AQAP on the Revolution in Tunisia
To not even acknowledge the secular tones of the revolution takes a great deal of disillusionment or chutzpah on al-Qaeda's part.
Gregory Johnsen, a former Fulbright Fellow in Yemen, is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. Johnsen has written for a variety of publications on Yemen including, among others, Foreign Policy, The American Interest, The Independent, The Boston Globe, and The National. He is the co-founder of Waq al-Waq: Islam and Insurgency in Yemen Blog. In 2009, he was a member of the USAID's conflict assessment team for Yemen.
The opening editorial in the 16th issue of Sada al-Malahim, which was released on jihadi forums earlier today, is addressed to the people in Tunisia.
After reading it I can only conclude that the editorial team of Sada al-Malahim must not have been watching the same revolution that I did. Do they even have al-Jazeera? The article was one long, repetitive exercise in wishful thinking.
Basically, I broke the article entitled (roughly) - "To Our People in Tunisia Don't Waste What You Gained" - into four main parts. (But that is probably spending too much time on it, and I'm sure other readers would find their own divisions.)
Part I: What was accomplished/rejoicing
Part II: Stay the course
Part III: What you did - Advice moving forward
Part IV: AQAP and gaining encouragement from what happened in Tunisia
Overview: (Note: this is a very rough snapshot, just to give non-Arabic speakers a sense of what the one-page article was about.)
The article starts off predictably giving thanks and rejoicing with the people of Tunisia for what it is that they accomplished, while listing many of the sins of the Ben Ali regime. This shows, the statement reiterates, that God has not forgotten them.
Then it asks them not to waste this opportunity, urging the people of Tunisia to complete the job and wipe away all traces of Ben Ali's regime and those affiliated with him.
AQAP next addresses the people of Tunisia as the "descendants of Uqba ibn Nafi," which leads into a the second half of the article, which is mostly advice from AQAP on the way forward. Over and over AQAP says the Tunisian people should now implement God's law. Democracy is the way to hell, the writer argues.
Instead of referring to what happened as a revolution (thawra) the article insists on referring to the events in Tunisia as a jihad.
There is a repetitive phrase used here in which AQAP articulates what the Tunisians accomplished with their jihad and then gives them advice on the direction they should go now.
The people of Tunisia are reminded over and over again of the type of regime that they just got rid of, and AQAP implores them not to go back down this road. In a sense, they are saying you already know where this goes - and it goes nowhere good. Now is your chance to get things right, take that chance.
The Tunisians are reminded that Islam is something special that doesn't pledge allegiance to the west or submit to the east - it is God's way.
This jihad, as AQAP calls it, finally removed all traces of that "wretched colonization" of the French.
And here, near the end, is where AQAP really reaches, asking Tunisians to align themselves with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, to lift up their banner and to "listen closely to what they say."
Now, despite visiting Tunisia and enjoying reading about the history of the country (particularly great, a book by L. Carl Brown) I'm far from an expert on the country. But from what I saw on al-Jazeera this is not what the Tunisians were after.
The article ends with AQAP promising to continue their own struggle.
I doubt this will have much impact in Tunisia, but the piece is interesting for the insight it gives into AQAP's thinking on what is happening. I don't think they are as deluded as they come off in this piece. That is, I don't think they actually believe that the only thing that kept Tunisians from joining AQIM was Ben Ali's regime - maybe they do believe that, but I don't think so.
It is predictable that they would attempt to co-opt what happened in Tunisia, but to not even acknowledge the secular tones of the protests and victory takes a great deal of something: either disillusionment or chutzpah. And that may very well describe AQAP's view on the world outside of Yemen at the moment.
One other side note - this is the second straight issue without an article by Nasir al-Wihayshi.
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