BBC BLOGS - Newsnight: Paul Mason
« Previous | Main | Next »

#OBL: "Politically, he died on 25 January"

Paul Mason | 19:43 UK time, Monday, 2 May 2011

By the time I woke up the global rolling news was in full mental jacket. There was not much actual material, only the mobile phone footage of the site of Bin Laden's death. I spent the day on the streets of Cairo, interviewing people. They did not seem as breathless as the news people. In fact a great many people were hardly interested at all.

The newspapers here in Cairo had missed the news, except one which squeezed a brief factual account alongside a picture of Osama. On another one the main picture is of a delegation from Britain's RMT union on Tahrir Square.

In the vox pops the overwhelming response has been: I don't believe he is dead. There are no pictures and they ditched the body. That is what anybody who cared to answer on camera said. and while it is a response stronger among the poor, I have now met several well educated Cairenes who say the same.

Many people believed he was already dead, and there is such distrust of the west, for it's alleged duplicity, that even people who go to the American University of Cairo are often not inclined to believe America.

What will sort this out is pictures and evidence. On Jan 25th, here, many mobs of potentially reactionary people were turned around to the revolution by seeing with their own eyes the truth. Interestingly the government here in Egypt has refused to comment all day on the slaying of OBL. Again, while scripted statements from world leaders are sometimes dismissed as pointless, they soon have meaning when they do not happen.

However, the death of Bin Laden is a significant moment. As Bahey Ael a din Hassai, director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Study put it to me just now:

"Bin Laden died last night; but politically he died months ago; with the Arab spring the people of Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Syria and soon I hope Saudi took a step into politics."

The opportunity and the challenge for political Islam here is huge. The constitutional reform has created an electoral process which massively favours the Muslim Brotherhood; and their popularity in poor areas is a source of depression for the secular youth trying to take radical and liberal politics to the people.

However the Brotherhood has begun to splinter: a section of it's youth wing broke away; some leaders are forming a new party. The fundamental issue is this: it is one thing to wield street power by doling out charity to a population that has been dumped on by a wealthy secular elite. But once you are in politics you have to have a position on stuff like the minimum wage, should doctors go on strike, should there be kissing allowed on TV programmed. That is you have to go beyond charity and into the world of compromise and dialogue, because you cannot buy breakfast for 85 million people.

Bin Laden's death is only a signal moment in this regard. Actually the real challenge of political islam is only just beginning.


  • Comment number 1.

    The US have admitted they went ahead with this operation on the basis of circumstantial evidence, which means that they must have had a contingency plan in the event of OBL not being there. Given the diplomatic crisis which would spark up between the US and Pakistan if it turned out that the US went into Pakistan without permission, guns blazing, and all for nothing, that contingency plan would have to justify the operation wholly. In other words, the US left themselves no room for a scenario in which Bin Laden was not found in that compound... Which is why we are being spun some nonsense about the US repecting the Muslim burial customs of the world's most notorious and wanted terrorist who they had just killed!

  • Comment number 2.

    Events inspire me to pop my head out from my self imposed blog exile for a moment (I am working on other more productive stuff hopefully).


    Summary state santioned execution of an individual without trial from within another countries sovereign territory followed up with images of chest beating celebration in front of the Whitehouse just goes to show that nation's reality has now drifted so far away from its theoretical moral constitutional position as to be an unrecognisable grotesque 'anti' image of the original intent of its founding fathers.

    It seems that the Americans themselves in the midst of a crushing economic decline themselves can not see these emerging very nasty tendancies (sound familiar Europe circa 1935 anyone). They would do well to remember that. No news agency I have seen has taken or even hinted at this angle.


    I am no more a fan of Bin laden as I am of summary state santioned execution and celebration of the same.

    To me they are both equally abhorrent and should be proclaimed as such by anyone who can see it as a moral duty, whether they are on the payroll of Rupert Murdoch or not.

    We are not immune in the Uk either, mercifully we seem to still have a little of the humbleness before 'god' ( if that is your chosen name for that which can have no name) as demonstrated, paradoxically by the recent wedding but non the less, the rhetoric adopted by the 'no' campaign for AV has me gagging from the sheer stench of it.

