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Opinion

Opinion

Radicals spur unrest in Egypt, Libya

September 13, 2012

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What’s happening on the ground in Cairo and Benghazi appears to be a case of political opportunism — no, not by Mitt Romney, though there was some of that Wednesday — but by Salafist Islamic extremists who are unhappy with the success the more moderate Islamist and secularist parties in Egypt and Libya have had in building political support.

We’re still in what I like to call the “fog of revolution” in both countries, where it’s hard to know for sure what’s happening and who benefits, so my reporting comes with a basic caveat. But based on conversations with sources who were on the streets Tuesday in the midst of the Cairo demonstration, and who have been following events in Libya closely, it’s possible to pierce the fog a bit and offer some basic analysis:

First, the situation in Cairo: The Arabic banners of the protesters moving toward the U.S. Embassy identified them as members of the Nour Party and the Asala Party, the two leading Salafist groups that have competed in the Egyptian elections. The Salafists, whose name connotes respect for the Islamic “ancestors” of the Prophet Muhammad’s time, are more conservative and less pragmatic than the Muslim Brotherhood that is now ruling Egypt.

An analyst who was in the midst of that crowd Tuesday told me he thinks the Salafist demonstrators were using the pretext of a supposedly anti-Islamic American film to send two messages: the first was obviously anti-Americanism, which is potent in today’s Egypt; the second and more interesting message was a challenge by the Salafists to their rivals in the Muslim Brotherhood government of President Mohamed Morsi.

As is so often the case in revolutions, the Cairo uproar appears to be partly a case of radicals wanting to undermine a more moderate governing party. The Salafist demonstrators’ threat was augmented by violent hooligans, who are often described as soccer fans but increasingly are inflammatory anarchists.

A similar process of post-revolutionary jockeying is going on in Libya, and it tragically led to the death Tuesday of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. The Salafists’ assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi at first appeared to be a “copycat” attack like the one in Cairo, but U.S. officials said it may have been planned by extremists linked to al-Qaeda. They were augmented by a well-armed Islamic militia. Their anger, again, is mixed between a baseline anti-Americanism (sadly, always a draw in the region) and a challenge to Prime Minister Abdurrahim el-Keib and the secularist parties that are the backbone of the new Libyan government.

Does America have an interest in the internal fights taking place in these countries still quaking from the Arab uprisings? Yes, of course it does, especially when U.S. embassies are targets of protesters and American diplomats get killed in the crossfire. But this isn’t really about America: It’s about different factions battling for power in a fluid political situation.

Unfortunately, the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979 is an apt parallel. That was the work of a group of extremist Iranian “students” who were unhappy that the post-revolutionary government of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini wasn’t proving radical enough. They captured the revolution when they seized the embassy. The lesson of that disaster is that local security authorities must quickly restore order — and if they can’t or won’t, then Americans must move out of harm’s way.

Also worrisome is the link between Salafists (whose posters disturbingly appear in Cairo neighborhoods near Heliopolis populated by members of the military) and the more violently “takfiri” wing, which believes it’s permissible to kill apostate Muslims, and has links with al-Qaida. The takfiris hate the ruling Muslim Brotherhood, if that’s any consolation.

The delicate political balance in Egypt and Libya makes the blunderbuss campaign rhetoric of Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, especially unfortunate. His comments make this crisis more “about America” than it needs to be.

Let’s return to the main trigger for these events: It’s the success of the tolerably non-extremist (I won’t say “moderate”) governments in Egypt and Libya in consolidating power, and the anger of the more radical Salafists at this success. Morsi, for example, has just won pledges of billions in financial support from Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The Gulf Arabs are making a bet that over the next year, Morsi can stabilize Egypt and get the economy moving again. Despite Tuesday’s tragic events, the U.S. should make the same bet.

— David Ignatius is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.     

Comments

Abdu Omar 1 year, 7 months ago

I am not sure this concept of "never forgetting" is a good idea. I know that thousands of people have been affected by the events of 9/11 and so on, but when is it time to heal and get on with our lives?

For the last 11 years, all we have heard about is 9/11 because we were so viciously and suprisingly attacked. However, did it ever occur to anyone that we, too, have viciously and suprisingly attacked other countries as well. Is this our comeuppance?

