The Arab Spring brought about regime change as well as created instability. At the same time it emboldened a new generation of Salafi Islamists– spurred on by ultraconservative imams who had been muzzled for years. The Salafi Islamist movement wants to control the governing process. Tunisia was the first to see regime change, followed by Egypt and Libya. Quick action by Algeria’s leader in reducing food prices, and modifying oppressive government actions saved him from the same fate. Morocco also fared better, with the monarchy allowing new parliamentary elections, addressing human rights issues, and giving up some sovereign rights. An Islamist recently won the election in Morocco, and became the prime minister. Salafi Islamists will continue to gain influence in the North African countries. These rulers have temporarily survived, but there is still underlying discontentment that won’t go away. Drought related issues, rising food prices, and high unemployment continue to be major concerns across the Maghreb.
In the Arabian Peninsula al-Qaeda and affiliated Islamic extremists are chipping away at the governments in Yemen, Oman, Lebanon, and Bahrain. Syria will eventually fall into the hands of Islamic extremists. The instability caused by these Islamists could spill over into Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait and the Emirates. In Saudi Arabia, al-Saud in 1744 embraced Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s narrow version of Islam, which included armed jihad. Osama bin Laden was a disciple. His al-Qaeda network has been angered by the House of Saud, which could put the Saudi leadership at risk. Islamic extremists will continue to destabilize countries, in their quest to establish Islamic states.
President Obama had stated, with the demise of Osama bin Laden, al- Qaeda is “on the path to defeat.” UN Ambassador Susan Rice noted on talk shows, “[we] got bin Laden, al-Qaeda’s been dismantled.” The Obama Administration seems to have a closed mind, believing that the War on Terror is just a cliché. The Arab Spring’s regime change has only emboldened a new generation of Islamic extremists, including Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar al-Sharia, Libyan Islamic Fighters, Ansar Dine, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA). Many of these Islamists do not remember Osama bin Laden, and his jihad against the United States. Their mission is more regional, to establish Islamic states, and the United States stands in their way. These Islamists are as brutal as their predecessors, as we are finding out in Afghanistan, with a new generation of Taliban insurgents.
The Muslim Brotherhood, dominated by Salafi Islamists, is a prescription for on-going destabilization in Egypt and across the Maghreb and Sahel regions. Democracy as we envision it, may not take hold in the ultraconservative Islamic culture that exists. Libya under President Mohammed Magerief is wrestling with the new democratic approach to governing, and reigning in the Islamic extremists. President Moncef Marzouki of Tunisia, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria, and King Mohammed VI of Morocco are facing similar challenges. The AQIM and Ansar al-Sharia militias have continued to destabilize the eastern part of Libya, and also killing Gaddafi tribal clan members. They were responsible for the attacks on a British diplomat, the Red Cross, and the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.
The AQIM could have been subdued as far back as 2003, when they moved into Mali from Algeria. Our intelligence sources knew of their presence. They have since set up training camps in Mali’s northern frontier. Islamists have infiltrated the region from across the Sahel, and as far away as Afghanistan and Pakistan. AQIM and Ansar Dine (the outgrowth of the Tuareg separatist movement) have instituted Sharia law, and undertaken massive atrocities against Malians, forcing almost 500,000 to flee the country. A lack of support for the Malian military to fight these Islamists, led to the ousting of President Amadou Toumani Toure in March 2012. Since then the presence of Islamists in northern Mali has become more pronounced. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), of which Mali is a member, has attempted to get permission from the United Nations to underpin the Malian military.
In July 2012 the UNSC Resolution 2056 was adopted, which sanctioned action by ECOWAS, but requested further information, which prolonged their ability to proceed. AQIM has expanded across the Sahel and north into Libya. Secretary Hillary Clinton and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice have not supported immediate military action, insisting that new presidential elections take priority, and that Mali needs to pursue negotiations with the radical Islamists. Mali government leaders told me during meetings in Bamako on September 8-12, 2012 that the election process was set for April 2013, however military action against the radical Islamists was needed immediately, before they increased their control over larger areas of the country.
On October 12, 2012 UNSC Resolution 2071 was adopted, declaring its “readiness to respond to Mali’s request for an international military force, pending receipt of the Secretary-General’s report and recommendations on the situation.” In my meeting with Mali’s Ambassador Al-Maamoun Keita on November 15, 2012, he was confident this resolution would finally allow ECOWAS military assistance to take place within forty-five days, with the support of the African Union, to subdue the AQIM and other Islamists embedded in northern Mali. “The clock is ticking and every day that passes brings more suffering to the people in Mali trapped by the terrorists,” was noted by the Côte d’Ivoire representative to ECOWAS. Further stating “Inaction is no longer an option.”
President Obama’s Presidential Policy Directive (PPD), toward sub-Saharan Africa, outlined his vision with stated pillars of supporting security and peace. Embracing the African countries was at the core of his directive. We have not delivered on our promises. We need new leadership, who will engage Africa, to advance the PPD in a more consistent approach. Africa is important to our national security—we cannot allow Islamic extremists to establish Islamic states.