    The antidote to that stench is to fight fire with fire and hammer home the line that a vote for AV is the best chance of securing a progressive slightly left of centre alliance (which is what most people consistently vote for anyway in the majority for the last 100 years or more!!) giving a combined labour / Lib dem / green party / ukip even (who will do much better than anyone expects this week) and combinations thereof a consistent mandate in line with the peoples wishes.

    No more government from Eton College by proxy.

    No wonder the No campaign is so well funded and has such a nasty stench surrounding it, they know that is they lose their non democratic power base will be compromised forever.

    AV itself is a bit of a fudge

  • Comment number 3.

    #2 errata

    Among my usual string of errors (just the way i am made I am afraid), I meant to say that the greens will do much better than anyone expects not UKIP.

    the last line should also read

    'AV itself is a bit of a duck billed platypuss of a concept but like the geneological metaphor, may serve as an obscure marker on the transition from one fundamental system to another without which we will not get there.

  • Comment number 4.

    "Shares lose gains that followed Bin Laden's death"

    Apparently if your country is running a massive deficit this will not make much difference after all.

    Cue loads of fear factor. Terror backlash. Apparently terrorist have had lots of opportunities to bomb us but have either slept in or been busy. Now they have more motivation again we should watch out. In the meantime we may have to curtail some of your civil liberties.

  • Comment number 5.

    Easier to fake than a Moon landing. Is there an independent verification of the death of Osama? Did he never go out of his compound and did no one go in who was not a member of his team. $27M reward for revealing his whereabouts would motivate a lot people - including El Qaeda as it would provide an welcome source of funds! Will the US publish evidence that it was Osama who they executed.

    If Osama why not Gadaffi after some well earned R&R by the Obama 'A' team?

  • Comment number 6.

    I though this was an interesting take on the OBL issue.

    "Bin Laden died last night; but politically he died months ago; with the Arab spring the people of Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Syria and soon I hope Saudi took a step into politics."

    If the above is true it may be that OBL's existence was no longer 'justified'. I am not very sure about anything to do with OBL except that whatever has been fed to us in the 'news' is not 'quite' true, and that it will have to fall into some domestic American political context.

    I sense that some others may be close to the heart of matter in suggesting it is an attempt to start to change a policy direction( but what exactly?) and end up with Obama getting nicely placed for re-election.

    I also wonder what the Pakistani military's response will be, to what looks like a brazen flouting of their power. Did the american's fly their helicopters to within yards of a significant military setlement without ISI knowledge? That seems vanishingly unlikely. How about the downed helicopter? a accident?

    If, as is being suggested, he has been under pakistan military care and protection, did OBL suddenly lose that protection?
    So did OBL become irrelevant to the Pakistani/ISI? If so, why? Or, was he 'offered' to the Americans?
    I always thought that Saddam Hussein was 'bought'. Was there some similar arrangement here? I wonder who will be arriving soon in the US with a substantial lifetime stipend to see them and their family settle into American ways.

    I also wonder what the apparent breakdown in Pakistan/US relations has to do with what we see here.

    Jericoa's point about summary execution is also worth repeating-and what about the attempt to get Gaddaffi. That and the OBL story is really somewhat stinky.
    I don't remember that anyone ever gave carte blanche to such mission gallop-certainly not the UN.

    It will be interesting too see how this all pans out but it feels to me as if we are about five minutes into the long awaited last episode of soap with a ten year run.
  • Comment number 7.


    Something Tolkienean is happening to our Ring-bearer.

    Now that political lying and vilification (outside any law) come so naturally to leadership, I can only watch in horror as Westminster party politics out-ordures anything on our TV screens.

    How appropriate that Spell-Check always corrects 'Britishness' to 'Brutishness'.

    While America suffocates in uncountable layers of administrative deceit, Britain sinks into a pit of well-bred nastiness, fit to scare a Dark Rider to the end of his endless days.

    If only there were a god to help us.

  • Comment number 8.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 9.

    I agree wholeheartedly with Jericoa about the "values" of a country that engages in state sponsored assassination (and calls it justice) and assembles mobs chanting like football supporters. But note that this tendency has been visible for some time, with the Afgan war being reported like a game in which the "score" is in number killed.

