After bin Laden's Death, al Qaeda's Popularity Wanes

Pew survey shows citizens in the Middle East less sympathetic toward terrorist group.


Osama bin Laden's death didn't fuel support for al Qaeda. In fact, the group remains as unpopular as ever in much of the Middle East. [Pictures: One Year After Osama Bin Laden's Death.]

A Pew Research Center Survey conducted in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan and Turkey shows a majority of Muslim citizens hold unfavorable views of al Qaeda one year after Osama bin Laden's death.

In Pakistan, the country where SEAL Team Six killed bin Laden one year ago, only 13 percent of Muslims have a positive view of al Qaeda, with 55 percent holding an unfavorable view and just over 30 percent have no opinion at all.

In Lebanon and Turkey, the number of al Qaeda sympathizers falls into the single digits at 2 and 6 percent respectively. [Video: Osama Bin Laden Death Anniversary Prompts Terror Warnings.]

Al Qaeda sees the most support in Egypt, where bin Laden's successor Ayman al-Zawahiri was once imprisoned for his jihadist connections, with 21 percent of Muslims surveyed holding a favorable view of the terrorist group. Richard Wike, the associate director of Pew's Global Attitudes Project, says the al Qaeda's popularity has changed little over the past year.

But in the decade since 9/11, support for the terrorist group has dropped sharply.

Wikes argues one possibility for the decline in support is that citizens in many of the countries have experienced al Qaeda's attacks first hand. [Debate Club: Is Pakistan a Reliable Ally?]

In Jordan, for example, confidence in Osama bin Laden dropped dramatically from 61 percent in 2005 to just 24 percent in 2006 after al Qaeda carried out a series of suicide bombing attacks, one at a wedding reception in the nation's capital, Amman. By 2011, only 13 percent of the population reported they were confident in bin Laden's leadership.

"Typically when people are exposed to extremism and extremist violence in their own country, we tend to see people reacting in a negative way," Wikes says.

But a drop in support for al Qaeda does not necessarily mean a rebound for the America's image in the Middle East.

"Our most recent survey data has found that the U.S. is still negatively viewed," Wikes says. "Just because support for extremism is waning doesn't mean you will see a corresponding increase in positive ratings for the United States."

Bruce Riedel, a Brookings Institution fellow concentrating on Middle East affairs, warns despite a decrease in popularity, al Qaeda still poses a significant threat to international security.

"Low approval ratings are not really relevant in terrorism," Riedel says. "If 10 percent of Muslims support [al Qaeda] that means 100 followers, a huge pool to recruit a few suicide bombers."

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