This old bumper sticker phrase much loved by the tree hugging crowd some twenty years ago has become the new, de facto slogan of al-Qaeda under the direction of its new capo d' tutti capi, Ayman al-Zawahiri. This, in itself, is not surprising as the good doctor has long been known for his possessing a far greater interest in making Egypt a model of shariah in action than in establishing a global caliphate.
What makes the latest expression of the world according to Zawahiri (it has a catchy title: The Message of Good Hope and Tidings For Our People In Egypt. OK, maybe it loses something in translation.) is the way in which he combines the ideas of making Egypt safe for a Salifist view of Islam with the further disestablishment of the US as a force in the region. The six parts of "The Message" are themselves a riff on Zawahiri's earlier and vastly important philosophical book best known by its short title Exoneration. In both he argues that the successful jihad mounted to date by al-Qaeda and its franchises forced the Obama administration to abandon Mubarak and prepare the way for the success of violent political Islam in Egypt.
In both "The Message" and "Exoneration" al-Zawahiri contends that the moment has come to shift the focus of jihad on the internal revolutions in Egypt and other countries such as Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Tunisia and Syria so as to put more pressure not only on the local apostate rulers but on the US. In essence he is calling for al-Qaeda to act not as a global non-state player but rather as the facilitator and coordinator of local efforts such as those being waged by al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP,) al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM,) and al-Shabaab. It is clear that he believes that the US will be overstretched by simultaneous challenges mounted by these groups as well as smaller entities and lone wolves preying on soft targets throughout the Mideast and North Africa.
Even in this context it is self-evident that al-Zawahiri's focus in on Egypt. His view of the Ummah is through the prism of Egyptian nationalism. He sees the (in his eyes) necessary victory of the most austere form of Islam in Egypt will vault the country to primacy in the emerging caliphate. As a good Egyptian nationalist, one who rivals the quite secular Nasser as a hyper-nationalist, al-Zawahiri sees Cairo as the fulcrum of the new Islam, the next Caliphate.
To this end "The Message" calls upon Egyptian Muslims to act as one, to act quickly and decisively so as to assert Egypt's pride of place among the Muslim majority states of the world. This appeal will not fall on deaf ears. Overlooked in all the hoopla over the yearning for genuine democracy expressed during the overthrow of Mubarak is a very basic and potent ground truth: Egyptians have felt diminished as a people, a nation over the past thirty years. After the national high point of the Yom Kippur War of 1973 the road has been strictly downhill.
Egyptians have increasingly seen themselves as citizens of a diminished country. More and more they have come to see themselves as having lost status, position, even dignity. The thought that Egypt had become nothing more than a dependency of the US rankled--deeply. As is the case in Russia, the notion of having lost national status not only rankled, it motivated. Mubarak was deeply hated not simply because he presided over a country neck deep in corruption, nepotism, inequity, but because he had not only acquiesced in but actively fostered the decline of Egypt in the region and in the world. On Mubarak's watch, many believed and continue to believe, Egypt was no longer a country worthy of respect but rather the object of derision.
Al-Zawahiri's skilled blending of religion and nationalism serves to counter this pervasive sense of Egyptian degradation. By seizing the present moment, al-Zawahiri argues, Egyptians can reclaim their dignity, their status, their pride, their place in the sun. Merging the Egyptian national identity with the true belief of basic and uncompromising Islam will bring salvation, or, if not salvation, at least pull Egypt and its people out of the slough of the marginalized, the trivialized, the ignored, the bowed head beggers.
Al-Zawahiri promises that an Egypt powered by Islam of ninety proof purity will once more be what it seemed to be many, many years ago during the heyday of Nasser--a force in the world, a country that could call the tune danced to by supposed superpowers. All that is required, the one time medic alleges, is for Egyptians not to fall prey to American blandishments or secret plots made in the USA and hold true to the calls of the faith and the needs of political Islam--including the use of violence should such be either necessary or desirable.
In "Exoneration" al-Zawahiri extends his argument to include countries such as Yemen, Syria and the states of North Africa. His position is both simple and inherently attractive, particularly to younger members of the over-educated and underemployed middle class.
In short he says, "All of you, Syrians, Yemeni, Algerians, Tunisians, Libyans are members of societies which were once great. You are all citizens of states which were once respected, even feared by the infidels. You are people of nations which were once great but are now small."
He then asks the essential question, "Why? Why were you who were once so great are now so small?"
And, unsurprisingly, he gives the correct answer. "Because you abandoned the path of pure and true Islam. Because you surrendered to government by apostates, by turncoats who say they are Muslims but act and govern as if they are kaffir."
Then comes the expected call to arms. "You will be great once more, respected and feared once again, feel the dignity you deserve only when you join the jihad. Only when you throw out the apostates and restore genuine Islamic rulers will you regain your greatness."
Shrewdly al-Zawahiri backs his argument by emphasizing Islam's stance on social justice, economic equity, and political openness. He contrasts the nature of the Islamic posture in all these critical and highly emotional issues with the stance of the US and Uncle Sam's local clients. He wraps all the ills of the Islamic Mideast and North African states in an American flag. He demands locals act for local goals while doing so in the global context of putting increased pressure on the US--pressure to withdraw.
It is worth considering that the thinking of al-Zawahiri has been picked up, reflected and even amplified by other high profile advocates of violent political Islam. Anwar al-Awalacki in Yemen has done this in recent weeks. Indeed much of the theoretical writing in the several issues of Inspire might have come from the keyboard of the American born and educated cleric, but the ideas and arguments, the logic and goals, are those of al-Zawahiri.
Even in the geographic expression, Somalia, where one is surprised to discover a level of literacy which would allow the reading of al-Zawahiri's rather dense prose, the locals have been extolling the ideas of the medic turned mass murderer. The same applies to recent musings by spokesmen for AQIM. Clearly, al-Zawahiri has a message that many are both reading and amplifying.
The US has been playing the role assigned to it in The World According to Ayman. Our aid to the Ugandan forces in Somalia has been increased as has been the assistance provided to the fictitious government of Somalia. Shortly we can expect more Predator strikes in Somalia along with a significant ramp-up of the remote controlled death from above operations in Yemen. Carefully targeted special operations will not be long in the offing.
The regional impact of the ongoing mess in Libya is growing. There will be a requirement in the not-too-distant future for the US to make some choices as to what we should or must do to help the local forces and governments in their struggle with AQIM. While we have no bulls in the herd, particularly as compared with European countries, the small but rapidly growing AQIM will reach the level of potential threat to US interests long before the next election here.
Think Globally, Act Locally! Al-Zawahiri has it right. So right that we may soon be wishing for the good old days of Osama bin Laden. The legion of experts assured us that al-Zawahiri would be a nebbish as the Lord High Poobah of al-Qaeda because he had the charisma of a nematode.
What a crock! Brains beat charisma every time--particularly in war.