As observers were awaiting the release of the "official" al Qaeda position regarding the election of Barack Obama as the new President of the United States, seasoned experts on the Jihadist movement had little doubts as to the substance of the main message. As I have outlined in my appearances on Arabic television channels since November 4, Bin Laden or his second in command was expected to declare that their "Jihad" will continue despite the election of an African American President and despite Obama’s intention to withdraw from Iraq. Ayman Zawahiri did just that on Wednesday in his latest message to his supporters and his enemies: even if the war ends in Iraq, the global war will continue everywhere.
The tape was expected to appear a couple weeks after the election because of al Qaeda's method of monitoring the reactions of the international community, of the Arab and Muslim world and also of other Islamist authorities. The Bin Laden-Zawahiri style is to give the "last word," like a Caliph would. The points raised in the tape were almost all predicted by experts familiar with the Jihadi-combat mind set: Although a new president was elected - one who would reverse some of Bush’s policies, the new president will devise new strategies to defeat al Qaeda.. Zawahiri isn't buying the version proposed by other anti-American critics of Washington's War on Terror. Most of Europe's left, the Arab authoritarian regimes, and the Islamist fundamentalist establishment have all welcomed the news of an Obama victory and are tailoring new proposals for the region's future (of course to their advantage). But not al Qaeda. That's why this Zawahiri message is important. It is telling the world and allies that there will be no respite in the conflict.
The al Qaeda’s number two had to address the election of a Black President of the United States because of the two massive changes this choice has brought to the Jihadist agenda: On the one hand, Obama is very popular in the eyes of international public opinion; on the other hand the President elect is planning on withdrawing from Iraq and pushing forward in Afghanistan. All this changes al Qaeda's game. Zawahiri's tape had to address these "challenges" as pressure was mounting among Jihadists to deal with this election. Hence, the main points presented by the audio message are as follows:
1. The election of Obama is a defeat to the United States in Iraq and a victory to the Jihadists
In his tape Zawahiri congratulates the Muslim world "on the American people's admission of defeat in Iraq. Although the evidence of America's defeat in Iraq appeared years ago, Bush and his administration continued to be stubborn and deny the brilliant midday sun. If Bush has achieved anything, it is in his transfer of America's disaster and predicament to his successor. But the American people, by electing Obama, declared its anxiety and apprehension about the future towards which the policy of the likes of Bush is leading it, and so it decided to support someone calling for withdrawal from Iraq"
In al Qaeda's lexicon it is crucial to demonstrate to their supporters that it is "their" actions (terror in Iraq) which convinced, if not intimidated, American voters into voting against McCain and electing Obama. Zawahiri wants al Qaeda to be credited for the behavior of America's voting majority in the same way it took credit for the change in electoral direction that took place in Madrid after the March 11, 2004 attacks.
2. A warning to Obama: Don't send additional troops to Afghanistan
Zawahiri then sends a warning to President elect Obama: "The second of these messages is to the new president of the United States. I tell him: you have reached the position of president, and a heavy legacy of failure and crimes awaits you. A failure in Iraq to which you have admitted, and a failure in Afghanistan to which the commanders of your army have admitted. The other thing to which I want to bring your attention is that what you've announced about how you're going to reach an understanding with Iran and pull your troops out of Iraq to send them to Afghanistan is a policy which was destined for failure before it was born. It appears that you don't know anything about the Muslim Ummah and its history, and the fate of the traitors who cooperated with the invaders against it, and don't know anything about the history of Afghanistan and its free and defiant Muslim people. And if you still want to be stubborn about America's failure in Afghanistan, then remember the fate of Bush and Pervez Musharraf, and the fate of the Soviets and British before them. And be aware that the dogs of Afghanistan have found the flesh of your soldiers to be delicious, so send thousands after thousands to them."
If victory has been achieved by the Jihadists against the United States in Iraq by forcing the new Administration to pull out of that country, in Zawahiri's mind, another defeat awaits America in Afghanistan according to al Qaeda's latest message. The logic of endless Jihad seems to be that wherever American forces would be sent, the Jihadists will meet them for a fight until the US redeploys its contingents from around the world, back to "its borders" as previous al Qaeda messages have underlined.
