From 9/11 to the Arab Spring

CAIRO – Al Qaeda’s operating environment today is vastly different from the one in which it launched its most notorious operation, the 9/11 terror attacks. Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda’s founder and charismatic leader, was killed by United States Navy Seals in Pakistan in May. Three brutal Middle East dictatorships were removed this year – two by unarmed civil-resistance tactics and one by a NATO-assisted armed rebellion. Drone attacks have eliminated many of Al Qaeda’s most experienced commanders, including, most recently, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman.

Has militant jihadism failed, placing Al Qaeda’s survival in doubt?

Jihadism is a modern revolutionary ideology which holds that political violence is a theologically legitimate and tactically efficient way to effect socio-political change. Terrorism dominated the armed activities of many of the groups that subscribe to this worldview, including, of course, Al Qaeda.

But, while Al Qaeda maintained its ideology after 9/11, its organization changed dramatically. From a centralized, hierarchical organization, it became a highly decentralized structure, with regional branches as the dominant actors.