On December 16, 2007, Al-Qaeda's media company Al-Sahab and the Al-Qaeda affiliated Media Center Al-Fajr announced a joint media initiative called "Open Meeting with Al-Zawahiri," in which Osama bin Laden's deputy would answer questions from the public. 
Theinitiative aroused interest as well as criticism in the Arab media. Al-Sharq Al-Awsat columnist Hussein Shobokshi wrote that it was a recruiting campaign aimed at luring young men to join Al-Qaeda, and condemned the media for giving Al-Qaeda's media activities too much publicity.
Following are some details about the initiative, and excerpts from Shobokshi's article in the English edition of Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (the text has been edited for clarity). 
The Al-Sahab announcement, which was published in the most recent Al-Zawahiri video, dated December 16, 2007,  asked that questions for Al-Zawahiri be kept "brief and focused" and that they be posted on four specific Islamist forums - Al-Ikhlass (www.ek-ls.org ), Al-Hesbah (http://al-hesbah.com ), Al-Boraq (http://al-boraq.org ) and Al-Firdaws (http://188.8.131.52/vb );  the administrators of these sites were instructed to forward the questions to Al-Qaeda. This strengthens the supposition that these Islamist forums have direct ties to high-ranking figures in Al-Qaeda.
Contrary to Western Media Reports, "Open Meeting" Initiative Meets with Limited Response
Since the initiative's launch, some Western media sources have reported a massive response to it among Islamists. For example, on December 20, 2007, The Guardian reported, citing information provided by a Washington-based think tank, that "hundreds of subscribers to jihadist websites are posting questions for Al-Qaeda's leadership at the invitation of Ayman al-Zawahiri."  However, close observation of the forums reveals that the response has actually been quite limited. Al-Firdaws, for instance, has thus far posted fewer than 20 questions.
The questions posted deal with various topics. For example, one asks why Al-Qaeda does not attack in Palestine now that "Hamas and the Islamic Jihad have revealed their true faces." Others refer to the rumors about secret ties between Al-Qaeda and Iran, and to the nature of the relations between Al-Qaeda and the mujahideen in Chechnya. Yet others ask whether Arab mujahideen are still able to infiltrate Afghanistan, or raise questions about the legitimacy of killing innocent people.
Shobokshi: "Is There Anything New That Needs to be Known About Al-Qaeda?... The Initiative is [Nothing But] an Opportunity for Al-Qaeda to Recruit Young Men"
Responding to the media coverage of the initiative, Saudi columnist Hussein Shobokshi wrote in the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: "The anticipated press conference [i.e. Al-Qaeda's "Open Meeting with Al-Zawahiri initiative] is not an opportunity to identify the ideas, principles and objectives upon which the Al-Qaeda movement has been based, or to identify the movement's orientations and its interpretations of political events. The press conference is, in fact, an opportunity for the Al-Qaeda network to round up dozens of young men, in order to incorporate them into its ranks and to add them to numerous [Al-Qaeda recruits] whose lives have been lost for the sake of fake political promises and hollow propaganda... Their lives have been lost so that the Al-Qaeda network and its followers would gain glory, and so that the wheel would continue to spin.
"Is there anything new that needs to be known about Al-Qaeda? This is undoubtedly a fundamental point, because how can we explain... the enormous [publicity] that is granted to Al-Zawahiri's statements, comments, and views on every little matter in global political affairs? [The media acts] as if he is a world leader, and in some cases he is given more attention than most [world] leaders. Such odd and suspicious media coverage has been, and continues to be, a direct cause of the support that Al-Qaeda receives...
"Such coverage [makes it seem as though] the Al-Qaeda movement has become a 'superpower,' whose opinion is taken into consideration, and which has gained influence over political decisions taken in the world. The movement’s emotional appeal, which once played a major role, has lost its shine due to the enormous damage that the movement has caused, and its massive killing [of innocent people...]"
"Freedom of Opinion Ends when [People are Physically] Harmed"
"To permit Ayman Al-Zawahiri and others like him to hold this conference [does not mean the upholding of] the principle of freedom of opinion - since freedom of opinion ends when [people are physically] harmed. In fact, [to give a platform to] someone like Al-Zawahiri, and to communicate with him, is to purify a poisonous mentality that accepts only the language of violence. There is clear and abundant evidence of this, and those who deny it are only fooling themselves."
Poster announcing Al-Qaeda's "Open Meeting with Al-Zawahiri" media initiative:
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1787, " Al-Zawahiri in Two Recent Messages: ‘Iran Stabbed a Knife into the Back of the Islamic Nation;’ Urges Hamas to Declare Commitment to Restoring the Caliphate," December 18, 2007 http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=sd&ID=SP178707 and http://memriiwmp.org/content/en/report.htm?report=2481.
 The URLs provided here are the current URLs for these forums, except in the case of Al-Boraq. The latter recently split into two sites - one supportive of Al-Qaeda and the other opposed to it. The Al-Boraq forum which is pro-Al-Qaeda is currently down.
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