Al-Qaeda has suffered grave losses that were not anticipated by its leaders when they ordered the attacks on the United States 10 years ago.
The September 11th, 2001 attacks elicited a strong international response - led by the United States - that quickly toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and expelled al-Qaeda from its bases in the country.
In the decade following al-Qaeda's expulsion from Afghanistan, the organisation lost hundreds of fighters and numerous senior leaders, including founder Osama bin Laden, who was killed in a US commando raid in Pakistan in May.
In addition to the setback in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda was confronted by a broad international coalition that was not limited to Western countries, but included Arab countries. International allies developed coordinated policies that sought to combat terrorism. These policies succeeded in denying al-Qaeda the funding sources it relied upon prior to September 11th.
However, the official strategy of constriction applied by Western and Arab countries is not the only reason al-Qaeda is struggling. Several other factors contributed to it, notably the lack of popular Arab support for the organisation's actions.
It became clear from the beginning that the killing of civilians and the bombing of public facilities, train stations, civilian aircraft, public buses, hotels frequented by foreign tourists, the kidnapping and slaughtering of journalists among other acts perpetrated by al-Qaeda and its affiliates would not win support for the organisation nor an endorsement for its claim that it is "defending Islam".
In addition to the lack of support for al-Qaeda in the Arab street, it was also clear that bin Laden's organisation did not have the support among the largest segment of Muslim scholars, including the leaders of jihadist groups who were supposed to be at the forefront of al-Qaeda supporters if its actions were considered consistent with the concept of jihad, according to their interpretation of it.
But that wasn't the case, and jihadists soon began to raise their voices in condemnation of al-Qaeda and its affiliates, which had sprouted around the world after the expulsion of its leadership from Afghanistan at the end of 2001.
The voices of Egyptian jihadists were the loudest in condemning al-Qaeda's conduct. Leaders of the Islamic Group, a major jihadist group in Egypt, condemned al-Qaeda's actions and explicitly described them in doctrinal studies as contrary to the concepts of the Islamic religion and stated that al-Qaeda had "inflicted great harm upon Islam everywhere".
Joining the Islamic Group in their condemnation was the jihad theorist, Dr. Fadl (Sayyed Imam al-Sharif) who issued reviews titled "Document of Right Guidance for Jihad Activity in Egypt and the World", in which he harshly criticised bin Laden and Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, who succeeded bin Laden as al-Qaeda's leader.
The public censure of al-Qaeda's actions is vitally important because of al-Sharif's stature and the fact that al-Qaeda's leaders had been using his books as manuals in their training camps where he was described as "the jihadists' theorist".
Losing the support of Egyptian jihadists was not the end of it as al-Qaeda sustained a major loss following the attacks of September 11th as a result of the positions of Salafi scholars in the Gulf.
Al-Qaeda had proclaimed during the 1990s that it was defending the Salafi scholars who were detained in Saudi Arabia, including world famous scholar Salman al-Ouda. But al-Qaeda's September 11th attacks followed by the killing of foreigners in Saudi Arabia and the horrific killings of foreigners and Iraqis by its branch in Iraq led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi prompted many Salafi scholars in the Arabian Peninsula to distance themselves from al-Qaeda and its actions.
Al-Ouda is among the scholars who were most critical of bin Laden and his organisation.
He sent bin Laden a message on the sixth anniversary of the attacks of September 11th in which he asked him, "Brother Osama, how much blood has been spilled? How many innocent people, elderly, and children were killed and displaced in the name of al-Qaeda? Would it please you to meet God with the burden of those [victims] on your back? Who is responsible for the young men and boys in their prime who are euphoric with enthusiasm and are following roads they do not know what it will lead to? They might have lost their way and will vanish in endless mazes. What have we reaped from the destruction of an entire population as happened in Iraq and Afghanistan? Those wars have lead to more civil wars. Is the intention to gain power, even if it came over the bodies of thousands upon thousands of Muslims? Who is responsible for stirring up the ideas of takfir [declaring other Muslims unbelievers] and murder?"
Thereafter, criticism of al-Qaeda by Salafi clerics and jihadists accelerated, most notably from leaders of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), who issued doctrinal revisions in 2009 warning of extremes in the interpretation of jihad concepts so as to permit killing and bombing in the name of Islam. Even though the group's leaders did not mention al-Qaeda by name in their reviews titled "Corrective Studies in Understanding Jihad, Accountability, and Judgment of People", it was clear that they were directed primarily at the leaders of al-Qaeda and its affiliates in the Arab world.
Despite all those criticisms, it appeared that al-Qaeda was determined to continue what it perceived as "jihad work" by planning new attacks around the world.
Al-Qaeda's leaders argued that their actions were correct, saying that instead of disintegrating when they were expelled from Afghanistan in late 2001, the organisation was expanding and had affiliates in the eastern and western parts of the Arab world, in the Gulf and elsewhere. They also argued that the organisation was still strong because it was able to conduct attacks every year to prove its existence including Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005 and attacks elsewhere.
But it is not clear whether al-Qaeda's leaders actually believe their attacks, which harm civilians, foreigners and Muslims, could win them popular support and make Muslims truly believe that those attacks were "in defence of Islam," as al-Qaeda's leaders claim.
Even if the organisation's leaders actually believed that they gained popular support from their attacks, the Arab Spring revolutions proved them wrong and indicated there is a huge disconnect between them and the Arab youth.
It became clear since demonstrations by young Arabs in Tunisia began late last year that al-Qaeda had no presence among the protesters who opposed the regime of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Nor did it later have significant influence among the protesters who marched in the streets of Cairo and other cities in January 2011 against former President Hosni Mubarak.
Even in Libya, where the ousted regime of Colonel Moamer Kadhafi claimed that the protesters are al-Qaeda members or are affiliated with it, the leaders of the uprising made themselves clear by distancing themselves from al-Qaeda and its ideas.
The leader of the rebels in Tripoli, Hakim Belhaj (a former LIFG jihadist leader) said Libya after Kadhafi would not be a "source of terrorism", but would be a civil state. Belhaj was among those who issued the corrective studies that were critical of al-Qaeda's actions in 2009.
The current al-Qaeda leaders may indeed be preparing new attacks, as they vowed to do after bin Laden was killed. And they may succeed or fail in their attacks. But there is no doubt that al-Qaeda realizes now, 10 years after the attacks on New York and Washington, that its actions have not earned it popular success.
On the contrary, they have contributed to a deepening rift between the organisation and the Arab street which is evident during the "Arab spring" demonstrations. Al-Qaeda's actions also widened the gap between them and Salafi and jihadist leaders, according to several of their reviews.
Has al-Qaeda learned the lessons of the past 10 years, or will it continue along the same old path? This is the question the coming days and months will undoubtedly answer.
Rajeh Said is a London-based analyst. He wrote this piece for Al-Shorfa.