Jihadi Discourse in the Wake of the Arab Spring
December 17, 2013
This report analyzes jihadi discourse in the wake of the “Arab Spring” to address two related questions: (1) why have global jihadi leaders been struggling to advance a coherent and effective response to the events of the Arab Spring, and (2) why, despite strong rhetoric of militancy, have we witnessed little action on the part of new jihadi groups that have emerged in countries that underwent regime change (i.e., Tunisia, Egypt and Libya) as a result of the Arab Spring? To answer these questions, this study focuses on original Arabic sources in the form of public statements released by global jihadi leaders in response to the Arab Spring and by new groups projecting a jihadi worldview that have emerged in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. It reveals that the factors that are causing the current ideological incoherence of jihadism are the same factors that had once served as the cornerstone of its plausibility in the eyes of its adherents. As to new jihadi groups, this study highlights the inconsistency between their rhetoric and their actions. While they uphold the principle of the obligation of jihad, advance anti-democratic rhetoric using religious arguments and lionize global jihadi leaders and their causes, for now these new jihadi groups are characterized more by the propaganda of jihad than by its delivery.
While Syria has not undergone a regime change, but in view of the proliferation of militant groups there, some of which are operating under a jihadi banner, the concluding section of the report nevertheless discusses the implications of the situation in Syria on jihadism. This study argues that the events in Syria could have restored the credibility of jihadism, but competition between the Islamic State of Iraq (and the Levant) and the Syria-based jihadi group Jabhat al-Nusra (JN) has confused and divided their supporters and earned the derision of their opponents. The divide between the two groups even risks undermining the symbolic position that Ayman al-Zawahiri occupies as the global leader of jihad.