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The al Qaeda of yesterday is gone. What is left is a collection of many different splinter organizations, most with local agendas. The United States should treat each on a case-by-case basis, especially in Syria were two affiliates, the al-Nusra front and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, are battling it out.
A civil war has broken out within al Qaeda, largely because its leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has tried to expand the movement too broadly. As al Qaeda affiliates open new fronts in the global jihad, they often disagree about who should call the shots.
The overthrow of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was yet another sign that the Muslim Brotherhood, once the vanguard of Islamist politics, has ceded the moral and revolutionary high ground to the ultraconservative Salafis.
The protests engulfing the Middle East go to the heart of who gets to police public morality in post-Arab Spring states. Salafis see themselves as the rightful guardians of the public sphere, and they are trying to ensure others see them that way, too.
Will McCants answers questions on the past, present, and future of the organization.
On 9/11, the global jihadist movement burst into the world's consciousness, but a decade later, thanks in part to the Arab Spring and the killing of Osama bin Laden, it is in crisis. With Western-backed dictators falling, al Qaeda might seem closer than ever to its goal of building Islamic states. But the revolutions have empowered the group's chief rivals instead: Islamist parliamentarians, who are willing to use ballots, not bombs.