Voices from the Arab Press: Is ISIS dead?

Is the Islamic State terrorist organization nearing its end with the death of its leader and caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?

IRAQI YOUTH watch the news of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death, in Najaf, Iraq, on October 27.  (photo credit: ALAA AL-MARJANI/REUTERS)
IRAQI YOUTH watch the news of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death, in Najaf, Iraq, on October 27.
Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, October 30
Is the Islamic State terrorist organization nearing its end with the death of its leader and caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi? Baghdadi had been wanted by American authorities for a long time. The media already reported in the past about his supposed injury, poisoning and even death. The United States government even allocated a $25 million reward for anyone providing information about his whereabouts.
We now know, based on evidence collected from interrogations and the field, that Baghdadi was worried for his safety and refrained from using technology at any time. He was traveling with only five people he trusted and spending millions of dollars on his personal security. One of his companions, arrested by the Iraqi intelligence services two months ago, revealed that the ISIS leader moved between Syria and Iraq and lived in a secure underground compound that he rarely left.
How ironic that the man who spread terrorism around the world, who once controlled the fate of seven million people across Syria’s vast territory (and nearly a third of Iraq), lived in a constant state of fear and hiding. He was a paranoid man pretending to a ruthless leader.
Now, following Baghdadi’s death, we must ask ourselves what the future of his organization holds. Will it continue to exist? Indeed, the survival of the organization depends on far more than the fate of its leader. Islamic State has long been a decentralized organization with different branches and offshoots around the world.
The hope within its leadership ranks is now to incite as many sympathizers around the world as possible to target and kill Westerners, especially in countries belonging to the anti-ISIS coalition. Spontaneous, lone-wolf attacks would have a tremendous impact on the ISIS propaganda machine. It is therefore likely for such attacks to continue unfolding, even in Baghdadi’s absence.
Sadly, the organization will remain alive so long as its funding and well-oiled media machine continue to operate. According to several experts, ISIS is the richest terrorist organization in the world, with a fortune estimated at over a trillion dollars. It continues to bring in millions of dollars a year in revenue, mostly through the sale of oil and gas, as well as from proceeds of taxes and fees imposed by the organizations on areas it occupied in Syria and Iraq.
The smuggling of antiquities, alongside ransom money received in exchange for hostages, is yet another source of income enjoyed by the group. The biggest fear at the moment is that these sleeper cells, which have been dormant for months, will suddenly wake from their slumbers and carry out attacks. Baghdadi may have been eliminated, but his legacy will certainly endure among his followers.
Sahar al-Jaeara


