A few days after al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri announced his support for the uprising in Syria, activists in the Syrian opposition described his statements as a failed attempt to bolster his organisation.
Al-Zawahiri announced his support for "the uprising in Syria" in a video message posted Saturday (February 11th) on several jihadist websites. In the message, he called on the "lions of al-Sham" to invoke the "will of jihad "in their fight.
Al-Zawahiri's latest message is his second statement on the Syrian revolution. He posted an earlier video message on July 27, 2011 titled, "The glory of the East starts in Damascus".
In the first video message, al-Zawahiri expressed regret that he and other al-Qaeda fighters were unable to join Syrians who are demonstrating against President Bashar Assad. Syrian opposition activists quickly rejected the message.
Syrian political activists have been demanding an end to Assad's regime since March 2011.
Omar Idlibi, a political activist and a spokesman for the local Co-ordination Committees in Syria, condemned al-Zawahiri's statements in an interview with Al-Shorfa.
"We condemn the timing of such statements and believe they represent a new thread in the regime's narrative about it being a victim of terrorism at a time when the revolution has proven itself to be a champion of the principles of justice," he said.
"The battle the Syrian people are waging is against an enemy who is committing crimes against humanity, much like the dark forces that al-Qaeda represents."
Idlibi dismissed al-Zawahiri's statement as an "attempt to fool the world into believing al-Qaeda has a presence in Syria. That is false. Al-Zawahiri is trying to bolster the organisation, which has been dealt severe blows in the recent past".
Idlibi said the position adopted by the local Co-ordination Committees on al-Zawahiri's message reflects the position of political opposition forces.
"The Syrian revolution will continue its culture of tolerance, and any attempt by al-Qaeda or others to tarnish the image of the revolution will certainly fail," he said.
Rajeh Khoury, a political analyst for an-Nahar newspaper, said al-Zawahiri's recent announcement does not benefit the Syrian political opposition, but harms it instead.
"Al-Zawahiri's statement portrays the Syrian revolution as one that is led by a band of terrorists and the al-Qaeda organisation. Everyone has rejected that portrayal, especially after the regime's claim that it was waging a campaign against terrorism was proven to be false. We saw only civilians protesting and being killed by the military," Khoury told Al-Shorfa.
Khoury said al-Zawahiri and al-Qaeda have been "bankrupt since the death of their leader Osama bin Laden. They are in a state of decline. Consequently, al-Qaeda tries to associate itself with every conflict that arises in the Arab world".
Al-Qaeda's attempt to link itself to popular movements in the Arab world confirms that it is in decline, he said, adding that such attempts are merely "smoke screens to obscure its own problems", including its poor relationship with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Kassem Kassir, a journalist and analyst who specialises in Islamist movements, said, "Al-Qaeda's role has diminished after the Arab revolutions despite the fact that it has a presence in Yemen and Libya."
Kassir said al-Zawahiri's statement is an attempt to reorganise al-Qaeda and reassert its influence after the setbacks it suffered in the wake of bin Laden's death.
"Al-Qaeda no longer has a clear agenda or a plan to execute as it did during bin Laden's era," Kassir said. "It merely tries to exploit opportunities presented by the changes occurring in the Arab world to reaffirm its existence. It is trying to take an active role in any part of the region where a security and political vacuum exists. But that does not mean it will succeed."