Through an Islamist website, al-Qaeda apparently released a 12-minute audio tape recorded by Osama bin Laden shortly before his May 2 death at the hands of Navy SEALs. In it, the deceased terrorist mastermind lavishes praise upon the protest movements of the Arab Spring, insisting that “the winds of change will envelope the entire Muslim world.”
Reuters offers this redaction of bin Laden’s counsel to the Arab world’s revolutionaries:
“This revolution was not for food and clothing. Rather, it was a revolution of glory and pride, a revolution of sacrifice and giving. It has lit the Nile’s cities and its villages from its lower reaches to the top,” he said.
“To those free rebels in all the countries – retain the initiative and be careful of dialogue. No meeting midway between the people of truth and those of deviation.”
Thanks, Osama. But no one’s listening.This is a limp, desperate attempt to hang on to the coattails of the various mass movements for democracy and political reform in the Middle East. As we’ve blogged repeatedly in recent months, the events of the Arab Spring have proved the total and utter irrelevance of al-Qaeda to the Arab street. Moreover, this fringe and battered terrorist outfit has little traction with influential Islamist political parties like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt or even Hizballah in Lebanon. Surviving al-Qaeda leaders, like the rumored “interim” head Saif al-Adel, have tried this year to twin their rhetoric of jihad with the Arab Spring’s zeitgeist of revolution, but it’s a gambit that fools — and interests — no one.
What’s most revealing about this posthumous bin Laden tape is that, while it hoots and hollers about the fall of U.S.-backed tyrants Hosni Mubarak (of Egypt) and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali (of Tunisia), it makes no reference whatsoever to the region’s popular aspiration for democracy. Of course, a group that has delusions of lifting a puritanical Caliphate over half the world doesn’t really have much to say about political freedoms and ballot boxes. And there’s the rub. For decades, authoritarian leaders like Mubarak, Syria’s Bashar Assad and Libya’s embattled Muammar Gaddafi have used the specter of murderous factions like al-Qaeda — subversive, terrorist fanatics — to convince the West and their own local elites of the need for a grim police state.
This bin Laden tape would have been welcomed by the ousted Mubarak or Gaddafi, who tried to claim the rebels fighting his rule were al-Qaeda operatives hopped up on LSD. But it has no place now that the prospect of real political change has captured the imagination of the Arab world.