Opinion Brief

Bin Laden's successor: Is Zawahiri 'irrelevant'?

The irascible Ayman al-Zawahiri may have trouble stepping out of bin Laden's shadow, especially with his terrorist network on the ropes

Osama bin Laden's longtime second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has been tapped to succeed bin Laden as head of al Qaeda, according to a militant website linked to the terrorist organization's leadership. Some experts say Zawahiri, an Egyptian surgeon, has long been the "operational brains" of al Qaeda, but a U.S. State Department official said the promotion "barely matters," because Zawahiri has "nowhere near" the credentials and charisma bin Laden had. Is the selection of bin Laden's successor really so insignificant?

Picking Zawahiri proves al Qaeda is living in the past: Events have passed al Qaeda and Zawahiri by, says Ed Morrissey at Hot Air. "Arabs want to take control of their own destinies, not blow themselves up for a new Caliphate that would be every bit as dictatorial as the regimes they want to overthrow." People in the region probably see al Qaeda as "irrelevant" now, and the selection of a relic like Zawahiri is not exactly going to signal that the jihadists are ready to reboot."AQ announces Zawahiri as its new target-in-chief"

It is dangerous to underestimate Zawahiri: The Egyptian terrorist is indeed inheriting bin Laden's job as al Qaeda "is at its nadir," says Lawrence Wright at The New Yorker. But the old-timer (he turns 60 on Sunday) "has shown a daring willingness to improvise," and he has experience rebuilding broken terrorist networks, from his early days in Egypt. So, while he does lack bin Laden's charisma, "it would be a mistake to underestimate" him."Zawahiri at the helm"

Still, Zawahiri will find it hard to have much impact: There's a reason it took al Qaeda's leadership council six weeks after bin Laden's death to make such an obvious choice, says Tim McGirk at TIME. Even among terrorists, Zawahiri is notorious for his "obnoxiousness," and younger jihadist leaders seem to have greater influence over the network's foot soldiers. Perhaps more importantly, Zawahiri's hunters may have picked up his trail again thanks to clues found in bin Laden's hideout, so it might just be a matter of time before drones or Navy SEALs catch up to him."Dr. al-Zawahiri, I presume: The hunt begins for al Qaeda's new boss"

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