Marc Lynch passes on word that “Mohammed Essam Derbala, one of the leaders of the Egyptian al-Gama’a al-Islamiya, [Thursday] called on Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda to declare a unilateral four month ceasefire [hudna] with the United States to test Barack Obama’s pledges to establish a new relationship with the Islamic world and to close Guantanamo.” 

Lynch is, shall we say, skeptical:

I don’t think this is exactly the dialogue the new President has in mind, I’m afraid.


Most dedicated salafi-jihadists probably see Derbala as a sell-out or as a relic, while the mainstream Muslim public only vaguely knows who he is.  .  .  .  Nor do I think that Obama will be, or should be, the slightest bit interested in a dialogue or ceasefire with al-Qaeda even were one offered. He should instead push ahead on marginalizing al-Qaeda, while refusing to allow its terrorism to exercise a veto over the possibility of new, constructive relations with the vast majority of the Islamic world (including moderate Islamists, I would add).

A “ceasefire” with a group which has repeatedly called for our destruction and killed thousands of our citizens would be hard to stomach even if we could trust them to live up to it.  Then again, that’s precisely the situation Israel has been living with for decades and we’ve been very keen on the idea in that case.

Spencer Ackerman is nonetheless excited by this news.

Derbala has no power to call for or enforce any Al Qaeda ceasefire. But consider how overwhelmingly significant it is that a former terrorist of such obvious credibility would say something like this. And why’d he say it? Because President Obama just renounced torture. He put the United States on a clear path to repudiating the detentions, interrogations and, just as important, humiliations that Muslims consider the United States to have inflicted not just on terrorists, but the entire Muslim world. Part of Al Qaeda’s entire propagandistic message is that the United States is an unchanging brutish entity determined to subjugate the Muslim world. What Obama did today severely complicates that narrative. But it’s not enough for us to consider the narrative to be complicated — it takes Muslim figures of credibility to say so. That’s what Derbala just did.

I would note, however, that al Qaeda declared war on the United States and launched several attacks on us, to include the 9/11 attacks, well before the Bush administration started rounding them up and putting them in Guantanamo.  While I wholeheartedly support President Obama’s moves in this direction, it’s not at all clear why reverting to the status quo ante is going to suddenly make al Qaeda friendly.

James Joyner is managing editor of the Atlantic Council. 

Related Experts: James Joyner