Frustration with the excesses and corruption of authoritarian Arab regimes has provided al-Qa`ida with powerful propaganda over the years to recruit disaffected Arabs. The “Arab Spring,” however, has upset this dependable formula. It has left al-Qa`ida and its affiliates scrambling to logically and coherently explain the changes taking place in the Middle East and to offer policies that future regimes should adopt. In doing so, the organization has demonstrated key weaknesses and an inability to offer a convincing alternative to the historical narratives its secular adversaries have proffered.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Libya, where rebels appear close to defeating the regime of Mu`ammar Qadhafi. Al-Qa`ida has struggled to place the country and the uprising in an Islamic context. It has failed to contextualize the revolution by offering historical precedents that Muslims there have experienced in previous centuries. It has been unable to propose what a future Libya should look like beyond offering vague religious slogans and recycled criticisms of Western democracy.

These failures will become clear by examining four statements by al-Qa`ida leaders—two from its leaders based in Pakistan and two from its North African affiliate, al-Qa`ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

Exiles Pine for their Homeland
Al-Qa`ida’s Pakistan-based leaders released two videos about Libya.[1] Both were issued by Libyans in the organization, illustrating how the group uses nationals to target their compatriots. Jamal Ibrahim Ishtawi al-Misrati released a 10-minute video in February.[2] His message was composed of six points: 1) the revolt should be an atonement for the past sins of Libyans who failed to confront the Qadhafi regime; 2) an Islamic era will follow his downfall, which should prioritize establishing a future constitution based on Shari`a (Islamic law); 3) if the new situation in Libya is unable to incorporate Islamic warriors, then it should strive to avoid harming them. Moving beyond an Islamic context, al-Misrati: 4) urged Libyans to safeguard their fraternity and the ties that bind them; 5) recommended they forgive those affiliated with the regime and its excesses (excluding Qadhafi’s associates); and 6) warned Western powers not to attack the country or interfere in Libya’s affairs.

Al-Misrati’s recording was a personal and intimate message from a Libyan to his countrymen. He offered them guidelines for the post-Qadhafi era. In doing so, al-Misrati placed his counsel within an Islamic framework, emphasizing the centrality of religion to the revolt and the country’s future, noting, “I swear Islam is indeed coming anew.”

Muhammad Hassan Qayyid Idris, known as Abu Yahya al-Libi, issued a 30-minute video in March.[3] Although entitled “To the Sons of Our People in Libya,” the message provided few details about the conflict in Libya and no guidelines for its citizens.[4] Instead, it was a rambling polemic against Arab authoritarian regimes and their Western backers.

Regarded as an inspirational preacher, Abu Yahya’s message was as passionate as it was eloquent. Yet within his motivational framework, he neglected to offer Libyans a road map for their revolution. He was unable to move beyond the typical al-Qa`ida propaganda, critical of the West while focusing on the venality of Arab leaders and the poverty of their citizens. He provided only ambiguous slogans about what policies a post-Qadhafi Libya should adopt, noting, “true happiness, prosperity and pure freedom come from a true and serious return to the law of the Lord of worshippers.”

Regional Affiliates Seek to Make Inroads
AQIM also chimed in on the Libyan revolution.[5] The organization’s leader, Abdelmalek Droukdel (also known as Abu Mus`ab `Abd al-Wadud), issued a statement in March.[6] Like al-Misrati’s recording, the letter was composed of a number of points: 1) the Arab revolutions are continuing the battle jihadists have been fighting against the Arab tyrants and the crusading Western powers; 2) the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization are enemies who should not be trusted; 3) the Arab leaders are conspiring to defeat the revolution; and 4) only Libyans’ fervent devotion to their religion will prevent Western powers from plundering their wealth and controlling their country.[7]

Droukdel’s letter was more bitter than al-Misrati’s cordial message. It highlighted the Western plots and Arab conspiracies scheming to defeat the Libyan revolution. Rather than focusing on the future by offering Libyans advice about how to build a new state, Droukdel dwelled on past crimes and the collusion between Western powers and their Arab authoritarian clients. He accused the West of aspiring “with every last ounce of its strength to deviate these revolutions from the source of their power, to find an alternative to the tyrants who are less hostile to them and more prepared to concede sovereignty.” In contrast, al-Misrati discounted fears of an American-European invasion, terming them “Satanic illusions.” Whereas al-Misrati framed his recording as advice to his Libyan compatriots, Droukdel’s message was a stern warning laced with conspiracy theories.

