Like Tupac upstaging a younger rapper with a release from the grave, Al Qaeda has released Osama bin Laden’s final message just hours before President Obama gives a speech on the importance of the Arab uprising. In it, bin Laden praises the Arab uprising:
In the recording, first shared on Islamist websites, bin Laden praises the Arab Spring protests that have rocked the Middle East and North Africa and predicts they will spread across “the entire Muslim world.”
“I think that the winds of change will blow over the entire Muslim world, with permission from Allah,” he says in the recording according to the Associated Press.
“To the Muslim nation — we are watching with you this great historic event and share with you the joy and happiness,” the recording continues according to Reuters. “Congratulations for your victories and may God grant your martyrs mercy, your injured recovery and your prisoners freedom.” [...]
“To those free rebels in all the countries — retain the initiative and be careful of dialogue,” the recording continues. “No meeting mid-way between the people of truth and those of deviation.”
This is bin Laden trying to get out in front of a movement which has passed him by and rejects him. The uprising is about political participation, freedom and democracy. Bin Laden’s vision was always about authoritarianism and religious piety. The protests in Tahrir Square last week, in favor of religious pluralism after the sectarian violence at Coptic Christian churches, would have been anathema to bin Laden. He and his organization had nothing to do with these protests. This is a message of desperation, a desire to remain relevant in a world that has rejected his ideas for revolutionary struggle.
So now we’ll see Obama react to that in his speech. In a way, he’s also trying to get in front of a movement that has nothing to do with him. But he will offer direct encouragement to the protest movement and direct punishment to the autocrats stopping it.
In his first comprehensive response to revolts across the Arab world, President Barack Obama is doling out punishment and praise, targeting Syrian President Bashar Assad for attacking his people but also promising fresh U.S. aid to nations that support democracy. Obama is also trying to erase any doubt that the U.S. supports the call for change.
Obama was expected to use his Middle East speech Thursday to sharply defend new sanctions on Assad as the U.S. government toughens its message for the repressive leader: Embrace democracy or get out. In a primary thrust of his address, Obama also was announcing aid for Egypt and Tunisia, the two nations seen as models while protests for freedoms elsewhere have been crushed.
The president plans to forgive roughly $1 billion in debt owed by Egypt to free up money for job-creation efforts there. And he will reveal other steps to bolster loans, trade and international support in Egypt and in Tunisia, where uprisings led to dictators being overturned. Protesters in Bahrain, Yemen, Syria and other nations have endured brutal setbacks.
Senior officials described the economic aid in a briefing last night. The strategy seems to be that if Tunisia and Egypt can stand on their own as democracies, they provide models for the region. And the US aid will do its best to help that along. In contrast, Assad and other dictators will see economic isolation and personal sanctions placed on them.
This is the kind of leverage the US has at its disposal to further a transition to democracy in the Muslim world. It’s hardly the Marshall Plan for Egypt and Tunisia, which was explicitly called for by former national security advisor James Jones this week. But it’s a nudge in the right direction.
However, we’ll have to see if there’s a comprehensive argument that incorporates the relative silence at events in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and other spots where repression has trumped democratic uprisings. And again, actions must speak louder than words here.