Meanwhile, in a country with 13 times Libya's population

Niall Ferguson, who has taken only three weeks to establish himself as Newsweek‘s star crackpot, says it’s all going into the crapper in North Africa:

“(W)e have absolutely no idea who is going to fill today’s vacuums of power. Only the hopelessly naive imagine that thirtysomething Google executives will emerge as the new leaders of the Arab world, aided by their social network of Facebook friends. The far more likely outcome—as in past revolutions—is that power will pass to the best organized, most radical, and most ruthless elements in the revolution, which in this case means Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood.”

A fascinating New York Times story sees two possible futures, one optimistic, the other a lot less so. On the face of it, the revolutions in, especially, Egypt seem to be a significant setback for Al Qaeda:

“Knocking off Mubarak has been Zawahri’s goal for more than 20 years, and he was unable to achieve it,” said Brian Fishman, a terrorism expert at the New America Foundation. “Now a nonviolent, nonreligious, pro-democracy movement got rid of him in a matter of weeks. It’s a major problem for Al Qaeda.”

But the same story also points out that the peaceful ouster of Hosni Mubarak is only a bad-news story for the Islamists if Egypt doesn’t sink into chaos. And the Islamists expect it to sink into chaos.

Abu Khaled, a Jordanian jihadist who fought in Iraq with the insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, suggested that Al Qaeda would benefit in the long run from dashed hopes.

“At the end of the day, how much change will there really be in Egypt and other countries?” he asked. “There will be many disappointed demonstrators, and that’s when they will realize what the only alternative is. We are certain that this will all play into our hands.”

A crossroads leads in two directions. As I tried to argue in my latest column, I believe North Africa, and especially Egypt, are at a crossroads. It could go very well or very badly; we have a vital security interest in its going well; and we are not without constructive options.




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