Al-Qa`ida’s most recent discussion of Libya came from the head of AQIM’s Council of Notables, Abu Ubayda Yusuf al-Anabi.[8] In a recorded interview on topics ranging from the death of al-Qa`ida leader Usama bin Ladin to the organization’s relationship with African states, al-Anabi briefly discussed the Libyan revolution.

Al-Anabi’s calculated positions and professional tone stood in stark contrast to Droukdel’s obsessive tirade. Unlike Droukdel’s suspicions of Western plots, al-Anabi discounted fears that the Americans will seek to establish military bases in North Africa. Instead, he merely warned Libyans that “there are indications that illustrate the despicable fleecing the Crusaders are undertaking in exchange for their air support.”

Like Abu Yahya and Droukdel, al-Anabi was unable to conceptualize a vision of a future Libya. Although his arguments were more coherent than those of the other two leaders, he could not move beyond explaining the uprisings in ambiguous Islamic terms, such as “it is well known that these revolutions are a form of commanding the good and forbidding the evil.” Although a Qur’anic phrase familiar to all Arabs, it provides no framework for Libyans to adopt. While Libyans are debating the type of political system to establish after Qadhafi’s removal from power, al-Qa`ida is recycling general Islamic concepts that are irrelevant to the current political situation in the Arab world.

The revolutions rocking the region have clearly put al-Qa`ida on the defensive, forcing both Droukdel and al-Anabi to scurry to keep the jihadist movement relevant. Al-Anabi claimed that AQIM’s struggle against Arab regimes paved the way for the current uprisings, saying it had “a role in shattering the barrier of fear in the hearts of the people and toppling fear of these Pharaohs [Arab leaders].” He contended that their exploits empowered Arabs to rise up against rulers who have been in power for more than three decades. Conspicuously absent, however, is a discussion of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a jihadist organization that spearheaded a violent campaign against Qadhafi during the late 1990s. With this omission, Droukdel and al-Anabi again illustrate al-Qa`ida’s penchant for general discussions at the expense of specific details.

These messages exemplify al-Qa`ida’s difficulty in responding to the Arab revolutions, while also revealing nuances in its messaging. Above all, they demonstrate the group’s inability to formulate a clear vision for a post-Qadhafi Libya. All four writers failed to answer the aspirations of a people by offering a viable alternative to the current regime. All they could muster were vague calls to embrace Islam without articulating what this would entail.

At the same time, however, these statements reveal a striking lack of uniformity in al-Qa`ida’s message, illustrating that the group is far from monolithic. While Droukdel glossed over Qadhafi’s transgressions and al-Misrati mentioned him only in passing, Abu Yahya harped on the beleaguered Libyan leader. Whereas al-Misrati offered Libyans a series of recommendations in a structured framework, Abu Yahya sought to inspire his audience by drawing on Islamic scripture. Despite such differences, it is unlikely that the organization has an agreed upon division of labor in terms of topics. The four statements overlap in content and lack a coherent overarching narrative beyond the nebulous call to adopt Islam.

AQIM: Al-Qa`ida’s Weakest Link
AQIM has often been accused of being the weakest link in al-Qa`ida’s chain of affiliates. It kidnaps Westerners for ransom rather than kill them as its siblings have done elsewhere. It has suffered countless defections and is plagued by internal strife that reveals itself in the Algerian media.[9] Nuances in Droukdel’s message and al-Anabi’s interview illustrate the organization’s divisions and its inability to structure a cohesive narrative in tune with its audience.

AQIM’s messages are disparate and lack focus. In the past, most of AQIM’s venom has been directed at proximate European powers, such as France and Spain, that occupied Islamic lands in previous centuries. They have been singled out for the threat they pose to Islam and their continuing control of Arab territories.[10] Yet in Droukdel’s letter, the United States was the central player, with its European allies relegated to secondary, nameless roles. He altered AQIM’s traditional narrative despite the fact that it is France that has led the offensive against Qadhafi while the United States has adopted a subordinate role. Although al-Anabi struck a similar tone in accusing the United States of operating secret bases in Algeria, he nevertheless reverted to AQIM’s customary propaganda by calling the Algerian regime “the sons of France” while citing its role in annulling elections in 1992 in which Islamists were poised to take power. Droukdel’s focus on the United States to the detriment of France is puzzling in light of Bin Ladin’s recent critique of French policy in Afghanistan.[11]

