al-Qaeda Sees an Opportunity in Tunisia

ALEXANDER MELEAGROU-HITCHENS 

Following the unrest in Tunisia, al-Qaeda have released a message of solidarity with dissidents protesting against the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.In a video dated 11 January 2011, the Commander of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Abu Musab Abdel Wadood, called on Tunisian dissidents to “send us your sons so that they receive military training” and return to help topple the government. 

AQIM, which operates throughout North Africa, has become more active in recent months, and in September last year kidnapped seven people in Niger (five French, one from Madascar and one from Togo).  Yesterday, it was also reported that AQIM killed two French hostages from a seperate kidnapping after an attempted rescue by French special forces.

However, as Michael Koplow explains in Foreign Policy, Islamists - be they the more state-oriented and politically active Muslim Brotherhood or ultra-violent global jihadists of al-Qaeda - have little influence within Tunisia.  He points out that, although the protesters are clearly seeking regime change, they ‘have not directly challenged the reigning creed of state secularism.’  There is no obvious or widespread desire to alter the very essence of the governing system, and as such, Islamists of any stripe are unlikely to find widespread support.

Wadood’s message is little more than a token gesture to a movement that has no sympathy for his ideology. His attempt to frame the current Tunisian struggle using the  nomenclature of global jihadism is transparent and unconvincing:

your battle you fight today isn’t alienated from the general battle the Muslim Ummah is engaged in against its external and domestic enemies. The battle to remove injustices and to establish justice, and to liberate the Muslim homelands from the invaders and remove their tails of apostate cooperatives, and to establish the Sharia, is one battle. Neither freedom nor justice will be achieved except with the rise of a Muslim government that takes care of rights, protects honors, spreads justice and applies Shura, and this government won’t rise except through Jihad against the Crusaders and the Jews. And removing their governing traitor cooperatives from the likes of Ibn Ali and Boutafliqa and Muhammad the Sixth, and al‐Qaddafi and others. 

[Full translation provided by Flashpoint Partners]

Taken on its own, this call could be (and often is) applied by al-Qaeda to any clash between citizens in a Muslim majority country and their secular, authoritarian government; in this instance the jihadists are unlikely to find many willing partners.

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