I am one who hates war, hates any kind of confrontation because I believe there are better ways of settling our problems and differences. Why must I kill you to get your attention? Why must you kill me to make a point? It is time to settle down, love our great country and stop hating those we don't understand or misinterpret.

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ThePilgrim 1 year, 7 months ago

Ignatius makes a great effort to try to show that the attack was politically motivated, by political groups that may not have fared well in the revolution. Democracy is a fickle thing. Parties aren't too happy when the guys you did not expect to win - like the extremists - actually win. Look at Hamas for example. But one thing to think about - the Freedom Fighter goes home to his family after the war is over. The militant revolutionary and terrorist have nothing to go to when the war is won. They live for the fight. So the revolution will always go on.

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ThePilgrim 1 year, 7 months ago

This was a well coordinated attack, on the anniversary of 9/11. It is absolutely amazing that 11 years later we are second guessing something like this. Using this logic we will be denying 9/11 in another 10 years, much like NBC did by showing a Kardashian talking about her breast implants rather than a moment of silence, or at least a morning of remembrance, for 9/11.

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Ray Parker 1 year, 7 months ago

U.S. Marines defending the American embassy in Egypt were not permitted by the State Department to carry live ammunition, limiting their ability to respond to attacks like those this week on the U.S. consulate in Cairo. Uhhh, only a bunch of leftist lunatics would allow our embassies in Muslim countries run by the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood to go completely undefended. When Romney’s elected we’ll surely have our embassies defended by plenty of well-armed Marines with orders to defend our embassies and ambassadors with their very lives. Meanwhile, the Mombasa Marxist has refused to meet with Israeli leader Netanyahu, threatened with Israel’s annihilation by Iran’s nuclear weapons program, instead conducting campaign events, appearing on Letterman, and inviting terrorist Muslim Brotherhood Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi to meet in New York next week. The Mombasa Marxist regime has now lost any chance of reelection, throwing our embassies and ambassadors as well as our best ally Israel under the campaign bus. It was the Mombasa Marxist policies that brought Muslim radicals to power in the Middle East. (You might recall that the leftist news media told us that electing the Mombasa Marxist would make all the Muslims love us, and that the Muslim Brotherhood terrorist takeover of Middle East Muslim nations, dubbed the Arab Spring, would make the Middle East safe for democracy. Ha!)

Chief Lunatic

Chief Lunatic by parkay

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Kate Rogge 1 year, 7 months ago

Ambassador Stevens died as a result of smoke suffocation (carried to a hospital by members of the embassy's Libyan security forces at the beginning of the four hour firefight?), and an aide, Sean Smith, died as well. Does anyone know who the other two embassy dead were, and how they died? I can't find anyplace that identifies all four.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/13/world/middleeast/us-envoy-to-libya-is-reported-killed.html?hp

The U.S. embassy in Yemen was attacked too, which confirms, in my mind, that these were professionally coordinated attacks. What a damn shame that our essential, but fragile, diplomatic relationships with these countries are at risk from the actions of extremists foreign and domestic.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/14/world/middleeast/mideast-turmoil-spreads-to-us-embassy-in-yemen.html?ref=world

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Steven Gaudreau 1 year, 7 months ago

Unlike Carter, Obama is not a wimp. I would assume the current military maneuvers are to get a reaction from Libyan leaders to produce some bodies or we will. I applaud our prez for launching a tactical advance to show we mean business. This act alone will get Obama a nice spike in approval ratings.

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Steven Gaudreau 1 year, 7 months ago

Warships and drones have been dispatched.

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rockchalk1977 1 year, 7 months ago

US foreign aid to Egypt should be stripped from a six-month federal funding bill set for a vote on Thursday. The Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi is a well known 9/11 truther and hater of Israel. Obama phoned Morsi and the president of Libya’s National Assembly, in calls that seemed different in tone, suggesting dissatisfaction with Cairo’s response as opposed to Tripoli’s. Obama “expressed appreciation for the cooperation we have received from the Libyan government”. To Morsi, there was no mention of appreciation.

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Fred Whitehead Jr. 1 year, 7 months ago

There is an article about the attempts by Romney to make political hay and attack Obama in today's print edition. But the management of this newsrag has elected to not post it on the digital edition. This seems to be an effort by management to avoid putting articles that may be derogatory print articles agasinst the Romney/Ryan/Akin/Brownback/Kobach/ Limbaugh regime. Or maybe they do not want us trolls (like me!!) posting derogatory items in this forum against their beloved GOP cohorts..

