Amid all the recent noise and chaos in the Middle East, one crucial voice seems to be missing — Al-Qaeda. What’s perhaps the most notoriously linked group to that region has been absent from the picture altogether. Throughout protests in more than 10 Arab nations — and regime change in at least two — there has been no word of involvement by Al-Qaeda. Only time will tell if this silence will be the fall of Al-Qaeda’s regime. But, for the time being, it provides the United States with a great opportunity — an opportunity to make allies in a region where it needs them most.

If the terrorist network is aiming to seize the moment, it has failed miserably thus far. Osama bin Laden has said nothing on the issue of the revolutions, and his right-hand man Ayman al-Zawahiri — an Egyptian, at that — released three statements, none of which so much as mentioned former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The lack of involvement by Al-Qaeda in what is perhaps the biggest populist Arab movement the region has ever seen will, undoubtedly, weaken the terrorist network in the future.

Not only was Al-Qaeda uninvolved, but in some ways it was defied. According to a Feb. 27 New York Times article, the protest movement in Egypt gained power by shunning the “murderous violence and religious fanaticism” of Al-Qaeda. It’s one thing to overthrow the dictatorial regimes of the Arab world that neither Zawahiri nor bin Laden were particularly fond of; it’s another to do so through nonviolent, secular, peaceful, pro-democracy protests.

Many experts on the Middle East have claimed that the recent events are spelling out disaster for Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups around the world. Paul Pillar, a CIA researcher on the Middle East said in a Feb. 27 New York Times article, “so far the score card looks pretty terrible for Al Qaeda.” In the same article, Brian Fishman, a terrorism expert at the New America Foundation said, “knocking off Mubarak has been Zawahiri’s goal for more than 20 years, and he was unable to achieve it. Now a nonviolent, nonreligious, pro-democracy movement got rid of him in a matter of weeks. It’s a major problem for Al Qaeda.”

What’s a problem for Al-Qaeda may be an opportunity for the United States. Where Al-Qaeda is losing influence, the United States has a chance to step in and gain allies. The revolutions are giving a political voice to a new generation — a younger more active generation. A generation that has grown up seeing the world of Twitter, Facebook and Google and doesn’t want to be left behind. A generation that might just bend the legacy of autocracy in these nations toward democracy.

These nations aren’t under the control of bin Laden and they house a majority of the world’s Muslim population. Fostering good relations with the new governments that emerge is a beneficial course of action for the United States. These are nations that arose out of a desire for democracy — now that democracy may not be the American brand, but it’s democracy nonetheless. Not only is this an opportunity for the United States to make friends in a strategically important area, but it’s an opportunity to champion liberty as well.

Now, there’s no guarantee the revolutions will quell religious extremism once and for all. In fact, social unrest, lack of structured government, and lessened domestic security are all conducive to the rise of militant groups. But there still is a chance that these revolutions might give way to democratic regimes in the Middle East — regimes that shun the ideals of extremist terrorist groups. And, in these nations, the United States may find its most valuable allies in the War on Terror.

Harsha Nahata is an assistant editorial page editor.

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