Confused messaging is a running theme in AQIM’s statements. Although Droukdel’s address was to the Libyan people, he also found it necessary to speak to his home audience in Algeria, where the organization is based, and Morocco, where it seeks to extend its influence. For this reason, he lashed out at the Algerian and Moroccan governments, accusing them of helping Qadhafi mobilize presumably African mercenaries to fight the rebels.[12]

AQIM’s lack of clarity extends to its terminology as well, illustrating how the organization is out of touch with the common Libyan. Droukdel sent greetings to the “free proud Libyan tribes” despite the fact that the rebels have downplayed tribalism and erected signs reading “One Tribe” throughout areas under their control.[13] Furthermore, Droukdel did not even use the same language as the Libyan resistance. The opposition to Qadhafi call themselves rebels (thuwar), an expression nowhere found in Droukdel’s letter. Instead, he used the moniker “fighters for the faith” (mujahidun), a religious term. Al-Anabi, in contrast, used the term thuwar throughout his interview, again illustrating the nuanced differences within AQIM.

Above all, these two messages reveal the splits within AQIM’s ranks. When other al-Qa`ida affiliates pledged allegiance to the organization, it was their leaders who did so.[14] Thus, when Abu Mus`ab al-Zarqawi’s Tawhid and Jihad faction joined the group as al-Qa`ida in Iraq, it was he who delivered the oath to Bin Ladin.[15] When the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) became AQIM, its amir Droukdel offered fealty to Bin Ladin.[16] Yet when AQIM renewed its allegiance to the new al-Qa`ida chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri, it was not Droukdel who did so; rather, it was al-Anabi, who is junior to Droukdel in AQIM’s leadership hierarchy. The Algerian media has noted the friction between the two in the past by highlighting al-Anabi’s attempts to usurp Droukdel’s prerogatives.[17] His latest power grab illustrates the divisions within an organization long adrift.

The differences in these two statements demonstrate AQIM’s shortcomings and incongruent messaging. AQIM cannot stay on point and offer a harmonious narrative. Instead, its conflicting messages confuse its audience. With internal dissent undermining its leadership and diverting the group’s energies from plotting spectacular attacks, it is easy to understand why AQIM is unable to strike fear in its adversaries and reach the lofty status of other al-Qa`ida affiliates in jihadist circles.

Al-Qa`ida’s Nationalist Dilemma
Al-Qa`ida’s primary messaging problem with Libya is the country’s history. From the lack of a common historical past to the absence of strong religious institutions and important scholars, Libya does not have the traditions that bind the citizens of other Arab states. A purely European creation, fashioned from lumping together three provinces in the wake of World War II, it has neither a shared Islamic history nor a traditional territorial integrity.[18] In the last 3,000 years, its three regions were rarely governed by the same rulers. In broaching the question of Libya, al-Qa`ida is forced to use the secular nationalist narratives of its Arab adversaries, which place a greater emphasis on the independent nation-state rather than a pre-modern Islamic polity.

Since its earliest days, Libya has been a divided nation, with the regions of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica generally ruled by different dynasties.[19] While Greek colonists occupied Eastern Libya around 630 BCE, the Phoenicians settled in the West in the fifth century BCE.[20] The Romans unified the country for five centuries before the arrival of the Vandals in 455. The subsequent Islamic era rarely brought unity to Libya’s disparate provinces. Although the Arabs conquered the whole country in 642, the Byzantines periodically occupied some of the coastal regions until the end of the century.[21] For the next 100 years, the entire country remained under the control of the Umayya and Abbasid dynasties, until the slow collapse of the latter led to a renewed partition of Libya’s provinces by their avaricious rival governors. The Fatimids briefly ruled the entire country in the 10-11th centuries before their empire collapsed, leaving Libya again to its traditional divisions. It was not until the Ottomans conquered the country in 1551 that the coastal regions of modern Libya were again brought under one banner, paving the way for the establishment of a later independent state.

Other modern states birthed by Western powers that lack a common history, such as Lebanon, face similar problems. Yet jihadists can dispense with this dilemma by subsuming Lebanon under a single historical region such as al-Sham, which includes Syria, Israel and Jordan. Yet because Libya’s three regions were historically divided between competing dynasties, it cannot lay claim to being part of a larger province. In fact, Islamic scholars often viewed Cyrenaica as part of Egypt and Tripolitania as a section of Africa (Ifriqiya) or North Africa (Maghrib).[22] The expansive Sirte desert, which straddles the center of the Libyan state, divided these regions by preventing rulers from unifying the country, with invading armies unable to traverse it.[23] One scholar wrote, “the Great Syrte is unquestionably one of the most pronounced natural and human frontiers that exist in the world.”[24] It provides such a good barrier that the rebels bent on overthrowing Qadhafi today found themselves stalemated with his forces in the desert’s sands.

