Al Quaeda's second in command yesterday issued a eulogy for Osama Bin Laden, who was killed in a US raid in Pakistan on May 2. Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is tipped to become the terrorist organisation's next leader, had already been perceived by western powers to be Al Qaeda's real operational head for a long time.
Al-Zawahiri is also suspected to be operating from somewhere in Pakistan, probably not far from the frontier with Afghanistan. In his message he attacked the US for burying the terror chief at sea, which is against Islamic law, and urged the Pakistanis people to rise up against the country's military rulers and politicians, who he described as "traitors".
The death of Osama Bin Laden hit al-Qaeda hard as the organisation lost both its founder and spiritual leader at a time when it is struggling to show its relevance in the Arab world. It seems that by focusing its discourse on a dialectic based on a hatred of the west and the need to take down America, the terrorist organisation, has increasingly alienated itself from the everyday struggles that the people of the Middle East have to face.
While the western interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan angered the Arab World, taking revenge on America was never the priority of the masses, as they had to face harsh economic situations and repression from state authorities.
If people in Egypt and Tunisia were ready to spill their blood to get rid of strict dictatorial regimes, they clearly will not welcome al-Qaeda's almost neurotic austerity and repression.
After the death of Bin Laden western experts warned that the latter had mostly been a symbolic figure in recent years but had little if any direct role in spreading terrorism worldwide. While they emphasised the significance of his death they also insisted it would not end the threat from an increasingly potent and self-reliant string of regional Al Qaeda affiliates in North Africa and Yemen.
However just over a month after the leader's death the tables seem to have turned, since while the west is pushing for more regimes to step down from power in the region, many Arab countries are afraid that if not under control, the transitional phases preceding the instatement of a new regime, could prove very unstable, thus offering terrorist organisations an ideal terrain for their battle.
Al-Zawahiri's message appear to be the latest move of the organisation's desperate attempts to re-brand its image and try to re-connect with its Muslim audience.
Recently reports emerged that Al-Qaeda had asked its affiliates such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan to cease attacks on the local population and focus instead on operations against Western targets. When looking at how Al-Qaeda has recurrently attacked the Muslim world in the last few years, it is difficult to understand how they could have expected to gain support from the masses. However, in statements made over the last several months Al-Qaeda leaders such as Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Yahya al-Libi have emphasised the "sanctity of Muslim blood."
These appeals were clearly prompted by Al-Qaeda's nervousness at the rapid erosion of its support base in Pakistan and in other Islamic countries. Among the masses, there has been a wave of revulsion against the organisation's espousal of takfir, under which an unbeliever, or even a Muslim, may be excommunicated the moment he or she does not follow the Sharia, or Islamic law, in its strictest sense. One of the basic theological beliefs of Al-Qaeda followers is that simply fulfilling the five pillar of Islam is not enough as the organisation refuses for Muslims to be susceptible to Western, Christian, Jewish, or "Zionist" influences. Rejecting the possibility of a life constantly dictated by a religious institution at a time where they already felt they were being suffocated by their state's institutions, many decided as a result to reject the organisation entirely.
In 2007, Sheikh Salman al-Ouda, a Muslim scholar, who also happened to be one of the founders of Shawa, which is a fundamentalist movement, famously challenged Osama Bin Laden during a rare appearance on television: "How much blood has been spilt? How many innocent people, children, the elderly and women have been killed...in the name of Al-Qaeda? Will you be happy to meet God Almighty, carrying the burden of these hundreds of thousands of victims on your back?"
A few days later, Sayyed Imam al-Sharif, an influential Afghan Arab who was thought to be the "ideological godfather of Al-Qaeda" withdrew his support from OsamaBbin Laden to mark his opposition to takfir.
In the last few years Al-Qaeda was not only confronted by the West, but was also directly challenged by public figures of the Arab world. Consequently, other jihadists, noticing the decline of the organisation also decided to break away from it. For example, in September 2009, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), once closely associated with Al-Qaeda, announced they had come up with a new "code" for jihad and published a 417-page long document.
In an even bolder move, in September last year, former LIFG leader Noman Benotman sent an open letter to Osama Bin Laden in which he stated: "Your duty is to prevent your organisation from going further down the road of ghulu (extremism), takfir (excommunication) and shedding of innocent blood that was forbidden by God."
Officially, Al-Qaeda was formally launched in 1988, during a meeting between Osama Bin Laden, Abdullah Azzam and several leaders of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and it was decided the organisation would "devote itself to fighting on behalf of oppressed Muslims worldwide." However, as Muslims increasingly became the target of Al-Qaeda terrorist activities, it lost its influence.
For an organisation that managed to disturb the world with its strategic capacities, it has now definitely lost its momentum. The problem with Al-Qaeda and the reason for its declining influence in the modern Arab world is that while its use of technology is very advanced, its understanding of modernity is archaic. After punishing the west it became more and more difficult for their planned attacks to come to fruition because of heightened security, it seems that Al-Qaeda tried to instead focus its attention on punishing the Muslim public for not supporting it. That was a terrible and flagrant mistake and it is doubtful that the organisation can recover from it, as it has taken the Foucauldian concept of bio-power to the extreme. However, unfortunately, the death of al-Qaeda does not mean the death of extremism and as the terrorist organisation that was seen as the most dangerous and the most influential keeps on falling out of grace, other underground groups will try to take the king's crown.