Whether its charismatic leader is dead or not, the Islamic State Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed in 2014 seems on the verge of collapse.
It is probably not the end of the dream of restoring the caliphate, but just another setback on the implementation of Prophet Mohammed’s grand scheme – to see all Arabs accepting Islam in an Islamic nation without borders where all the faithful would be brothers.
Rival caliphates were born and fought over the centuries – in Damascus, Baghdad, Andalus (Muslim Spain) north Africa and Egypt. The Ottoman empire was the last political and religious structure to unite all Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa for 500 years.
The caliphate was abolished by Kemal Ataturk in 1924, triggering the formation of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
Led by its founder, Hassan al-Banna, and Sayyid Qutub, its main theologian, the movement intended to end the penetration of Western liberal values and pave the way for the restoration of a Shari’a-based caliphate.
Jihad was to be a tool to impose Shari’a on any Muslim society branded as renegade.
The Brotherhood set up its own secret organization in the ’30s to destabilize the regime of King Farouk and then tried to assassinate Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Militants later founded radical organizations such as “Takfir and Hijra” whose members would go on to set up Jihadi movements such as al-Jama’a al-Islamiyyah, which assassinated president Anwar Sadat.
Islamic State is an offshoot of the Iraqi branch of al-Qaida, which in 2014 united with part of the Syrian branch. Together, they set up Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. On that basis, Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim el Badri proclaimed the establishment of the new Islamic caliphate under his leadership and the new name he was taking: Abu Bakr al Baghdadi el Hashemi el Kurayshi – associating the names of the family of the prophet with that of the first caliphate.
It was the latest development in attempts to revive the caliphate, which had started with violence in Egypt and expanded to Arab and Muslim countries with the intent to destabilize their regimes through terrorism.
It continued with al-Qaida, which launched terrorist attacks in the West to destabilize and weaken regimes.
Iraqi forces celebrate in Mosul as military says “victory” is imminent (credit: REUTERS)
Then came the last phase of the Islamic state – for the first time, a brutal Islamic terrorist organization bent on implementing Shari’a to the maximum had taken over vast territories in Iraq and Syria where some three million people lived.
It now had access to natural resources with its confiscation of Iraqi oil, abundant financial resources through the levying of taxes, controlling banks, and selling said oil on the black market, and it could recruit and train fighters, as well as develop weapons.
It set up branches in Libya and in Egypt while conducting terrorist operations throughout the Middle East, North Africa, Europe and the United States.
Through its sophisticated communication apparatus, it managed to broadcast its message and acquire the prestige of a victorious organization, drawing thousands of young Muslims from all over the world.
The West reacted slowly, but decisively, and the Islamic State is now crumbling under the assaults of the US-led coalition; the rise of Kurdish militias in Iraq and Syria; a reconstructed Iraqi army; and Russia’s intervention in Syria to save the Assad regime.
Al-Baghdadi may have been misguided when he adopted a territorial basis, making Islamic State an easier target for the many forces bent on destroying it. His actions also weakened the Muslim Brotherhood, which was trying to destroy the West from within through massive Muslim immigration to gain power “by democratic means.” Today, several countries, including the UK and US, are considering branding the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.
Al-Qaida and Islamic State are just the better-known parts of a global Islamist movement to restore the caliphate. Dozens of other organizations are working toward that goal, differing only on the background of their founders or they methods of action, such as al-Shabaab of Somalia; Boko Haram of Nigeria; Jemaa Islamiyah in Southeast Asia; Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines; and the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Though initially based on Saudi Wahhabism, they have the same objective.
Western media has been wondering what Islamic State fighters would do after the collapse of the group. No doubt they will easily find a home within those organizations and do their utmost to intensify their terrorist operation to demonstrate that they are not abandoning their goal.
Arab sources reported in December that Fatah al-Sham (formerly al-Nusra), an al-Qaida offshoot in Syria that is well entrenched in the Idlib area bordering the Alawite region, is trying to unite with Ahrar al-Sham, a powerful Islamist organization backed by Saudi money.
The result would be an “Islamic Syrian organization” that would welcome other Jihadi groups trying to penetrate Assad’s Alawi region – an ambitious project considering Russian support for the Syrian leader.
In other words, with the disappearance of Islamic State as a geographical entity, new coalitions will be made to keep the fight for an Islamic regime through a variety of means that probably will come as a surprise.
Didn’t Abu Sayyaf Islamic just take over a city in the Philippines and promptly proclaim an Islamic emirate? The army is still trying, with little success, to drive them away.
The writer, a fellow of The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden.