The 2011 Arab awakening caught al-Qaeda by surprise and challenged its narrative that peaceful change was not possible in the Arab world. Twitter and Facebook toppled Hosni Mubarak’s pro-Western dictatorship, not terror and jihad. A democratically elected Islamist government took power largely without violence. Even worse, al-Qaeda’s hated rival, the Muslim Brotherhood, which proclaimed that Islam, not jihad, was the answer, ascended to Egypt’s presidency. Mohammed Morsi’s government maintained peace with Israel and ties to America.
Al-Qaeda’s Egyptian leader Ayman al-Zawahiri was almost incoherent initially in lengthy commentaries on the Arab Spring. Zawahiri has always argued that elections and democracy are false paths to real change and Islamic government in the Muslim world. He ridiculed the Brotherhood in an endless series of books and lectures as naïve for abandoning violence for politics. Zawahiri warned that the “deep state” of the army and the mukhabarat (secret police) would never really yield power.
Somewhere in a hideout between Kashmir and Karachi in Pakistan, Zawahiri is now saying: “I told you so!”
In Zawahiri’s view, Egypt's reigning general, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, is just another Anwar Sadat, a traitor to Islam who shall sooner or later be assassinated — and Egyptians should follow the path of Muhammad Atta, the Egyptian who led the 9/11 hijackers, and resort to terror against the near enemy, the Egyptian army, and the far enemy, America, which has armed and trained Egypt's military since Sadat made peace with Israel in 1979.
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