4. The same US aggression remains
Concerned about the sympathy emerging from around the world and within the Muslim community regarding the new President, Zawahiri reminds his Islamist followers that "crimes have been committed and the mentality that produced them is still around." He doesn't want to see a shift in pubic opinion towards a "nicer" America. He says: "As for the crimes of America which await you, it appears that you continue to be captive to the same criminal American mentality towards the world and towards the Muslims. The Muslim Ummah received with extreme bitterness your hypocritical statements to and stances towards Israel, which confirmed to the Ummah that you have chosen a stance of hostility to Islam and Muslims."
Clearly, Zawahiri is trying to draw red lines for the acceptance of Obama by the Arab and Muslim world. This audiotape is probably the prelude to a campaign by the Jihaidists to minimize Obama's emergence and classify him as just "another US President, with a different face."
5. You're not real
Then Zawahiri begins the Jihadi deconstruction of Obama's image. He declares: "You represent the direct opposite of honorable black Americans like Malik al-Shabazz, or Malcolm X (may Allah have mercy on him). You were born to a Muslim father, but you chose to stand in the ranks of the enemies of the Muslims, and pray the prayer of the Jews, although you claim to be Christian, in order to climb the rungs of leadership in America. And so you promised to back Israel, and you threatened to strike the tribal regions in Pakistan, and to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan, in order for the crimes of the American Crusade in it to continue. And last Monday, your aircraft killed 40 Afghan Muslims at a wedding party in Kandahar. As for Malik al-Shabazz (may Allah have mercy on him), he was born to a black pastor killed by white bigots, but Allah favored him with guidance to Islam, and so he prided himself on his fraternity with the Muslims, and he condemned the crimes of the Crusader West against the weak and oppressed, and he declared his support for peoples resisting American occupation, and he spoke about the worldwide revolution against the Western power structure. That's why it wasn't strange that Malik al-Shabazz (may Allah have mercy on him) was killed, while you have climbed the rungs of the presidency to take over the leadership of the greatest criminal force in the history of mankind and the leadership of the most violent Crusade ever against the Muslims. And in you and in Colin Powell, Rice and your likes, the words of Malcolm X (may Allah have mercy on him) concerning "House Negroes" are confirmed."
Zawahiri's words are strong and are aimed at putting pressure on all those in the region who rushed to announce that Obama will radically change the "regime" in the United States. The number two of al Qaeda is painting the President elect as an opportunistic politician who used all three faiths to access power. One can see that Zawahiri is trying to achieve two goals: maintaining his own flock fully indoctrinated against Washington regardless of the change in the White House; and pressuring the radical clerics in the Wahabi and Muslim Brotherhood circles - who are welcoming Obama's victory - into retreat from such "apostasy."
6. The War must continue..
Zawahiri's main message is to call on the Jihadists everywhere to resume the war relentlessly and to "strike." Yes, he argues, there was a victory when American changed direction in Iraq, but the road to full Jihadi victory is still long. Read it as follow: The fight over Iraq will continue until the establishment of an al Qaeda like Emirate in the Sunni Triangle, which would be then the real accomplished victory. The fight will go on in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia and beyond. In short, the al Qaeda world war against the rest won't stop because of an election in America. Zawahiri said:
"You also must appreciate, as you take over the presidency of America during its Crusade against Islam and Muslims, that you are neither facing individuals nor organizations, but are facing a Jihadi awakening and renaissance which is shaking the pillars of the entire Islamic world; and this is the fact which you and your government and country refuse to recognize and pretend not to see. I tell the Muslim Ummah: America, the criminal, trespassing Crusader, continues to be the same as ever, so we must continue to harm it, in order for it to come to its senses, because its criminal, expansionist Crusader project in your lands has only been neutralized by the sacrifices of your sons, the Mujahideen. This, then, is the path, so stick to it. To the Mujahideen. I tell them: may Allah reward you in the best way for your historic heroics, which have ruined America's plans and rendered its projects ineffective. So be firm and resolute. Your enemy's stagger has begun, so don't stop hitting him. I say to my brothers the Mujahideen in Iraq in general and the Islamic State of Iraq in particular, and to its Amir, the towering mountain Abu 'Umar al-Baghdadi: your enemy has admitted defeat, and the forthcoming stage is expected to be dominated by conspiracies and betrayals in order to cover the American withdrawal, so you must persevere, for victory is in an hour of perseverance. And I tell my brothers in Somalia: rejoice in victory and conquest. America is gathering its wounds in Iraq, and Ethiopia is looking for a way out, and for this reason, the stage of conspiracies and machinations has begun. So hold tightly to the truth for which you have given your lives, and don't put down your weapons before the Mujahid state of Islam and Tawheed has been set up in Somalia. And I tell all Mujahideen everywhere: Allah has granted you success and honored you by making you the most important cause of that, so be resolute on the path of Jihad until you meet your Lord while He is pleased with you."
