Crisis in the Middle East

A Libyan burns the U.S. flag during a Friday protest in Benghazi. From the Associated Press/Mohammad Hannon

Two days ago, on the eleventh anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the United States’ consulates in Benghazi, Libya, and Cairo, Egypt, were attacked by Muslim protestors. These attacks resulted in the deaths of four US citizens, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens and two former Navy SEALs. This crisis has sparked outrage from both the American people and the international community, has called into question America’s current foreign policy regarding the Middle East, and has left several Middle Eastern countries—all nations recently freed from the grips of dictatorship—with a divided citizenry.

To the average American, the events currently unfolding in the Libya must seem almost unreal. It was less than two years ago that Arab freedom fighters ousted, among other autocrats, Muammar Gaddafi and Hosni Mubarak from power and set up revolutionary governments. Many in the West were optimistic and thought that liberalism, egalitarianism, and democracy would permeate and modernize these transitioning states. Even when reports came in that the Muslim Brotherhood, a socially ultra-conservative political party with past associations to militant Islamist groups, had secured a majority of seats in Egyptian Parliament,  most Americans saw this as a minor stumbling block on the road to Arab democracy. It seemed as if North Africa was well on its way to stabilization and reconstruction, and then, in the past two days, everything changed.

It all started, allegedly, with “Innocence of Muslims”—a poorly made Youtube video depicting the prophet Muhammad as, among other things, a pedophile and a homosexual. The 14-minute trailer to this documentary went viral across the Islamic world and in just hours thousands of Libyans and Egyptians converged outside of the US consulate buildings in Benghazi and Cairo respectively. Many of these protestors were wearing black clothing and were waving the rāyat al-sawdā—a completely black flag called the “Black Standard” that has acted as a symbol of Jihad and militant Islam since the mid 7th century. In Libya, amid shouts of “Al mawt li Amreeka” and “Allahu Akbar,” fourteen armed men opened fire on the consulate and quickly overran American defenses. These fanatics proceeded to set fire to the consulate using C4 and a rocket launcher. A lack of oxygen caused by the ensuing blaze led to the asphyxiation of the four Americans as well as some ten other employees working inside the consulate. In Egypt, unarmed civilians overran the American embassy, tore down the American flag, and replaced it with the Black Standard. Thankfully, there were no deaths resulting from the Egyptian riots.

While no official link has been made between these riots and Islamic terrorist cells, it seems fairly likely that one or more militant groups planned and helped carry out the protests. The Obama administration has openly stated that the attacks were “too coordinated or professional to be spontaneous” and, according to The New York Times and CNN, officials within the Obama administration have said that they believe several Islamo-Fascist groups to be behind the execution of the protests. Details remain murky but President Obama has already sent three aircraft carriers to the Gulf of Sidra (just off Libya) so that the US military can use the latest tracking technology to find the perpetrators of the attacks.

Going beyond the horrific attacks against American citizens, these riots show a frightening correlation with the Arab Spring. Libya, Egypt, and Yemen (which is also currently dealing with widespread anti-American riots) are post-revolutionary societies whose populaces have, in theory, freedom and political voice. Why then would the citizens of these nations go so far to demonstrate their loathing for the age old advocate for democracy: America?

In truth, there have been signs since before the Arab Spring that the Middle East is more socially conservative and anti-American than our society gives them credit for. Evidence of this conservatism can be seen in Iraq’s 2005 parliamentary elections, which resulted in the election of prime minister Ibrahim al-Eshaiker al-Jafari, who campaigned on a platform of Shia nationalism and Islamism. This trend towards conservatism was also present in Egyptian public opinion polls: when asked, “should a Muslim woman be stoned for committing adultery?” over 80% of Egyptians answered in the affirmative.

With the advent of these attacks, Americans are gripped with uncertainty. There seems to be no easy way to change the way many Arabs see us: as conquerors and oppressors. Not long ago, many thought that the arrival of new political freedoms to the Middle East would end much of the anti-American sentiment. Now, as geopolitical analysts gaze into their crystals balls, all they see is a murky future.

Mac Zech, World News Editor

Posted by on September 19, 2012. Filed under World News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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