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

India PM Modi's Party Distances Itself From Religious Conversions

BJP under fire for being slow to rein in hardline affiliate groups allegedly trying to promote Hindu-dominant agenda by luring Muslims and Christians to convert More

Anti-Whaling Group Found in Contempt of Court

Radical environmentalists who threw acid and smoke bombs at Japanese whalers in the waters off Antarctica continue their campaign to disrupt Japan's annual whale hunt More

UN's Ban Urges End to Discrimination Against Ebola Workers

Ban was speaking in Guinea on the second day of a whistle-stop tour aimed at thanking healthcare workers of the countries at the heart of the epidemic 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.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid