Obama vs. bin Laden: A battle for Muslim hearts
Two recordings from the Al Qaeda chief and his deputy may signal that Obama's overtures, particularly his speech in Cairo Thursday, have put the organization on the defensive.
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Probably a sign Obama is 'doing the right thing'Skip to next paragraph
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The two tapes are not unusual in content and Zawahiri used more vitriolic language against Obama in a taped message soon after the American president's election last fall, when the Al Qaeda leader called him a "house negro." The insulting term once referred to black slaves who took the side of white plantation owners against other slaves who did manual labor.
Zawahiri said that Obama was not welcome in Egypt, which is ruled by corrupt "butchers and tyrants," and he urged Egyptians to "stand united in the face of this criminal."
"I don't think we should read too much into these statements," says Hegghammer. He adds that they probably are an indication that Obama is "doing the right thing" by trying to improve US relations with the Muslim world through his visits to Saudi Arabia and Egypt and speech on Thursday.
Bin Laden tape focused on Pakistan
Bin Laden's message does not mention Obama's tour to the Middle East. Instead, it deals mostly with the latest fighting in Pakistan's Swat Valley where the Pakistan Army has gone after the Taliban insurgency, a conflict that has left 2.4 million people homeless.
Asserting that Obama ordered Pakistan to take on the Taliban, bin Laden added: "Obama is following in the footsteps of his predecessor, increasing the enmity of the Muslims, as well as the number of fighting enemies, and initiating prolonged wars. The American people should prepare to continue to reap what the leaders of the White House are sowing, in the years and decades to come ...," according to a translation by The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) in Washington.
Zawahiri targets Israel
By contrast, Zawahiri's message focuses on Israel. "Obama's message to the Muslim World was delivered when he visited the Wailing Wall, with the Jewish skullcap on his head, when he performed the Jewish prayers despite claiming that he is Christian," Zawahiri said.
"The honorable people of Egypt despise Obama and consider him an international criminal, and an arriviste politician who serves the Zionist cause in order to get promoted to the highest levels of government," Zawahiri added, according to a translation provided by the CBS NEWS web site.
Notwithstanding Lynch's analysis that Hamas and Hezbollah have overtaken Al Qaeda's popularity, bin Laden still remains personally popular with a small but signficant percetange, according to University of Maryland Middle East expert and pollster Shibley Telhami. He "is still popular and identified as a preferred leader by a significant number of people [in the Middle East], roughly 10 percent," Telhami said in the same discussion at Brookings. When asked why he is admired, "the largest group says, in fact, that it's standing up to the US. And very few people say, 'We embrace its agenda of a Taliban-like state.' "