Leadership out of touch with supporters

No, not a post about Gordon Brown and his leadership problems, but a news story about the fall from grace of Zawahiri. More signs that Al Qaeda are losing support.

“Zawahiri is easily the most important man in al-Qaeda today,” said an analyst who spoke to the Bangkok Post. “He is the outward face of the hierarchy, the chief propagandist and chief recruiter.

“What is baffling is how far he has fallen so fast.” Al-Qaeda is not yet fallen, but it is failing, weighed down by Dr Zawahiri and a series of blunders that began about a year ago when he tripped on an attempt to show he was tech-savvy by joining an instant-message forum for extremists.

Instead, al-Qaeda, “The Base” of terrorist groups worldwide, entered a descent that now indicates Zawahiri and the leadership are out of touch and losing support.

There has been open, previously verboten criticism in extremist web forums that Zawahiri in particular is an elitist Arab, discriminating against non-Arabs in the ranks. This is a particularly touchy subject given the leadership’s presence in Pakistan and its insistence on speaking for the Taliban and, more and more, the Palestinians.

An internet post last month on the Hanein Forum cited the diminishing readership of Zawahiri’s posts. “A few hundred (page views for a Zawahiri post),” complained a poster known by the handle Al-Mutafa’il. “Is this the response of jihad supporters to the words of their leaders?”

Analysts who have followed al-Qaeda for a decade or more say that criticising bin Laden himself is still off limits. “Everyone praises the sheikh,” as bin Laden is known, said one official, “but he has said nothing relevant or rousing in years.

The question is whether al-Qaeda itself still gets respect. For me: it’s on a downhill slide, and Zawahiri is the reason or the fall guy” or both.

Of course, those disappointed by Zawahiri and Bin Laden are not about to join the liberal democrats and abandon violent struggle, but the fact that such dissent exists, and that weakness is shown, won’t do any harm.