News / Middle East

Analysts Question al-Zawahri's Skills to be al-Qaida's New Leader

The elevation of Ayman al-Zawahri to take the leadership of al-Qaida was expected by counterterrorism analysts.  He had been deputy to al-Qaida’s slain leader, Osama bin Laden.  But the organization he inherits is far different than the one that first came to worldwide attention 10 years ago.  And there are questions about whether he has the requisite leadership skills.

After leaving an Egyptian prison in 1984, Ayman al-Zawahri joined with Osama bin Laden and was present for the birth of al-Qaida four years later.

Brian Fishman, an expert on al-Qaida at the New America Foundation, says that longevity is al-Zawahri’s biggest asset as he takes the reins of the worlds’ most notorious terrorist organization.

"But at the end of the day every organization needs to know where it came from, and Zawahri’s one of those guys that knows for al-Qaida, and I think that is a real strength.  As a leader he gets a lot of respect because he’s been there through all of the trials and tribulations that that group has undergone and has been seen as sort of bin Laden’s right-hand man through that time.  So I think that that’s his biggest strength, is just duration", Fishman said.

But the organization he takes over is far different than the one he joined and that gained notoriety with its spectacular terrorist attacks in the United States of September 11, 2001.

The main difference is the proliferation of al-Qaida so-called “franchises.”  These groups in North Africa and the Middle East share the al-Qaida name and nominally share the same ideology as the original parent organization.   But Emile Nakhleh, former chief of the Central Intelligence Agency’s political Islam strategic analysis program, says they do not necessarily share the same goals of worldwide jihad against the West.

"So whether in Yemen or around Yemen, or in Somalia, or in Saudi (Arabia), or in North Africa, or in Iraq, they tend to be localized.  And their agendas, while ideologically in tune with the global jihadist ideology of al-Qaida, their operations and their targets and their grievances are local," Nakhleh said.

He adds that the local franchises have also been undercut by the wave of protests in the Middle East, dubbed the “Arab spring.”

"The protests are pushing pragmatic agendas, not ideological agendas. All these movements are not beholden to radicalism, are not beholden to al-Qaida.  And al-Qaida Central has really lost that luster that it used to have years back. And so in a sense al-Zawahri, regardless of his strength, is not going to be able to salvage al-Qaida," Nakhleh said.

Fishman points out that bin Laden was a charismatic firebrand whose videos were compelling to his followers, full of rhetorical and poetic flourishes.

"A communicator in al-Qaida needs to establish a number of bona fides, right?  They need to say, well, I’ve been through the fire and been shot at and I’ve been on the front line kind of guy.  They need to demonstrate a certain level of efficiency with the religious stuff, historical and religious knowledge.  And then, like every leader, they’ve got to have a certain sort of pizzaz that gets people excited.  And bin Laden was able to do that," he said.

Echoing Fishman and other analysts, Nakhleh says al-Zawahri is a pale imitation of his predecessor.

"The last speech he gave, the so-called eulogy of bin Laden, he tried to imitate bin Laden by reciting poetry.  Well, when I watched that speech that he came across rather stiff, whereas bin Laden would recite poetry, Arabic poetry, and Arabic history very convincingly to his audiences," Nakhleh said.

Bin Laden was from Saudi Arabia, and analysts say there was tension between the Gulf Arabs of al-Qaida - who provided much of the financing - and other jihadists.  Fishman says al-Zawahri has been a divisive figure, despite his closeness to bin Laden.

"He’s sort of the guy who’s always reaching for something more and doesn’t quite have it.  And that’s part of what’s been the knock on him, that he’s been somebody that always saw himself as the person that should be the leader, and that he was always sort of the climber and wasn’t as necessarily focused on the overall organization as he was with his own interests, whether they be personal or the focus on Egypt at the expense of other places," Fishman said.

But analysts add that al-Zawahri is smart enough to learn from al-Qaida’s mistakes. In 2005 he warned the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, against excessive violence, saying the pictures of decapitations in the media undermine public support for jihad.   Al-Zarqawi was killed by American troops the next year. But outgoing CIA director Leon Panetta said Thursday there are still an estimated 1000 al-Qaida fighters still in Iraq.

You May Like

Multimedia Obama Defends Immigration Action

Obama says with his executive action on immigration, enforcement resources will be focused on 'felons, not families; criminals, not children' More

US-Led Airstrikes in Syria Kill Over 900: Monitoring Group

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the toll includes more than 50 civilians, five of them women and eight of them children More

Report: Obama Broadens US Combat Role in Afghanistan

The New York Times says resident Barack Obama has signed a classified order extending the role of US troops in Afghanistan for another year More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid