Al-Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has issued a new video today praising the pro-democracy demonstrations in Syria, saying that the anti-Assad demonstrators are “standing up against his oppression.”
Zawahiri also said he wished his fighters could join the Syrian uprising, but that “the ongoing war between the United States and its allies against al-Qaeda” prevented them from doing so. He urged the protesters not to replace Assad with a pro-US regime.
Despite US claims of a cushy relationship between Assad and al-Qaeda, it is clear that the militants would ideologically prefer a Sunni-dominated government to the Ba’athist regime, and indeed the US and Israel have traditionally accepted Assad’s rule primarily over fear that a free Syria would be more united and less willing to tolerate things like the ongoing occupation of Golan.
But Zawahiri’s backing of the demonstrators, much like the Obama Administration’s decision, is unlikely to be a pure expression of ideology so much as a realization that the Assad regime is weakening, and that whoever backs the protesters may stand to score points with a new government if and when they take over.