It is not only geography that deprives Libya of an Islamic past. Until the Karamanli dynasty took power in Tripoli in 1711, no independent Islamic polity ruled from Libya.[25] The country equally lacks a strong religious history. The merits of important Islamic regions such as Palestine and Syria were extolled in texts called fad’ail or virtue literature.[26] Yet Libya has no such traditions. Unlike neighboring Tunisia and its Zaytuna, it has no important historical Islamic monuments or religious seminaries. In contrast to Egypt with its historically rich capital of Cairo, Libya does not have significant Islamic cities. Unlike remote regions such as Yemen, it cannot boast of any major historical Islamic scholars.[27]

For these reasons, the traditional historical and religious narratives from which al-Qa`ida typically draws are absent in Libya. Instead, it is compelled to adopt the secular Libyan historical account, which largely begins with the Italian invasion of 1911 and the dawn of the colonial era. This explains why three of the four authors discussed above cite `Umar al-Mukhtar, a Libyan who led the resistance to Italian encroachment. With no local Muslim hero to extol from the utopian Islamic past, they are forced to highlight the one contemporary Libyan with whom all his compatriots can identify.

Libya’s secular rulers have faced the same dilemma. After the Americans evacuated Wheeler Air Force Base—named for a U.S. soldier—Qadhafi renamed the base Uqba bin Nafi. Yet Uqba was no Libyan. Rather, he spearheaded the early Arab conquests in North Africa.[28] It is not only local Islamic heroes Libya lacks. When Qadhafi sought to offer a pan-Islamic entity to unify North Africans, he cited the Fatimid dynasty that ruled the region for more than 200 years.[29] No Sunni ruler would dare extol the Shi’i Fatimids who often persecuted the Sunnis and suppressed their creed. Yet with no Arab or Libyan dynasty to evoke, Qadhafi was compelled to invoke the Fatimids. Theirs was the last Arab empire to include all of the modern Libyan state. The fragmentation and disunity that characterized pre-modern Libya led a leading scholar of the country to confidently state, “medieval Libya was in fact no such thing.”[30]

Even more problematic for al-Qa`ida than the lack of a unifying Islamic history is the dilemma of the Libyan state. It is the only country that was born out of the United Nations, an organization jihadists have railed against.[31] While other Western creations, such as Lebanon and Syria, can be explained as a European division of al-Sham, and the Jewish state of Israel as the usurpation of Muslim Palestine, there is no Islamic alternative to the secular Libyan state. Its lack of an Islamic past necessitates accepting the service provided by its Western midwives. As a result, al-Qa`ida is compelled to acquiesce to the narrative created by its chief adversaries—Arab tyrants and Western crusading nations.

In his seminal work on political Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Olivier Roy concluded that these movements were doomed to fail because they “will not invent a new society.”[32] Today, jihadists have fallen into the same pit. Although they claim to reject Western categorizations and refuse to compromise with their values, they are doing just that in the case of Libya. In Libya, al-Qa`ida is forced to accept “the framework of existing states” created by the West.[33] It cannot present a historical Islamic narrative because none exists. If al-Qa`ida cannot convince Libyans to see the revolution through the jihadist prism rather than a secular one, then it will fail to draw people to its narrative, leading them to question the relevance of the militant organization.

Barak Barfi is a Research Fellow with the New America Foundation, where he specializes in Arab and Islamic affairs. He has spent the last five months in Libya.

[1] Al-Qa`ida’s new leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has spoken about the Libyan revolution as well, but only in passing. See Ayman al-Zawahiri, “The Message of Hope and Joy to Our People in Egypt,” May 22, 2011, available on various jihadist web forums.

[2] Jamal Ibrahim Ishtawi al-Misrati, “Greetings to Our People in Libya,” February 25, 2011, available on various jihadist web forums.

[3] For his biographical details, see Hamid Barrada, “La ‘Nouvelle Star’ d’al-Qaïda,” Jeune Afrique, April 28, 2008. For his ideology, see Michael Scheuer, “Abu Yahya al-Libi: Al-Qaeda’s Theological Enforcer – Part 1,” Terrorism Monitor 4:25 (2007); Michael Scheuer, “Abu Yahya al-Libi: Al-Qaeda’s Theological Enforcer – Part 2,” Terrorism Monitor 4:27 (2007).

