted in Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti, “Obama Adviser Outlines Plans toDefeat Al-Qaeda,”
New York Times,
June 29, 2011.7 See Shiraz Maher, “Shiraz Maher: The Jihadist Eruption in Africa,”
Wall Street Journal,
January 18, 2013.
jihadists are recruiting among the Bedouin, setting upcamps and structures that threaten Egypt, Israel, and thepeace treaty between the two countries.
More broadly,the recent military coup in Egypt seems to have atally undermined the narrative o peaceul transition, insteadproving al-Qaeda’s point that even comparatively moderateIslamists will never be tolerated in power and that armedrevolution is the only way to implement sharia.
But nowhere have Western hopes been shattered soprooundly as in Syria. Similar to Egypt and unisia, Syria’suprising started o peaceully and remained so or severalmonths. But unlike Mubarak and unisia’s Zine el AbidineBen Ali, Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad reused to givein, responding — instead — with brute orce, the beatingand killing o protesters, random arrests, and torture. By mid-2011, the situation in Syria had become a poweruland shocking reutation o the idea that peaceul protestalone could bring down a dictator. Far rom disquali-ying and “de-legitimizing” violence as an “instrument o political change,” as Benjamin had predicted, this part o the Arab Spring appeared to send the opposite message:that violence — even terrorism — may be the only choicewhen aced with someone as determined, brutal, and ruth-less as Assad. Indeed, ideological jihadists — consistingo the al-Qaeda linked al Nusra ront as well as the groupsthat are united under the umbrella o the Syrian IslamicFront — are now leading the armed opposition, havingmarginalized other, more nationalist and/or Islamist orcesthat appeared to be leading the revolution at rst. As aconsequence, the conict has become highly sectarian,prompting clashes between Sunni rebels and the Lebanese
8 See Tamim Elyan, “Insight: Mimicking al-Qaeda, militant threat grows in Sinai,”
August 13, 2012.9 Yassin Musharbash, “Dieser Putschw wird al-Kaida stärken,”
July 4, 2013.