Defeat for Al-Qaeda?
10 Myths About the Arab Spring
The notion that somehow the Arab Spring has defeated Al-Qaeda (AQ) and undermined its ideology is not only simplistic and problematic but also deeply misleading. First, the argument that the Arab Spring somehow challenges the global AQ threat by providing the people of the Middle East an unprecedented opportunity for legitimate political expression reverts back to the empirically unfounded argument that a democratic deficit is what engenders terrorism. However, a closer look at the evidence suggests that exactly the opposite may hold true. It is unstable democratic states and weak authoritarian states that tend to provide conditions most conducive to an upsurge in terrorist activity.
Why? For one, the very process of democratization can embolden terrorists instead of pushing them towards participating in democratic processes thereby making such states exceptionally vulnerable to terrorist activity. For another, the capacity to suppress dissent is of crucial importance in an authoritarian state and a capability that weak autocracies lack. Based on this logic then the Arab Spring should, in reality, empower and embolden AQ and the fact that it has not suggests that we need to probe deeper. This brings me to my second point: the idea that somehow the Arab Spring has weakened AQ’s ideological grip on the Middle East is predicated on the logic that it exercised such a hold in the first place.
To begin with this vastly misrepresents threat posed by AQ and its philosophy by portraying it as somehow all-encompassing instead of viewing it as what it was, and continues to be, i.e. a radical and violent ideology supported by a minority of individuals across what is a vast and deeply diverse region. This idea is also deeply problematic because it essentially reduces the people of the Middle East to a sort of homogenous democracy-deprived monolith and in doing so, frames them as, either active or passive, supporters or sympathizers of AQ and its particular brand of radical Islam.
Last but not the least, crediting the Arab Spring as a burgeoning democratic movement that has in one sweep uprooted and undermined AQ’s ideology not only unashamedly and mistakenly privileges liberal democracy as the only system of governance that can bring security, peace, and development to the people of the Middle East but also simultaneously ignores the decades of interventionist western policies in the region which engendered the wide-spread discontent contributing to the rise of an organization like AQ in the first place. Unless we recognize and address this key problem, all the Arab Springs in the world will not eradicate the appeal AQ’s ideology may hold for sections of the population in the Middle East.