Bin Laden audio belatedly praises Arab Spring

The audio recording of Osama bin Laden, released posthumously, is Al Qaeda's first public statement on the regional uprisings.

SITE Intelligence Group/AP
This image from video provided by the SITE Intelligence Group shows the image displayed during a posthumous audio message from slain al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden released by the terrorist group's media arm, as-Sahab. In the message recorded shortly before his death, bin Laden praises the protests sweeping the Middle East.

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Al Qaeda has released an audio recording, reportedly by Osama bin Laden, that praises the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia and encourages other uprisings throughout the region.

The posthumous recording is the first public statement by Al Qaeda on the so-called "Arab Spring." The group's previous silence on the prodemocracy uprisings, in which Islamists played only a supporting role, led many to say that Al Qaeda had been marginalized by the movement. The audio message, which Al Qaeda said was recorded a week before his May 2 death, could be a signal that the group is belatedly trying to insert itself into the mostly domestic, secular movements.

"The [Muslim] nation was always getting ready for the victory that is rising from the eastern horizon, but the surprise was that the sun of the revolution rose from the Maghreb, the west. The light of the revolution sparked in Tunisia, and the nation felt the relief, the faces of the people got brightened, and the throats of the rulers got coarser, and the Jews got terrified because the coming of the promised day," Mr. bin Laden said in the recording, reported by CNN from a translation by SITE Intelligence Group.

"With the overthrow of the tyrant, the definitions of fear, humiliation, and surrender have fallen as well. The new meanings of freedom, pride, audacity, and courage were risen. The winds of change came, in a will of liberation."

The uprisings in Libya, Syria, and Yemen are noticeably absent from bin Laden's message, which Al Qaeda posted on several online jihadi forums. An unnamed US official speaking with CNN called bin Laden's move to "join the bandwagon on the uprisings" months after they began "puzzling." The official said it was a "head scratcher" why he didn't praise the Libyan revolution – bin Laden hated Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.

The message comes ahead of President Obama's speech on the region, scheduled for later today. Mr. Obama is expected to address the regional uprisings, which caught the US as unprepared as Al Qaeda. The US has struggled to decide what role it should play in the homegrown movements.

In his recording, bin Laden urged those leading the uprisings to be wary of Western involvement.

"There is a serious crossroads before you, and a great and rare historic opportunity to rise with the Ummah [Muslim community] and to free yourselves from servitude to the desires of the rulers, man-made law, and Western dominance," he said, according to Agence France-Presse.

"So, to these free revolutionaries in all the countries: hold fast to your initiative and beware of negotiations, because there is no middle road between the people of truth and the people of falsehood. There is no way," he said.

The release of bin Laden's message may reaffirm fears that Islamist militants may attempt to capitalize on the regional turmoil, particularly in countries like Egypt where Islamists were brutally suppressed under secular dictators. The New York Times reports, "some militants, including Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born Qaeda propagandist hiding in Yemen, have claimed that the uprisings will make room for Islamists to seize power."

But in the days after bin Laden's killing in Pakistan, many in the region say his death would merely speed up Al Qaeda's decline into irrelevance, sidelined by the secular uprisings, The Christian Science Monitor reported.

“I think now we have clearly passed the Osama bin Laden era, and we are firmly into the Bouazizi era,” says Hussein Shobokshi, a columnist for the Saudi newspaper Asharq Alawsat, referring to the young man whose act of self immolation ignited the revolution in Tunisia that spread to the rest of the Arab world. “There is a grand difference between the two. One is from a very disturbed, annoying past and one is belonging to a promising future.”

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