May 03, 2011

Attempts to use social media for Arab liberation and US plans to eradicate Al Qaeda

1. Some now see Bin Laden’s death as the end of an extremist era, replaced with a more moderate age of civil engagement and empowerment. Two central figures in this new civil movement came to speak at MIT just days before Bin Laden’s death. Ahmed Maher, 30, and Waleed Rashed, 27, are co-founders of the April 6 Youth Movement, an Egyptian Facebook group that mobilized thousands of citizens to take to the streets in protest, leading to the February overthrow of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.



“Thirty percent of Egyptians are illiterate,” Rashed said. “We must create ways to reach them, for them to come down to the streets and protest. This is the meaning of revolution.”

Since Mubarak’s resignation, Maher and Rashed have pressed harder for citizen involvement, saying that real regime change is up to the Egyptian people. “This is your choice,” Rashed said. “We can’t go to Tahrir Square every year to start a new revolution.”

As Egypt prepares for a presidential election this fall, Maher says his group will take videos at polling places and post them on the Internet, increasing transparency in the voting process. He also plans to use new Facebook apps and software programs to help spread the message for regime change throughout Egypt and surrounding countries, including Syria and Sudan.

Maher said he has no plans to form a political party in Egypt; instead, he will work to build a social network to support and promote any party that stands for democracy and social justice. “We have groups in all the neighborhoods active in the revolution,” Maher said. “So we will have an impact, but we won’t necessarily be in power. This gives us power, but also freedom.”

2. The United States will aim to destroy al Qaeda's central organization now that its leader Osama bin Laden has been killed and its capabilities degraded by U.S. operations, a top White House adviser said on Tuesday.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry said in an MSNBC interview on Monday that U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas had killed as many as 17 senior al Qaeda leaders before bin Laden's death.

3. US intelligence officers have discovered unpublished statements produced by Osama bin Laden amid "a treasure trove" of computer hard drives, CDs, DVDs and papers seized from his safe house in Pakistan, an American government official has claimed.

They believe they may have also found communications between senior al-Qaida lieutenants and Bin Laden which could reveal information about potential targets and strategic guidance about the direction of the terror organization, and the whereabouts of its leadership and operatives.

US Navy Seals who raided the Abbottabad compound on Sunday and shot Bin Laden and two others dead took away a range of "removable media" such as computer disks. The US government believes some of the computer hardware could have been used to ferry messages to and from Bin Laden in the absence of an internet connection or phone link to the hideaway, a two-hour drive from Islamabad, the official said.

They are hopeful of finding evidence of targeting plans, names and addresses of al-Qaida members, Bin Laden's correspondence and his directives.

"We may find out from this data how far Bin Laden has actually been at the centre of everything – how much he was a figurehead and how much he had a hands-on role," said Gareth Price, senior research fellow at Chatham House thinktank. "But the key thing will be what it reveals about al-Qaida's relationship with Pakistan."

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