109180436

Brian Fishman contemplates al Qaeda's tone-deaf responses to the recent revolutions in the Arab world:

The successes in Tunisia and Egypt have inspired political movements across the region, but not all will be so successful. In the wake of failed mass mobilizations, jihadists will argue that peaceful dissent is a fool's errand and that violence is the only effective and religiously sanctioned form of protest. Likewise, if the government that comes after Mubarak does not deliver real economic and social benefits to Egypt's people, al Qaeda's pitch for deeply conservative Islamic law might find an audience.

The danger is not that al Qaeda will come to control or dominate contemporary opposition movements in the Middle East. Its ideas and murderous campaigns are too radical for that. The real danger from al Qaeda is on society's fringe. That good news is also why al Qaeda cannot be dismissed completely. The vast majority of reformers in Algeria, Egypt, and Yemen will never turn to violence no matter how slow reform actually occurs. But a tiny percentage might, which is one more reason why it is important to remain vigilant, support substantive and successful political change in Egypt and Tunisia, and encourage real reform elsewhere when the people demand it. 

(Photo: A general view shows the City of the Dead in Cairo on February 15, 2011. In a sprawling cemetery on the edge of Cairo, where thousands of Egyptians inhabit the tombs of bygone nobles in a City of the Dead, the promise of a revolution is haunted by the spectre of poverty. By Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images)

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.