Radicals spur unrest in Egypt, Libya

September 13, 2012


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.     


Abdu Omar 5 years, 8 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?

Majestic42 5 years, 8 months ago

See: Flight of the Conchords. "You're too easily offended." "I can't believe you just said that!"

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 8 months ago

Obama may deserve some criticism for the level of security that was provided for consulate officials in LIbya, but as has been pointed out may times, the host country is responsible for providing security for consulates and embassies-- otherwise, they are military bases, not diplomatic posts.

Romney, on the other hand, has shown complete tone deafness with respect to foreign affairs in his desperation to find some sort of political RPG to fire at Obama.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 8 months ago

As Ignatius rightly points out, these attacks are driven primarily by local politics-- anti-Americanism is merely a convenient pretext. And those who were participating in these attacks have no idea what the differences between the two major American parties are, or aren't.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 8 months ago

There's a good deal of anti-Americanism in the Middle East. But that merely drove the choice of targets in these particular attacks. The major motivator is still local politics.

Abdu Omar 5 years, 8 months ago

Jonas Grumby you are a fool. Muslims didn't do any of what you suggest; terrorists did them. There is a big difference and that is the whole reason there are people trying to make films that make Muslims look bad. A handful of people who call themselves Muslims is not the whole of the Muslims population. PERIOD. I am tired of being blamed for something I knew nothing about and would try like hell to stop had I knew about it. If you want to blame all Christians for the acts of Timmothy Mc Vey or Adolf Hitler, I will let you by with your foolish, insensitive and way off remarks.

booyalab 5 years, 8 months ago

"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."

OK, I will try to explain this carefully as thinking is obviously not your strong suit. But 1. Obama has started more wars than Bush, unfortunately the wars and his aid have helped the wrong people get power 2. Neither Carter nor Clinton showed "love and respect". Carter's response to the Iran crisis was doing nothing while thousands were murdered and others taken hostage, and Clinton hit a camel in the butt with a cruise missile. If ineffective action is what passes for love and respect, no wonder the terrorists walk all over Democratic presidents.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 8 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


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 8 months ago

No one ever said that people don't have the right of free speech. But freedom of speech doesn't mean immunity from criticism for what gets said.

fiddleback 5 years, 8 months ago

No loop-de-loop since Obama never suggested otherwise. The maligned Cairo press release was the unauthorized work of a man named Larry Shcwartz. http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/09/12/inside_the_public_relations_disaster_at_the_cairo_embassy

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 8 months ago

The US kills hundreds, if not thousands, times more Muslims that the other way around.

Do we do that so that they'll like us?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 8 months ago

"And you meant than. Please use your edit feature."

You may obsess over typos-- I don't. I was merely pointing out that if you find a typo soon enough, there is now an edit feature.

Aside from self defense, there is no reason to kill anybody, Muslim or otherwise. And the vast majority of Muslims that the US has killed were not a matter of self defense.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 8 months ago

Point taken. That said, the number of Muslims killed by Americans is many times more than the reverse, and the US has occupied (still occupies) Muslim countries, while the reverse has never happened.

Extreme hypocrisy doesn't make for good foreign policy.

Abdu Omar 5 years, 8 months ago

American forces bombed Iraq into submission and the ending result of embargo against them killed more than 600,000. The insuing war killed over a million and a half and still counting. Then there is Afghanistan. How many women and children, old men and non-combatants have been killed there? You are one sided Jonas Grumby and your hate for others is obvious. We don't want wars in our country, but everytime there is something different, when the Irish come, the Chinese, the catholics, the jews, the Poles the American people seem to want to put them down, blame them for all the problems.

Muslims are people, they worship the Creator, God, and try to live in a peaceful and harmonious way in the USA. Some of us are veterans and some are dead heroes. What more do you want of Muslim blood?

