Al-Qaida, Militancy Falter in Arab Revolutions

Article excerpt

CAIRO -- When Hani Shukrallah, a self-described "militant secularist," saw the second airliner hit the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, he immediately thought he knew who was responsible.

"This is the Islamists, this is al-Qaida, and we are going to be screwed," Shukrallah recalls thinking.

"I thought this would be the pretext for declaring war on us. ... Arabs and Muslims became the demon of today`s world," he says 10 years later.

"We were defined by religion ... defined by Islam, and a fundamental brand of Islam. It was only shaken by the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions."

The attacks shook the world but were felt most deeply in America - and here in the Middle East where the 19 hijackers came from, where the ideology of al-Qaida was born.

In the years since, acrimony and tension have grown between America and the Middle East.

Yet the revolutions sweeping the Arab world today are bringing changes that are leaving behind al-Qaida and its ideology.

At the time of 9/11, "the feelings toward America were on an upward antagonistic trend," says Walid Kaziha, a political science professor at American University in Cairo. The second Palestinian Intifada had just begun, and Iraq was under United Nations sanctions.

Afterward, "There was a lot of condemnation of the attacks, including from the Palestinians ...

but there were those who felt the blame for that had to be put squarely on the head of the U.S. for its policies in the region," Kaziha says.

Bassem Sabry, an Egyptian political blogger, remembers "a sense of vindication (among) some people, who felt that Arab and Islamic issues were being exposed to a lot of injustice."

Conspiracy theories soon sprouted in the region, particularly in countries without a free press; many here believed fellow Arabs could not execute such a sophisticated attack.

Much of the sympathy for al-Qaida began to evaporate, however, especially as the terrorist group and its affiliates attacked not just in America, England and Spain but in the Arab world, too - in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Yemen. …