Little doubt exists that al Qaeda currently faces two unprecedented challenges: the “Arab Spring” sweeping the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and the death of Osama bin Laden in May 2011. Al Qaeda’s violent narrative has come under immense pressure after the toppling of Arab regimes by largely secular and peaceful protest movements, while the removal of bin Laden has robbed the organization of a charismatic and unifying figure. Yet for al Qaeda’s most prominent African affiliates — al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Somalia’s al Shabaab — the political upheaval sweeping the MENA region creates opportunities for growth. And while the elimination of al Qaeda’s founding leader will certainly hurt, his exit is unlikely to greatly influence AQIM’s or al Shabaab’s aspirations, tactics, or strategies. This article offers a critical overview of the costs and opportunities to al Qaeda’s African allies as a result of the Arab Spring and bin Laden’s death. Contrary to popular belief, al Qaeda’s affiliates may be on the mend and on the march. If Canada wants to stall al Qaeda’s regional rebound, it will have to work with its friends and allies to build on recent counterterrorism successes and keep al Qaeda on the run. And by consolidating democratic gains in the MENA region, Canadians will help ensure that al Qaeda’s regional appeal remains negligible.
The full commentary can be read here.