Is There Any Upside to Middle-East Protests for al-Qaeda?

Unable to take credit for the downfall one of its greatest nemeses, President Hosni Mubarak, who, when it came to Islamist extremism, ruled with an iron fist, is al-Qaeda nursing its psychic wounds or does it find some cause to rejoice? In his eighteenth SWISH Report to the al-Qaida Strategic Planning Cell (SPC), Paul Rogers of Britain’s Open Democracy details the implications of the protests to the SPC.

Never heard of the SPC? You’re not the only one. Oh, and SWISH is an acronym for the South Waziristan Institute of Strategic Hermeneutics (note obvious Monty Python influence). Rogers writes:

You profess enthusiasm for the display of resistance; but you are clearly also troubled by the awkward reality that the removal of illegitimate governments — an aim you also aspire to — has been successfully accomplished by a people’s mobilisation in no way rooted in or guided by an Islamist worldview.

“Curses,” exclaims Snidely Whip-Laden. “Co-opted!”

This is a very grim development for your movement, in two ways. First, you are failing to lead or inspire a rapidly escalating revolutionary process, and as a result risk being seen as irrelevant. Second, and even worse, as the regimes fall or shake you are in danger of losing a vital pillar of support for your cause: namely, the idea that people’s hatred of these regimes could only be channelled effectively by embracing your version of Islam. The revolts demonstrate that you are clearly not the only alternative — and this is very bad news indeed.

Meanwhile, at the National Interest, Michael Scheuer doesn’t agree that it’s bad news for al-Qaeda. The one-time head of the CIA’s bin Laden-tracking unit, since become a take-no-prisoners commentator who shows no fealty to the left or right, writes that:

. . . for bin Laden and all Islamist leaders, happy days are here. Through no actions of their own, their most potent Arab foe disappeared at the hands of their other erstwhile enemies, the United States and its allies. They can now exploit the Egyptian debacle knowing that, as they do so, Washington will be further weakened economically as the new Egyptian regime begs funds to rebuild — and hints it will take Saudi money if U.S. taxpayers are not shaken down — and the Israel-suborned Congress* ships great batches of taxpayer funds to Israel for a military and border-control build-up to cope with Egyptian democracy. . . .

As ever, the wages of U.S. intervention are dire. After intervening for 30-plus years to support Mubarak and allow Israel’s every whim, Washington now finds itself headed toward more intervention in a probably useless attempt to rebalance the Potemkin political “system” its intervention helped create. . . . only bin Laden and the Islamists will benefit. . . . They know whatever regime follows Mubarak will be weaker, more influenced by those demanding a form of Sharia law . . . and . . .

Drum roll, please . . .

. . . being a democracy, more representative of Egyptians’ deep, abiding hatred for Israel.

Do Focal Points readers think the protests in the Middle-East against authoritarian regimes hurt or help all-Qaeda?

*I told you he takes no prisoners. In fact, Scheuer was fired from his position at counterterrorist think tank the Jamestown Foundation because his criticism of U.S. policy towards Israel offended donors.