    Meanwhile, one can only wonder at the strategy of not providing clear evidence of the man's death. From the Al Quaeda perspective this offers two possible strategies - if the man was really redundant he can now be made a martyr (even if he is still alive). If he still has a value alive, then (if he is dead) they can find a look-alike and start sending out video's etc claiming the Us is lying. Of course the US can reject this - but who will now believe them?

  • Comment number 10.


    I found the people chanting outside the Whitehouse disturbing. A weird moment where you suddenly see the same traits as other fanatical nation states. Still they are a minority and many Yanks are much more philosophical about this moment.

    On the veracity of the claims. I'm afraid that since the Blair years two things come to mind in this situation:

    1. Weapons of mass destruction
    2. "He jumped over the barrier" (Menezes)

    I'm sure the US will do more to bolster their case over the coming days. I'll be surprised if they can convince people as statements about DNA will be seen by those of a sceptical nature as yet more lies. May have to come down to trust!

  • Comment number 11.

    Just passed OBL in the street !

  • Comment number 12.

    'interviewing people. They did not seem as breathless as the news people'

    Welcome to the real world on most things these days.

    Especially appreciated this, too: 'That is you have to go beyond charity and into the world of compromise and dialogue, because you cannot buy breakfast for 85 million people.' Anyone told #UKbreakfastsforalluncut? One is sure tweets and mobile numbers are being exchanged on this right now.

    ps: Heads up, FYI 'should there be kissing allowed on TV programmed' unless that is what was meant.

  • Comment number 13.

    To Andrew Neil

    “silver shares have not done as well, which is almost shocking in a way, and it looked like there were opportunities in either getting some premium on PSLV shares and buying silver or buying silver equities.”


    Yesterday and last night I asked about 30 Pakistani people many of them I know either just buy sight or going into shops where they work about Osama - no one believes it and its pretty much always been the case that they knew the score on 9/11 from the start. They are not sheeple . The Govt commentators of the BBC blogs are just making themselves look stupid. Its so obvious now that even the sheeple dont believe. We need a new definition of sheeple maybe MSM and captured Sheeple because its increasingly the case that the public are NOT.

  • Comment number 14.

    Yes its what James Rickard's explained to Helen Skopis a year ago:-

  • Comment number 15.

    All eyes should be on Saudi, as this is the nexus of the petro-dollar arrangement:

    "The Saudi royal family...had to bribe their citizens with another $150 billion a year in handouts to avoid riots and revolution.... In order for the Saudis to balance their new government budget, they need oil at over $100 a barrel"

    The Arab Spring revolutions have been about food prices and Kleptocratic rule. Saudi can just about contain their population (through reasonable living standards), but as the amount of oil that they can pump plateaus, then they need higher prices, which just precipitates the world inflation / stagflation merry-go-round.

    Like it or not, this is yet another symptom of the petro-dollar end-game:

    "Wall street fiddling whilst the US burns"

  • Comment number 16.


    Obama's speech writer did him proud, and the teleprompter was smooth as a politician's lie.

    Bin Laden fell like a New York Tower (into his own footprint, no doubt) and the 'rubble' was cleared and disposed of before you could say 'Due Process'. There is a lot of confusion about WHO KNEW WHAT, and WHY NO FIGHTERS SCRAMBLED, but - after 9/11 - we should be used to that.

    One thing is apparent: those half trained Terrorists flew the 9/11 airliners with greater skill than that helicopter pilot!

    They must think we are dumb - or is it that they know we are the


  • Comment number 17.


    "All eyes should be on Saudi". Agree. And it will be interesting to see what the women will do. Whilst it may true that most Saudi women are content to lead luxurious lives behind the walls, more and more are becoming educated.

  • Comment number 18.

    Meanwhile we have this:

    "US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has urged the Taliban to reject violence and "rejoin society" "

    This sounds a bit like Dr Frankenstein urging his monster to "rejoin society". (you need to copy and paste, as the link software can't cope with apostrophes)

    As well as being dishonest, the whole of Clinton's speech was nauseatingly preachy. War, almost by definition, is where civilisation breaks down. If one is unfortunate enough to be in a war situation, I don't object to assassination in principle - as a military decision. But I do object to dressing up in the language of justice, what might at best be the lesser of evils.

