Claude Salhani Headshot

Bad News for the Islamists

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It has not been a good year for Islamist extremists so far. When you look at their track record since January 2013, they have suffered one setback after another. Given these series of events it appears as though a new trend may be settling in and thus raising the following question: Could this be the beginning of the end of their influence in the Muslim world? Remember that to begin with, the extremists represent a minority of the 1.6 billion Muslims the world over.

Still, one percent of 1.6 billion is a lot of people. Enough to stir up trouble in any case.

Some would argue to the contrary. They will stress the point that militant Islam is on the rise more so today than ever before. While there is no doubt that militant Islam is on the move -- it is not necessarily on the rise. Furthermore, it remains still too early to reach any firm conclusions. But several events lead to believe that there is a definite new pattern of change beginning to take shape.

What gave the Islamists their boost in the arm was a leader in the person of Osama bin Laden who knew how to reach out to the masses through the Internet and television. An interesting contrast given that the takfiri -- the extremists who insist that Muslims should live in the same manner in which the Prophet Mohammed lived, particularly shunning Western ideas and innovations, have made great use of the Internet and modern media.

But with bin Laden dead and most of the upper echelon of the group either jailed or dead or on the run, the organization has had little time to devote to public relations. Additionally, his successor, Ayman al Zawahiri, lacks the approach and know how of his former boss.

Furthermore, in a series of events, at the outset unrelated but when spliced together seem to show a clear trend that there seems to be more to it that the Islamists are just having a bad year.

Consider the following:

First: The defeat of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. This is highly significant because Egypt is the birthplace of the Brotherhood. It was in Egypt that Hassan al-Banna, a school teacher, first launched the movement in 1928. Only a year ago the Brotherhood was celebrating the election of their first president. Now their top leaders are either in prison, on the run, or under house arrest.

Second: in January 2013 Islamist groups with close ties to al-Qaeda invaded the West African country of Mali, believing it would be an easy target because of the difficulties facing the government, from a disorganized military to internal political disputes.

The French military intervention in Mali last January was quick, surgical, and highly efficient. Ignoring the takeover, would have given al-Qaeda a firm footing in a very sensitive and strategic region of Africa, situated right between the Maghreb - a very wide border with Algeria, where groups of the Polisario Front who have already been infiltrated by pro-al-Qaeda elements operate, and countries such as Niger, and Guinea, where Islamists are also active.

The French rushed troops into their former African colony and forced the Islamists out. Many are believed to have sought refuge in Libya.

Third: Libya. The Islamists are gathering here as they await the next battle. Some of them are finding their way to Syria, the new magnet for Islamists around the world. But from Libya many are being tracked.

Fourth: Syria: While the regime of President Bashar Assad is facing a real threat from the Islamist forces aligned against it, the Syrian military, with help from Hezbollah, are nevertheless suffering some very heavy losses. Even if the end result of the Syrian conflict leaves the Islamists ahead of the pack, they will come out much weakened by an atrocious war that will have decimated a fair amount of the Islamists.

Fifth: New laws and regulations are being enacted in Europe and the United States to prevent Islamists to hide behind laws while they support, incite and encourage terrorism against the very West where they chose to reside.

One of the first people to feel the impact of these new regulations is the radical and militant cleric Abu Qatada. A resident of the United Kingdom for the past 20 years, the Jordanian-born Palestinian Omar Othman, was deported back to Jordan to stand trial.

Abu Qatada first came to the attention of the authorities in 2001 when he was first arrested. Abu Qatada was first arrested over alleged terror connections in 2001 and the UK has been battling to deport him for eight years.

And finally, this past weekend the Syrian opposition meeting in Istanbul elected Ahmed Assi al-Jarba, a secular moderate to head the loose coalition of forces fighting the regime of President Bashar Assad. This move reflects the growing influence of the United States and Saudi Arabia in the Syrian conflict.

Looking at these events separately these incidents appear relatively minor when compared to the greater picture -- the fight against militant Islam. But piece them together and a pattern begins to emerge.

Claude Salhani is a political analyst specializing in the Middle East, terrorism and politicized Islam. He is editor of ArabSpringNow.com. He tweets @Claudesalhani.