Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Wave of Revolution in the Arab World: Bin Laden's Nightmare

The Arab world is in an uproar. Now that Tunisia and Egypt have settled down a bit, today there were pro-democracy protests in Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Yemen, and Bahrain--as this AP video shows. (In Libya, as many as 200 people have been killed in a crackdown that makes Bahrain's look mild.)

Americans are programmed to freak out about unrest in the Middle East, but this is actually good news for us and bad news for Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda group.

As Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland argued recently, the news from Egypt was bin Laden's nightmare. He's correct to say that bin Laden and his right-hand Egyptian man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, see democracy as a threat to their cause. Zawahiri worked for years for the violent overthrow of the Egyptian regime, the "near enemy," as he called it, before he worked to attack the "far enemy" that supported Mubarak: the United States. The peaceful toppling of Mubarak is a direct challenge to their violent, revolutionary strategy.

A story in today's Washington Post even suggests that the protests in Yemen, a current center of Al Qaeda activity and a failing state, could be good news for the U.S. As the author puts it,
Yemen's protesters are demanding democratic freedoms, not the Islamic caliphate al-Qaeda seeks to create in this Middle Eastern nation and elsewhere. Such calls for democracy would make it harder for al-Qaeda to claim it has popular sentiments on its side, and would also give the disaffected a peaceful way to air their grievances without fear of persecution.
Zawahiri and other al Qaeda leaders have condemned the pro-democracy movements for being secular and godless, deviating from Islam.

But it's not clear that the young people in all these Arab countries really care. They're too busy trying to construct a more hopeful future within their borders to try and institute a pan-Islamic caliphate by violence.

While democracy could be messy at times--and could certainly yield governments that oppose U.S. interests--we should be celebrating with the Arab young people in the streets.

Don't freak out: peaceful pro-democracy protests are better than al Qaeda's alternative. Indeed, they are a repudiation of that dark, violent scenario. Democratization in the region is a hopeful and encouraging sign.

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