  • Comment number 19.


    I cannot imagine what children and their parents go through, when Uncle Sam and Tommy Atkins come to Tea

    Hillary Clinton certainly can't, she only ever ducked imaginary bullets.

    Just watched our leaders striding into No10 feeling special but without anything to back the feeling. They play games with our lives - and the world.

    We all lose.

  • Comment number 20.

    Any thought given as to why such violent hostility to US & Western imperialism exists?

    The Zionist state still oppresses Palestinians - where's the no-fly zone & targeted assasination of the Israeli politicians? Double-standards?

  • Comment number 21.

    "In fact a great many people were hardly interested at all.", and this is likely the plain and simple truth: People have grown used to American slight-of-hand; evidence that is not evidence; words that become stretched beyond truth, recognition or meaning. In other words, people world-wide have trouble swallowing most things Americans say.
    The newspapers in Cairo had missed the news; that one newspaper that squeezed a brief factual account alongside a picture of Osama, should have squeezed (instead of Bin Laden's picture) a copy of his Egyptian obituary indicating that Bin Laden had died in Tora Bora way back in December, 2001.
    The overwhelming response is
    a) I don't believe he is dead, or
    b) he died a long time ago.
    There are no pictures; there cannot be pictures when the body was dumped at sea (with full Muslim rights nonetheless). But there could have been pictures - lots of pictures, as well as fingerprints; never mind these DNA crap from a long dead sister who died from a brain tumor and the FBI was wise enough to keep her DNA for comparison purposes. How exactly this was done at sea is...well...puzzling.
    I am one of the many in "b" category - already dead, more western duplicity.
    If the Egyptian Government has refused to comment say on the slaying of OBL, it's likely because it wants to distance itself from this western piece of propagandizing nonsense.
    The death of Bin Laden was a quiet passing in 2001, a small service, and burial in an unmarked grave in accordance with Wahhabi tradition.
    As of yesterday, Bin laden was so very dead, that not even the United States could prop him up anymore, use him anymore - not even with falsified tapes. As for the gulf world, the Arab world...well...they have real live problems in the Arab spring - no time for American duplicity and games.

  • Comment number 22.

    OBL became the brand identity of Al Qaeda - you can be sure he spent the last 10 years developing the organization so it didn't depend on him personally.
    We haven't seen the last of Al Qaeda, but tapping OBL is a victory of sorts.
    We continue the next phase of unwinding global imbalances in resources, capital, and power.
    After all, KFC outlives Col. Sanders.

  • Comment number 23.


    I think I heard a BBC voice say the secret hiding compound was raided, once previously, by Pakistan, during its short life. Just he place to hide . . .

    Lies - damned lies - and strategic truth.

  • Comment number 24.

    he lives in a million dollar mansion yards from the Pakistani equivilent of West Point and they (Pakistan) didn't know about it? Come off it, two many coincidences for my liking, no body,, burial at sea, was NATO in the dark as well? So that's why the honeymoon was cancelled which means the prime minister knew, MI6 etc., this thing runs and runs and the Arab world still do not believe the 'truth' whatever that is about 9/11, after this, can you blame them?

  • Comment number 25.

    If there was a picture then it would be a forgery and so it goes on. Evidence is not conclusive as even then it has to go to the jury. So long as the Yanks think OBL is dead then that should be enough for everyone. Let's move on.

    The Arab Spring leaves me as yet unamazed. Yes, it is obvious there are good people out there with the right ideas and all power to them. But what will they actually achieve and how long will it take them? This story has a long way to run but the best and most successful revolutions come from the long, slow burn in which a consciousness is allowed to develop within the wider population.

    Political freedoms come from changes within the mindset of all of society not from cunning stunts. OBL and his lot were too western in their attitudes and that is what undid them in the end.

  • Comment number 26.