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buzzed 1 year, 7 months ago

Why hasn't bozo provided some reference material to back up his/her assertion that we've killed thousand times more muslims than they have us?

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JonasGrumby 1 year, 7 months ago

The right-wing extremists are now calling our president "Barack Carter." How unfair! I'm afraid that these Muslims just handed the election to Romney, who, unlike Obama, will not act to promote their interests. What's the matter with the Middle East?

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 7 months ago

I recommend reading the whole piece, but I excerpt the concluding paragraphs

ROBERT FISK http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/the-provocateurs-know-politics-and-religion-dont-mix-8131297.html "The provocateurs know politics and religion don't mix It only takes a couple of loonies a few seconds to kick off a miniature war in the Muslim world"

"Ironically, there is room for a serious discussion among Muslims about, for example, a re-interpretation of the Koran; but Western provocation – and western, alas, it is – closes down such a narrative. Meanwhile, we beat our chests in favour of a ‘free press’. A New Zealand editor once proudly told me how his own newspaper had re-published the cartoon of the Prophet with a bomb-filled turban. But when I asked him if he planned to publish a cartoon of a Rabbi with a bomb on his head next time Israel invaded Lebanon, he hastily agreed with me that this would be anti-Semitic.

There’s the rub, of course. Some things are off limits, and rightly so. Others have no limits at all. Several radio presenters asked me yesterday if the unrest in Cairo and Benghazi may have been timed to “coincide with 9/11”. It simply never occurred to them to ask if the video-clip provocateurs had chosen their date-for-release to coincide with 9/11. "

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Agnostick 1 year, 7 months ago

Ah, the eternal trolling of immature interwebs trolls...

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Flap Doodle 1 year, 7 months ago

Ah, the eternal outrage of the eternally outraged third-world primates.

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buzzed 1 year, 7 months ago

Or immunity from having your representative in said country blown away. A certain segment of our populus still, after all the past 40 year's events, 9/11 being the obvious headliner, that we have a very serious and ongoing problem with radical Islam. I heard a Dem pundit state that Islam is largely peaceful. OK, but even those barely tolerate our values and way of life. There is not now nor will their ever be any love loss from Islam toward the west. Our president doesn't get it any more than Romney does, if not even less.

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buzzed 1 year, 7 months ago

Well OK then. Three cheers for Obama's loop-d-loop stating agreeing with Romney finally yesterday that indeed critics of radical Islam are afforded freedom of speech just like anyone else.

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 7 months ago

The best commentary I've read on this event--

"The tragic consulate killings in Libya and America's hierarchy of human life The murder of American staff over a hate film is an unmitigated wrong. But so are deaths caused by the US that go unremarked"

by Glenn Greenwald

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/12/tragic-consulate-killings-libya

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JonasGrumby 1 year, 7 months ago

This is so unfair to us liberals. When Carter was president, the Muslims burned our embassy to the ground in Pakistan and took hostages at our embassy in Iran. When Clinton was president, al Qaeda blew up two of our embassies, blew up one of our ships, and began planning for 9/11. Now the Muslims have attacked our embassy in Egypt and our consulate in Libya., even though Obama led from behind to remove dictators in those countries. The Libyans even killed our ambassador, which is the first time a U.S. ambassador was killed by terrorists since Adolph Dubs in Afghanistan in 1979. That occurred under Carter.

Democratic presidents have shown that they love and respect Muslims. The right-wing extremists have shown their hatred and racism towards Muslims. So why do they do all these mean things while Democrats are in the White House.

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buzzed 1 year, 7 months ago

Hmmm, two derogatory remarks about Romney but Obama is not mentioned once? Must be some part of sharia law regarding journalism that Ignatius is following. Journalists on a hot mic before a Romney presser further reveal their agenda.

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Abdu Omar 1 year, 7 months ago

All of those who think this is really about America should read this article. If this is correct, we have little to fear.

But the initiating event, that of the film a guy in LA is making about the Prophet Muhammad, is really a tasteless and pointless endeavor aimed at inflaming radicals all over the Muslim world. This is totally unnecessary and foolish. Why gather the ilk of 1.6 billion people? What is the point?

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