A selection of opinions and analysis from the Arab media
This month’s selection of articles reflect on the repercussions and ramifications following of the death of Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Iraqi-born leader of ISIS as well as the nationwide demonstrations taking place in Lebanon, Iran and Iraq.
Baghdadi and Bin Laden … What’s the Difference?
By Waheed Abd al-Majeed
Al-Etihad, UAE, November 7
When Osama bin Laden announced in 1988 the creation of what he called the “Global Front for Jihad against the Jews and the Crusaders,” known as al-Qaida, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had just turned 17. When bin Laden claimed responsibility for the September 11 attacks, Baghdadi was an anonymous preacher at a Baghdad mosque. This generational difference between Baghdadi, born in 1971, and bin Laden, born in 1957, influenced the path the two men took.
The circumstances surrounding the establishment of Islamic State in 2013 were considerably different from those in which al-Qaida was born. Although it is tempting to compare the assassination of Baghdadi just a few weeks ago to that of Bin Laden in May 2011, it is important to remember that the two events and their impact on the two organizations are inherently different. Bin Laden was able to play a pivotal role in his organization even while hiding, based on two factors: – First, his historical record in the war in Afghanistan and also the fame he gained during that war, which enabled him to lead global terrorism. – Second, his ability to communicate and attract attention, as demonstrated in his countless speeches.
In contrast, Baghdadi had neither of these factors. There is no remarkable historical record and no markers indicating that he was a strong or influential figure. From his supporters’ point of view, Baghdadi’s main achievement was in transforming a terrorist organization that operated only in Iraq into a larger movement operating in other Middle Eastern countries as well. By these measures, the impact of his death on ISIS may appear less important than that bin Laden’s assassination had for al-Qaida. But this conclusion may be hasty because it overlooks an important variable: Both men spent their last few years in hiding. Therefore, it was extremely difficult for them to play an effective leadership role in their respective organizations. Bin Laden’s role was considerably diminished in his final years and he became essentially irrelevant from an operational standpoint. Meanwhile, Baghdadi was killed after his organization was defeated militarily and expelled from areas it controlled in Syria and Iraq. But Baghdadi’s weakness was even more dramatic because he lacked the moral authority that bin Laden had. Yet this difference, however important, is not enough to conclude that the repercussions of Baghdadi’s killing for ISIS will be less monumental than the effects of bin Laden’s death on al-Qaida. If al-Qaida became weaker after bin Laden’s death, it was linked to the emergence of ISIS, which attracted some of its cadres and many of its supporters. Therefore, the fate of ISIS after the killing of Baghdadi may depend on two central questions: The first is the fate of Abu Ibrahim Al-Hashemi Al-Qurashi, who was coronated as ISIS’s new leader. Will the movement consolidate behind Qurashi’s back? The second relates to al-Qaida:
Will it be able to exploit the confusion and disorder within the ranks of ISIS to regain the forefront of global terrorism?
Or, alternatively, will a third organization, separate from these two, emerge in the region and vie for leadership?
History tells us that this is certainly possible.
Waheed Abd al-Majeed (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)
Trust: Basis of Social Contract between Ruler, Ruled
By Muhammad Al-Sheikh
Al-Jazirah, Saudi Arabia, November 6
One of the most important things that have emerged from the ongoing demonstrations in Lebanon is that confidence is an indispensable requirement in the so-called “social contract” between the ruler and the ruled.
The people of Lebanon, who have grown accustomed to all of their sects and parties, do not trust their elected politicians anymore. Lebanese politicians, like many of their counterparts around the world, fail to deliver on their campaign promises as soon as they are elected. It seems as if this has been particularly true in Lebanon and Iraq, where leaders handed out promises only to pave their way to the throne but then turned their backs on the people as soon as they won the election. Politicians hiding under the cloak of democracy, speaking of accountability and transparency, have been the first to abandon these concepts when assuming power. The problem with Lebanon, just like the problem of Iraq, is that sectarian loyalties triumph political competence. People are elected to office based on ethnic labels, not political credentials; this inherently diminishes any prospect for equal opportunity in society while creating a deep sense of clientelism and injustice. Therefore, it can be argued that the first condition for democracy is the abolition of sectarianism because when sectarianism meets patriotism, only one survives.
In Iraq, sectarian loyalties have allowed the country to fall into the hands of Iran. The Iraqi parliament is simply unable to make an independent decision and lacks any capacity to pursue its own national agenda. This is true, at least to some extent, in Lebanon as well. Thankfully, I am confident that the uprising in Lebanon will be sufficient to turn the table against the Iranian regime trying to take over the country. The people of Lebanon are going through a historic opportunity to liberate themselves from the hateful Iranian occupation. We must remember that Iran is extremely weak from the inside. The Iranian people are closely watching what is happening in Iraq and Lebanon. Revolutions can easily spread from one country to another, as the Arab Spring has taught us.
The Iranian regime might unwillingly find itself being the next target of demonstrations, but this time, from the inside.
Muhammad Al-Sheikh (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)
Can Iraqi Regime Be Changed?
By Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed
Asharq Al-Awsat, London, November 7
A handful of revolutions have shaken the region of late, but none has paved the way to the rise of a new regime. Leaders resigned and governments fell, but the regimes remained strong in Egypt, Tunisia and Sudan. In Libya and Yemen, state institutions have completely collapsed, yet the two countries are still in political limbo, finding themselves without alternative political systems or effective state institutions. The protests in Iraq caught the world by surprise since no one truly expected them to erupt, let alone be sustained at such intensity throughout the entire country.
Although Iraqi phone lines had been cut off and Wi-Fi signals suspended, the Iraqi people have not backed down. The sad truth, however, is that despite the protesters’ admirable insistence, they are unlikely to topple the regime. The Iraqi masses who have taken to the streets are certainly able to force the government to resign. But this will change very little on the ground. The biggest achievement of these protestors is the ability to send Iran a message that its influence over Iraqi politics is not wanted. This is what brought hundreds of protestors to demonstrate outside the Iranian consulate and set it on fire. The people of Iraq are well aware of the fact that their government might be Iraqi, but its orders come from Tehran. Unfortunately, previous experience teaches us that the alternative to a government that steps down is not always clear. Sometimes, the resignation of the government is the easiest thing to offer because the alternative is not much better.
Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)