    On the arab spring, there can be no certainty as to the outcomes, and these will surely be different from one country to the next. However, if there is a historical pattern to the overthrow of totalitarian rule it is, a period of disorder followed by the imposition of order by the military.

    That is what happened in the UK Civil War and the French Revolution: its a pretty safe bet in the Arab World too.

    We will doubtless, and rightly, abhor the imposition of martial Law: but the reality is that the young men struggling for their rights and freedoms are at the beginning of a long process that will last for generations (after all Europe took centuries).

  • Comment number 27.

    @26 tfoth

    "the young men struggling for their rights and freedoms are at the beginning of a long process that will last for generations (after all Europe took centuries)." ......... and it ain't over yet! :-)

  • Comment number 28.


    At the risk of pedantry it was the English Civil War not the UK Civil War, even though it involved Wales, Scotland and Ireland. In itself this is a politicial as well as a family statement.

  • Comment number 29.


    Your Blogs aren't keeping up with your Tweets.....what's going on in Egypt?

  • Comment number 30.

    Just saw your tweet on the young boy with coeliac disease Paul.

    Either the wheat or the hunger will kill him, one sooner than the other but the result will be the same. You know that.

    If he stopped eating wheat/gluten this second it could take anywhere from weeks to months to well over a year for his body to recover from the damage, but it would be a start.

    Fresh fruit, fresh vegetables and fresh meat are what he needs and avoidance of the 1001 products that contain wheat or gluten in any form and often by differencing names - even malt vinegar, a common ingredient in crisps, thickeners in sauces, ice creams and many food products are often enough to make someone with coeliac disease ill or iller.

    It sounds like this youngster has never seen a crisp or a mass produced sauce, let alone an ice cream.

    He is only going to recover if he gets on a non-gluten diet that is sustainable and for that to happen it sounds like he is going to need the help of a charitable organisation. He is going to need long-term care.

    At this point I wish I could offer a solution. I can't.

    You have the power of television - you are probably best placed than anyone to get him help by highlighting his plight. Other than that, I can only think of the charities, such as Save the Children, that operate in Egypt.

  • Comment number 31.

    Sticking with Paul Masons core theme, for the Arab Spring countries, they have, in the Iranian model, an example, but not in a good way, of what could happen if they vote into power some of the more extreme Muslim Parties.

    In that sense, although one feels terribly sorry for the great mass of young people in Iran who yearn to throw off this theocratic, authoritarian shroud, Iran currently stands as a stark warning that dictatorship comes in many forms.

    Overall, as Paul has sensed there in Egypt, the Arab Spring has opened up exciting new possibilities for the Arab peoples, the sorts of things that we in 'the West' have taken for granted for decades.

    Not quite the end of history but yet another brick in wall.

  • Comment number 32.

    A lot of commenters here seem to be obsessed about the cheering crowds in front of the White House.I saw that crowd on my local pub's tv Sunday night.And all of the crowd were 20 year olds wearing GWU sweatshirts.They were all George Washington University students.not surprising since thier campus is a 10 minute walk from the White House.Should we Americans judge all of the UK becuase a few college students recently broke some shop windows? Or should we judge the UK by a small minority of Football hooligans? Of course not!

    My local pub is the kind where everyone knows everyone else.Unlike many American bars/pubs, it has a mix of college educated proffesionals, blue collar workers[i work as a construction laborer], and both blacks and whites[which sadly is rare in Baltimore pubs.And when the news broke there was absolute silence.The only person that said anything was the owner.Who quietly said "Good riddance to bad rubbish" as he left the pub to go home.

    No one was triumphant or joyful.There were too many of us who were thinking about that day on September 9,2001. This may strike some here as purely anectdotal.But i think that it was a more typical American reaction than the cheeering kids.What i saw among the crowd at the pub, was grim and sad satisfaction that Bin Laden was finally dead.Do people actually expect an y of us to mourn Bin Laden?

    Its not the end of terrorism.But for many of us it symbolises the end of a very bad decade.

    As for mr Mason's point.I would actually go further.Even before the "Arab Spring", Bin Laden and his philosophy had been rapidly losing popularity around the world.

  • Comment number 33.


More from this blog...

Latest contributors

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.