Al-Arab, London, October 31
The Turkish incursion into northeastern Syria and the agreement between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are serious elements of concern to Washington. Informed sources in Congress and among US-based experts on Turkey claim that the ground is still shaking under the feet of Erdogan and US President Donald Trump.
I arrived in Washington in mid-October and soon noticed that the media was seeking answers. Why is Trump consistently pursuing Erdogan? What is the motive behind the US president’s acquiescence to his demands? The answers are not yet clear, but they may very well become clear in the upcoming weeks or months, uncovering even more scandals and dubious business ties between the Trump Administration and its allies in Turkey.
The more we examine US-Turkish relations, the more confusing they become. America’s key institutions have fallen into a remarkable state of silence on Ankara. Periodic briefings at the State Department have stopped, leaving journalists to guess what the future of these bilateral relations hold.
The current polarization in Congress is reflected by the daily zigzag of members torn between principle-based action and tactics based on personal interests. Rapid shifts in the tone of Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, the main driver of Turkey sanctions in Congress, are a clear example of this dilemma: Should Republicans maintain their loyalty to Trump or challenge him with tougher sanctions on Turkey?
Another source of confusion is the series of sharply contradictory Twitter tirades launched by Trump on a daily basis. “Anything is possible at any moment,” one source told me. Will there be sanctions? If so, how far-reaching will they be? Is Erdogan’s announced visit to the White House a foregone matter? What about inviting Gen. Mazloum Kobani, the Kurdish commander of the SDF, to Washington? Even the most experienced Turkey and White House experts cannot say anything for sure.
While some suggest that the Graham-Van Hollin bill on Turkish sanctions has lost momentum, a congressional source cited another bill – prepared by Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman [and Republican] Jim Risch, and Democratic Senator Bob Menendez [the committee’s ranking member] – as a measure that could be politically viable.
Until then, Erdogan is likely to have completed his visit to Washington, and as the sources predict, the two presidents will embark on a new phase to repel their opponents. Based on these expectations, observers also conclude that sanctions will not be forthcoming anytime soon.
What will Erdogan ask Trump? This question concerns many. Observers agree on one issue: Erdogan will firmly demand that his counterpart cancel all proceedings against Halkbank, the Turkish financial institution subjected to a criminal case for violating US sanctions on Iran.
Erdogan may also request financial support for his troubled economy, and in return may promise to withdraw his troops from Syria and release some US embassy staff held in Turkish jails. Will there be any change in the rules of the game that would spoil the remarkable cooperation between the two presidents and prevent them from growing closer?
The only factor, observers agree, will be to uncover the mysterious deal that binds them together. Under such circumstances, Congress will have no choice but to pass aggressive sanctions on Ankara and pursue Trump’s impeachment with even greater vigor. – Yawiz Bidar
Al-Jazirah, Saudi Arabia, October 31
The uprisings we are witnessing in Iraq and Lebanon may very well succeed, but what is clear from the very outset of these demonstrations is the following: Regimes in societies that are torn apart by sectarian tensions are doomed to fail.
This is one of my well-established convictions that I have written about extensively in the past: Those who advocate for democratic reforms in societies plagued by deep partisan and sectarian divisions are rushing to put the cart before the horse. Sadly, it is my belief that while many politicians in the Arab world are well-aware of this reality, they rush to pursue the lofty ideas of democratization and liberalization as an excuse to consolidate their own power.
If history has taught us anything, it is that the forceful imposition of democracy in environments that are not ready to deal with this type of political culture will inevitably lead to rampant administrative and financial corruption. What applies to Lebanon’s politics also applies to Iraq’s politics, where lawmakers protect themselves from investigations thanks to sectarian immunity.
In addition to being plagued by corruption, both Lebanon and Iraq are protected by the guardian state in Iran, where corruption, theft and cronyism are the modus operandi. Iran’s system of clientelism allows Tehran to wield its power in other countries by bribing powerful politicians in return for their support of pro-Iran agendas, even when these agendas undermine the sovereignty and independence of the very states the politicians claim to protect.
The only way to ensure the development of societies plagued by sectarian strife is to avoid the pitfall of rapid democratization. Democracy, implemented hastily, will only hold these societies back and create a breeding ground for corruption and theft. – Muhammad al-Sheikh
Al-Etihad, UAE, October 31
What is happening in the region – from the failure of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Tunisia to the current anti-corruption demonstrations in Iraq and Lebanon – should leave us asking: Will political Islam gradually disappear from our region?
Egyptians are still traumatized by the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, under which financial mismanagement and political violence reached unprecedented levels. The fall of Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi sent shock waves across the Arab world, particularly among proponents of political Islam such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party.
Just as the Egyptian people confronted political Islam in Egypt, so did the people of Algeria and Sudan in their own countries. The Algerian people endured hundreds of thousands of deaths during the 1990s at the hands of Islamist militias, but did not lose hope. Eventually, sanity prevailed, and the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was forced to disarm and disband. In Sudan, demonstrators were able to sack their president, Gen. Omar al-Bashir, a sympathizer and ally of the National Islamic Front, after 30 years in power.
There was also the secession of South Sudan. Even in Iraq, after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime and his Baath Party, demonstrations have revolved around opposition to a government backed by political parties of Islam.
Even in Lebanon, for the first time, the Lebanese people realized that their main enemy was the enemy from within, which did not provide them with a decent life and minimal well being. Protesters have shown a high degree of unity regardless of sectarian and political affiliation.
For the first time since the formation of Hezbollah in the 1980s, Lebanese Shi’ites have turned against it. In Nabatiya, a Hezbollah stronghold, Shi’ite protesters burned the offices of Hezbollah leaders. In Tunisia, too, the recent elections reflected the decline of political Islam. In the first round of the presidential election, the candidate endorsed by the Ennahda movement, the local Muslim Brotherhood affiliate, came in third, making him ineligible for the final round. Tunisians have grown deeply distrustful of Ennahda, especially after revelations of the party’s involvement in the establishment of a spy network targeting citizens, politicians and security personnel.
The end of political Islam depends on the adoption of an alternative project by national leaders. Leaders of the Arab world must promote policies that meet the needs of their people and provide them with basic services, jobs and anti-corruption measures. They must also invest in economic development, especially among youth. The era of empty slogans is nearing its end. The time has come for real political accountability in the Middle East. – Najat al-Saeed

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.