[4] Abu Yahya al-Libi, “To the Sons of Our People in Libya,” March 2011, available on various jihadist web forums.

[5] For AQIM, see Jean-Pierre Filiu, Les Neuf Vies d’al-Qaida (Paris: Fayard, 2009), pp. 184-188, 214-218; “The Local and Global Jihad of al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghrib,” Middle East Journal 63:2 (2009): pp. 213-226. Camille Tawil’s articles in al-Hayat and at The Jamestown Foundation must be consulted as well. For a detailed discussion of its ideology, see Hanna Rogan, “Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb: Ideological Dissent in the Algerian Jihad,” paper presented at The Annual International Studies Association Convention (ISA) in New York, February 2009. Mathieu Guidère has some interesting ideas (some of which, such as the organization’s deep penetration of Europe and success in attracting North African jihadist organizations into its fold, are suspect), but his lack of footnotes makes it impossible to follow his trail of evidence. Mathieu Guidère, al-Qaïda à la Conquête du Maghreb (Monaco: Rocher, 2007).

[6] For Droukdel, see Camille Tawil, “A Jihadist in the Sand: The Rise of AbdelMalek Droukdel, al-Qaeda’s Amir in Algeria,” Militant Leadership Monitor 1:2 (2010): pp. 8-11.

[7] Abu Mu`sab `Abd al-Wadud, “Aid to the Noble Descendants of Umar al-Mukhtar,” March 18, 2011, available on various jihadist web forums.

[8] “A Special Interview with Abu Ubayda Yusuf al-Anabi,” July 8, 2011, available on various jihadist web forums.

[9] For defections, see Salima Tlemçani, “Le Chef du GSPC pour la Capitale Arrêté,” El Watan [Algiers], November 20, 2007.

[10] For criticism of France, see Abu Mus`ab `Abd al-Wadud, “France…The Mother of Malice,” June 28, 2009, available on various jihadist web forums. For a critique of Spain, see Abu Mus`ab `Abd al-Wadud, “A Message to Our People in the Islamic Maghreb,” undated, available on various jihadist web forums.

[11] Usama bin Ladin, “From Usama bin Mumammad bin Ladin to the French People,” January 21, 2011, available on various jihadist web forums.

[12] For the United Nations Security Council Resolution noting Qadhafi’s use of mercenaries, visit

[13] For Libyan tribalism, see Moncef Ouannes, Militaires, Élites et Modernisation dans la Libye Contemporain (Paris: L’Harmattan, 2009), pp. 287-331. For an anthropological account, see John Davis, Libyan Politics: Tribe and Revolution (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1988).

[14] This oath of allegiance to the leader, known as bay`a, has its origins in the selection of the successor to the Prophet Muhammad. For its use in Islam, see Ella Landau-Tasseron, “The Religious Foundations of Political Allegiance: A Study of Bay’a in Pre-Modern Islam,” Hudson Institute, May 2010. For its use by modern secular Arab leaders, see Mohamed Tozy, Monarchie Et Islam Politique Au Maroc (Paris: Presses De Science Po, 1999), pp. 79ff.

[15] Abu Mus`ab al-Zarqawi, “The Bay’a to the al-Qa’ida Organization Under the Leadership of Sheikh Usama bin Ladin,” October 17, 2004, available on various jihadist web forums.

[16] Abu Mus`ab `Abd al-Wadud, “Announcement and Glad Tidings on the Joining and the Pledge of Allegiance of the Salafist Group For Preaching and Combat to the Sheikh Abu Abdallah Usama bin Ladin,” September 13, 2006, available on various jihadist web forums.

[17] Isma’il F., “Abu Yusuf al-Anabi is Taking Over the Position of Emir of the Salafist Group,” al-Nahar al-Jadid [Algiers], March 8, 2010.

[18] For a discussion of the country’s history, see John Wright, A History of Libya (London: Hurst & Company, 2010).

[19] For a concise discussion of Libya’s historical divisions, see “Libiya Ba’ad Qadhafi,” Markaz Yaqin al-‘Ilami, April 28, 2011.

