In the second half of the 1990s the rise of Osama bin Laden as an international star among jihadis coincided with the declining fortune of religious nationalists, who suffered a crushing military defeat at home. Although they were embattled and besieged in the early 1990s, by the end of the decade key Arab governments, particularly Egypt and Algeria, finally contained the threat from jihadis by arresting and killing most of their field lieutenants and operators. They dealt them a fatal blow and forced them to think the unthinkable – to lay down their arms and concede defeat. From the 1970s to the late 1990s, jihadis' paramilitary struggle against the near enemy did not bring them any closer to their dream of ridding the region of its ruling “renegades.” On the contrary, by the end of the 1990s religious nationalists were a spent force.
Religious Nationalists Lay Down Their Arms
As a result of the destruction of jihadis as an organized movement, serious divisions appeared among their rank and file at home and abroad. For example, in 1997 scores of the top leaders of the Egyptian al-Jama'a al-Islamiya, or Islamic Group, who were incarcerated declared a unilateral cease-fire (a code word for acknowledging defeat) and called on their followers inside and outside of Egypt to stop military hostilities. This peace initiative by one of the biggest jihadi organizations in the Arab world (numbering tens of thousands and accounting for 90 percent of attacks), which had been unexpected, came as a bombshell to jihadis, particularly hardliners living in exile.