Muslims didn't kill 3000 on 9/11; terrorists did and all Muslims are against that, trying to stop others from doing things like that again and you and your ilk come out and blast us for what the terrorists did. Stop it and look at the facts instead of listening to those who are against us.

gbulldog 5 years, 8 months ago

It is not safe to respond to these type to comments as do want to have me are my family attacked. But we forwarded, if a Muslim attacks me, or any other person, I will not roll over and play day. I will arm my self, lubricate my weapons with bacon grease and defend my self.

Their are many good Musilms good Christions, and other religious believers that have immigrated to the USA to avoid tyrany. I know many Muslims, have worked with them, and have high respect for them. Radically Muslims is just an excuse to gain power. If they were a devout Muslim and followed the Koran, the political situations between the the USA and Muslim would not exist and neither would radical Muslim.

MarcoPogo 5 years, 8 months ago

It's spelled "populous"; use your edit feature.

Flap Doodle 5 years, 8 months ago

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

Pastor_Bedtime 5 years, 8 months ago

Primates? They are just as human as you ~ and a bit more evolved, it seems, considering your poor choice as words.

Flap Doodle 5 years, 8 months ago

Homo sapiens are in the primate order. My choice of words was as correct as your assumption is wrong.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 8 months ago

But you'd never use that term to refer to white Republicans, would you?

Paul R Getto 5 years, 8 months ago

Wish we had come up through the gorilla line instead of the chimps. Gorillas seem more civilized. The third chimp is nasty at times.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 8 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. "

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 8 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 8 months ago

Staff must have agreed with my comment to the now disappeared poster.

Abdu Omar 5 years, 8 months ago

YOU are the matter in the middle east. Stay the hell away!

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 8 months ago

When 9/11 is taken into consideration, that is not accurate.

But the fact remains that even including 9/11, we've killed many times more Muslims than vice-versa. Do you dispute that? How many more do we need to kill before you're satisfied? All of them?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 8 months ago

This orphan post was in reply to the disappeared poster.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 5 years, 8 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..

Kate Rogge 5 years, 8 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.


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.


Kate Rogge 5 years, 8 months ago

I should have read all of that second article before posting:

"In addition, the third of those four victims was positively identified by his family as Glen Doherty, 42, of Winchester, Mass., a former Navy SEAL working as a security officer. Mr. Doherty died along with the American ambassador to Libya. J. Christopher Stevens, and another diplomat, Sean Smith. The fourth American has not yet been identified. "

ThePilgrim 5 years, 8 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.

ThePilgrim 5 years, 8 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.

Abdu Omar 5 years, 8 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.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 8 months ago

Wounded, I agree with you completely. There can be no justification for hating all Muslims. Flying planes into our buildings, blowing up our Marine barracks in Beirut, attacking our embassies during the Clinton administration, and again, now. None of those incidents can justify hating all Muslims. There can never be sufficient justification. Never.

However, I would like to point out that in a conversation a month or two ago, you suggested I seek the answers to why Europe so hated the Jews that periods of rage boiled over into violence, culminating with the Holocaust. Your clear suggestion was that such justification was possible and that I should seek the answers. When I told you then, as I am saying clearly now, that no justification could possibly exist, your response was dead silence.

Whether or not you respond to this post, I hope you will take my message to heart. There can never be any justification for the hatred of all of any group, any religion, any ethnicity. Never. Never again.

Abdu Omar 5 years, 8 months ago

jhawkins, I agreed with you then and do now. What I was referring to was that the Jews in germany were destroying the economy and they were denying non-Jews the right to free enterprise. This is according to post WW II writers I have read. So, this was the NAZIs reason to kill Jews. I don't believe that all Jews were involved if this story is correct but somehow all Jews were blamed, just like Muslims are blamed for the actions of a few terrorists. That was my point.

jhawkinsf 5 years, 8 months ago

Sounds like your source for your information was along the same lines of "The Elders of Zion". You'd be surprised at some of the rubbish I see about your people. I would encourage you not to believe such rubbish, as I choose not to believe the text of the movie that has started this latest wave of violence.

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