Sept. 13, 2012
Number 09/12 #03
This Updates deals with the implications of yesterday’s mob attack on the US Embassy in Cairo (see video here) and the armed attack of the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which left US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead. While these attacks have been reported as a response to a crude and objectionable anti-Islam film “Innocence of Muslims” made by some Americans and previewed on Youtube, there is growing evidence that the Cairo demonstration was scheduled for Sept. 11 weeks ago to call for the release of the blind Sheikh Omar abdel Rahman, convicted for his role in the first World Trade Centre bombing. Meanwhile US officials say the Libya attack looks like it was also pre-planned, (see also here), possibly by an al-Qaeda-linked group, before the film issue ever surfaced.
First up, Washington Institute for Near East policy experts David Schenker and Eric Trager look at the politics in Egypt that led to the Embassy attack, and have some suggestions regarding US policy responses. They point out that, while it probably did not plan the attack, the Muslim Brotherhood-led government is not only not apologising for it but is doubling down, demanding US action against the film and its makers, while the Brotherhood itself is applauding the Embassy attack and staging their own demonstrations near the Embassy. For their discussion in full, CLICK HERE. Another interesting comment on the politics of the attack within Egypt comes from author and analyst Lee Smith.
Next up, Barry Rubin places the Embassy attack in Egypt in the context of a Muslim Brotherhood-led Egypt that is becoming “anti-democratic, anti-American and antisemitic”, and adduces numerous examples of worrying developments of late. Rubin is particularly critical of the US Administration for failing to recognise the realities of the Egyptian situation (and in other parts of the Arab world where Islamists are making major gains), and for having apologised for the film. For the rest of his argument, CLICK HERE. Also making the case that attempting to appease the extremists incensed over the film by apologising for or condemning the offence it caused is futile is well-known Middle East journalist Michael Totten.
Finally, Libya-based journalist Ann Marlowe discusses the political background to the Benghazi consulate attacks. She stresses that, despite the bloody violence of the attacks, the al-Qaeda-linked types likely responsible have little popular support – and are allowed to operate not because, as in Egypt, the government broadly shares their ideology, but because it lacks the ability to create basic security on the ground over more of the rest of the country. For her look at the background to the attack from on the ground in Libya, CLICK HERE. Meanwhile, Washington Institute Libya expert Aaron Zelin surveys the history and current reality of extreme jihadists in Libya in the context of the attack.
Readers may also be interested in:
- It now appears that initial reports that the anti-Islamic film, “Innocence of Muslims” alleged to have sparked the attack were produced by an “Israeli Jew” named Sam Bacile and funded by anonymous “Jewish donors” are wrong. New reports indicate the name is a pseudonym and the person who goes by that name is apparently neither Jewish nor Israeli, according to those who know him, but probably an Egyptian-born Copt – see here, here and here. The Associated Press tracked the name to a Californian Coptic Christian named Nakoula Basseley Nakoula , convicted of financial crimes, who acknowledged his role in managing and providing logistics for the film’s production, though he denied being Sam Bacile.
- Meanwhile, there are additional reports of possible fakery with respect to the film – including that all the most offensive dialogue was dubbed in post-production.
- Michael Rubin had some interesting comments on what is really behind the claimed outrage over the film. He also had some advice about how to respond.
- Israeli columnist Evelyn Gordon points out that the Egyptian Government and justice system to some extent encouraged the US Embassy attack because it last week let all those charged over involvement in the Sept. 2011 attack on the Israeli Embassy, where six security guards were nearly lynched, walk away with suspended sentences.
- American foreign policy pundit Walter Russell Mead on how the events in Egypt and Libya may affect the US Presidential campaign.
- More on the West Bank demonstrations highlighted in yesterday’s update, including a round-up of Palestinian academics who argue that the unrest is mostly economic in nature, plus a Jerusalem Post editorial on the subject.
- Israeli PM Netanyahu advances the PA another $60 million in future taxes to assist with their fiscal crisis – plus official Palestinian media censors out demonstrators who criticise the PA leadership.
- For those who didn’t see it in the Australian yesterday, former Australian Ambassador to Israel Ian Wilcox comments on the serious problem of Palestinian incitement.
David Schenker and Eric Trager
New York Daily News, September 12, 2012
The Morsi government is encouraging anti-American unrest; the Obama administration must now send a clear signal back.
The image of a black Al Qaeda flag flying above the United States Embassy in Cairo on Sept. 11 shocked Americans. It should have shaken the Egyptian Government as well. Egypt receives $1.5 billion annually from the U.S., and Washington is about to forgive $1 billion in the ailing state’s debt.
But Egypt’s government is charting a different course. Rather than denouncing the egregious violation of U.S. sovereignty, Egypt’s ruling party, the Muslim Brotherhood, is doubling down. This Friday, the Brotherhood is slated to hold a mass demonstration just two blocks from the U.S. compound in Cairo.
In Egypt and the U.S., the attack is widely being attributed to an obscure anti-Islamic movie. But in fact, Al Gamaa Al Islamiyya, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, announced weeks ago that it would protest in front of the U.S. Embassy on 9/11 to demand the release of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind cleric mastermind of the first World Trade Center Bombing in 1993.
No doubt, the appearance of the video led to a spike in support for the Gamaa demonstration, notably among Salafists and Egypt’s infamously drugged-up soccer fans known as “Ultras.”
So while the Brotherhood may not have planned the attack, the organization quickly embraced it, exploiting the crime to foment sectarian tensions and burnish its anti-American populist credentials. To wit, in its first official account of events in Arabic, the Brotherhood claimed that the anti-Islamic movie had been funded by Coptic Christians in America and praised Egyptians for “rising up for the victory of the Prophet.”