As many experts in Jihadism have underlined - and as I projected in my last three books on Future Jihad - even if we decide to change course in Iraq or even in Afghanistan, the strategic intentions of the Jihadi Salafists is to engage in confrontation worldwide, including within democracies.
7. Until you surrender..
Echoing this assessment of the global Jihadi drive, Zawahiri asks the followers of this ideology - not just his membership - to relentlessly fight against what he perceives as the "Grand Crusade." A stark reminder that the forces, which waged their campaigns against the United States as of the early 1990s peaking on 9/11 and widening their warfare to dozens of countries since, aren't going back to the pre 9/11 mode. Once again, al Qaeda's number two offers a deal to the "infidel powers": quit and withdraw from this entire region or face a greater war. It is a chilling statement of the so-called Jihadi offensive. It is not just about Iraq: It is about the Planet as a whole. He goes on: "And my fifth message is to all the world's weak and oppressed. I tell them: America has put on a new face, but its heart full of hate, mind drowning in greed, and spirit which spreads evil, murder, repression and despotism continue to be the same as always. And the Mujahideen of Islam, by the grace of Allah, continue to be the spearhead of the resistance against it to restrain it from injustice, aggression and arrogance. As for my final message, it is to the American people. I tell it: you incurred defeat and losses from the foolish actions of Bush and his gang, and at the same time, Shaykh Usama bin Ladin (may Allah preserve him) sent you a message to withdraw from the lands of the Muslims and refrain from stealing their treasures and interfering in their affairs. So choose for yourself whatever you like, and bear the consequences of your choice, and as you judge, you will be judged."
Against all other reactions, both positive and neutral, vis-a-vis Obama's election, al Qaeda stands firm in rejecting the new leadership even before the President elect takes office in January. From a politico-psychological perspective the master of Jihadism Usama Bin laden cannot be overshadowed by another international leader, particularly if that emerging figure is the President of the "Great Satan." Zawahiri's response to the election seems to re-frame the results of the election, one viewed worldwide as one of change. To al Qaeda there is no altering of direction in their struggle and agenda. In their own logic, either Obama will end American presence altogether in the Greater Middle East, or nothing will really change in the global battlefield.
Once Obama’s victory was solidified, many wondered what al qaeda’s response would be. Many of observers thought that the election of Mr. Obama would wash away the grievances of al Qaeda and isolate the pockets of violence to a few valleys in Afghanistan. Zawahiri's answer is bluntly no. Obviously, by al Qaeda's book, this is a step forward but it is not enough. Pulling out of Iraq is a victory, as claim the Jihadists of all genres, but more victories are needed to end the war from their perspective. This indicates that the post 9/11 era may well be reversed in the mind of liberal democracies via electoral victories at home as was the case in Spain and now in the United States, but in the mind of the Jihadists - it is irreversible. Out of all points raised by the Zawahiri audiotape, I move to state that the central message is this: redeploy as you wish and change all the leaders you want, but know that we will continue our global fight against you. This means that the forthcoming Administration has a tremendous challenge to confront and it will have to do so by learning from the past and enhancing the strategies for the future. The landscape of the War with the Jihadists may be changed from what it was over the past eight years but it will be different from what it was during the 1990s. A whole new configuration is ahead of us.