[20] For Libya’s classical history, see Joyce Reynolds ed., Libyan Studies – Selected Papers of the Late R.G. Goodchild (London: P. Elek, 1976). For more concise accounts, see the entries Cyrene, Oea, Pentapolis and Tripolitania in The Oxford Classical Dictionary.

[21] For an account of its medieval history, see C. Edmund Bosworth, “Libya in Islamic History,” Journal of Libyan Studies 1:2 (2000): pp. 6-16.

[22] For Cyrenaica, see Abu’l-Mahasin Jamal al-Din Yusuf b. Taghribirdi, Nujum al-Zahra fi Misr wa al-Qahira (Cairo: Ministry of Culture and National Guidance, undated), vol. 1, p. 37. For Tripolitania, see the scholars cited in Mahammed Hadj-Sadok, Description du Maghreb et de l’Europe au III-IX siècle (Algiers: Carbonel, 1949), pp. 92, nt. 64. For a Western discussion of the Islamic sources, see Jean Maspero and Gaston Wiet, “Matériaux pour Servir à la Géographie de l’Égpyte,” Mémoires de l’Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale, vol. 36, 1919, pp. 38, 163. For a modern scholarly account, see the comments of Ross Dunn: “The province of Tripolitania, today part of Libya, marked geographically the eastern extremity of the island Maghrib. From here the coastline ran southeastward for more than 400 miles…Here was the well-populated region of Cyrenaica…If Tripolitania was historically and culturally the end of the Maghrib, Cyrenaica was the beginning of the Middle East.” See Ross Dunn, The Adventures of Ibn Battuta (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2005), p. 38.

[23] The Sirte desert “is commonly considered the eastern boundary of the Maghrib, from which Cyrenaica is thus at least theoretically excluded.” See Wright, p. 116.

[24] Jean Despois, La Colonisation Italienne en Libye (Paris: Larose, 1935), p. 45.

[25] This excludes the short-lived quasi-independent states the Banu Khazrun and Banu ‘Ammar established in Tripoli during the 11th and 14th centuries respectively, which did not extend far beyond the city. See Michael Brett, “The City-State in Mediaeval Ifriqiya: The Case of Tripoli,” Cahiers de Tunisie 34:135-6 (1986): pp. 69-94.

[26] Ali ibn Muhammad al-Raba’i, Kitab Fada’il al-Sham wa Dimashq (Damascus: Matba’at al-Tarraqi, 1950). For Palestine, see Mujir al-Din Abu’l-Yumm Abd al-Rahman b. Muhammad al-Hanbali, al-Uns al-Jalil fi Tarikh al-Quds wa al-Khalil (Hebron: Dandis, 1999). For a discussion of Yemen, see Barak Barfi, “Yemen on the Brink? The Resurgence of al Qaeda in Yemen,” New America Foundation, January 26, 2010. For jihadist praise of the country, see Abu Mus`ab al-Suri, ‘The Responsibility of the People of Yemen to Muslims’ Holy Sites and Their Wealth,” undated.

[27] Among the important scholars to have resided in Yemen are Muhammad bin Idris al-Shafi’i, the eponymous founder of one of Sunnism’s four law schools and Abd al-Razzaq bin Hammam al-Sana’ani, an important hadith scholar. The city of Zabid was a key Sunni center of learning for centuries. For a brief discussion of leading Yemeni scholars, see Wilferd Madelung, “Der Islam im Jemen,” in Werner Daum ed., Jemen 3000 Jahre Kunst und Kultur des glücklichen Arabien (Frankfurt: Pinguin, 1987), pp. 172-176.

[28] V. Christides, “Ukba b. Nafi,” Encyclopedia of Islam 2.

[29] “In Overture to Iran, Qaddafi Declares North Africa Shi’ite and Calls for Establishment of New Fatimid State,” Middle East Media Research Institute, April 6, 2007.

[30] Michael Brett, “Libya: Some Aspects of the Medieval Period, First-Ninth Century H/Seventh-Fifteenth Century AD,” Libyan Studies 20 (1989): p. 210.

[31] For al-Zawahiri’s critique, see “Bin Ladin is Fine and Attacks in Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt to Come Soon,” al-Quds al-Arabi, April 4, 2008. For AQAP, see the interview of its leader Nasir al-Wihayshi with Abd Illah Haydar Sha’a, available at

[32] Olivier Roy, The Failure of Political Islam (Cambridge, NJ: Harvard University Press, 1994).

[33] Ibid., p. 194.

Stay Informed

Sign up to receive updates from CTC.

Sign up