A day later, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi had not offered an apology to the U.S. Instead, according to the Egyptian daily Al Ahram, Morsi directed the Egyptian Embassy in Washington to take legal action against the film’s producers.
Morsi’s reticence comes as little surprise. The Muslim Brotherhood has a history of antipathy toward the U.S. and its allies. Morsi himself is a well-documented 9/11 “truther” and, under his leadership, Egypt has made unprecedented diplomatic overtures to Iran.
But the attack on the Embassy went beyond the pale. For starters, it was preventable. A terrorist organization’s calls for protests outside the Embassy should have prompted the deployment of additional Egyptian security forces. Morsi’s abdication of responsibility and the Muslim Brotherhood’s defense of the assault should be the last straw.
Washington should present President Morsi with a choice: Either abide by international norms or preside over an Egypt increasingly threatened by economic collapse. At present, Egypt’s economy is tanking as instability and violence continue to scare away both tourists and investors.
To forestall a crisis, Washington committed to forgive that $1 billion in debt, and it has ardently supported a pending $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund loan. And just this week, the Embassy in Cairo sponsored a delegation of American businessmen in Cairo to encourage U.S. investment in an Egypt that was “open for business.”
All of this should be put on hold. Washington can tolerate a lot, but it cannot invest in an Egypt that refuses at a minimum to secure American diplomats. So long as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Morsi Administration insist on encouraging Salafists and soccer hooligans to target U.S. interests, the U.S. can and should impose costs for this choice.
In addition to economic repercussions, there should be diplomatic consequences for Morsi’s behavior. Absent unequivocal expressions of public remorse in Arabic, U.S. officials should refuse to meet with Morsi when he visits New York in late September for the United Nations General Assembly.
Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have never been shy about expressing their feelings to the United States, whether about 9/11 conspiracy theories, or in advocating for the release of convicted terrorist Omar Abdel Rahman. Morsi’s visit to the U.S. is an opportunity for Washington to deliver a similarly unvarnished message: Inciting potentially violent protests against the United States is the act of a rogue, not an ally.
David Schenker is director of the Program on Arab Politics at The Washington Institute. Eric Trager is the Institute’s Next Generation fellow.
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By Barry Rubin
Pajamas Media, 12 Sep 2012
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World Affairs, 12 September 2012
This morning’s attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi by a Muslim extremist group should not be misinterpreted. Amidst our natural outrage at the tragic death of Chris Stevens, the American ambassador to Libya (who was visiting Benghazi) and three other Americans, we should stop to consider the context. The incident by no means represents the general feeling to the US among Libyans—or even the feeling of a substantial minority. While Libyans are vastly more religious than Americans, they showed in the July 7th election that they reject even the Muslim Brotherhood’s version of an Islamic state. Rather, the attack is a sign of the way the current lawlessness in Libya is allowing a largely passive population to be tyrannized by a tiny, violent minority. That minority may be small indeed.
Yesterday, waiting in an endless line at Tripoli Airport for my flight to London, I made the acquaintance of a Libyan-British man from Benghazi, Ibrahim Isbag. Dressed in Salafi clothes and sporting a long beard, he had traveled around Libya during the revolutionary period. It turned out that he had been in Derna a little before my visit this September. We discussed the armed bands of al-Qaeda loyalists who have been a constant threat there. Some of them blew up the Sufi shrine in Derna’s central mosque during Ramadan. Isbag said he had visited the training camp of one such group, who disavowed the attack. He said there were only a tiny number of jihadis there—definitely fewer than twenty. Nothing too scary—if only there were government security forces.
We have violent extremists groups in the US, of course—but we have police and soldiers to keep them from showing their true colors very often. When they do commit an attack, they are usually quickly captured, jailed, and eventually tried. In Libya, however, most of the Qaddafi-era police have not returned to work, the new internal security forces are still embryonic, and there is effectively no Libyan army at the moment.
On my three-week trip to Libya this August and September, I heard countless complaints from Libyans about the lack of security. It has come to pervade the post-revolutionary society. Few dare to speak up any more as their rights are eroded by extremists: I saw fewer than 70 people protesting another shrine destruction in Tripoli on August 26th. Why so few? To some extent, because Libyans do not respect their own history. But mainly, for the same reason the Interior Minister provided when asked by the new National Assembly that day why his forces did not intervene: fear of a bloody clash with the extremists with what he believed an unacceptable loss of life. Few Libyans want to appear on TV cameras where they can be identified by armed bands.
There is also the problem presented by the nature of Libyan society. Libya is like one big small town in many ways, and Libyans are loath to confront other Libyans. Many people I spoke with favored talking with the al-Qaeda groups now pushed out of Derna to the mountains, and bringing them back to the city. No one said they needed to be killed if they didn’t lay down their weapons. This is a country with no history of democracy, really, and, after 42 years of Qaddafi, no sense of the government’s monopoly on violence being a good thing.
I’m optimistic that Libyans will regard this attack as a wake-up call to defend their emerging democracy. They had better, if they want to be part of the larger world. All those dozens of people who have asked me how they can get an American visa so they or their children can study in or visit the US will have to exert pressure on their neighbors to wipe out the extremists. The vast majority of Libyans showed in the July 7th elections that they knew where their interests as citizens lie. Now is the time for them to step up to the plate again. Chris Stevens, a kind man who spoke good Arabic, supported the revolution in Benghazi last year. If his death leads to a turn in the right direction in Libya, it will have meaning for both countries he served.