The Middle East Channel

Libya makes arrests over U.S. consulate attacks as protests spread

The Libyan government has arrested four people suspected to be connected with Tuesday night's attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. The attack resulted in the death of four U.S. diplomats. U.S. and Libyan officials continue to search for others who might have been involved, and are  investigating the militant fundamentalist group Ansar al Sharia. New information has led U.S. officials to doubt initial assessments that the attack was planned in advance, but rather an opportunistic assault. Authorities released the names of the two people killed in addition to Ambassador Christopher Stevens and Sean Smith. They are Tyrone S. Woods and Glen A. Doherty, both former Navy Seals. Meanwhile, four people were reported killed and an estimated 34 injured in clashes between protesters and police near the U.S. embassy in Yemen's capital Sanaa on Thursday. In Iran, protests outside the Swiss embassy, which handles U.S. interests,  lasted for about two hours and peacefully dispersed. Protests continued in Cairo where demonstrators clashed with Egyptian police, injuring 224 people between the U.S. embassy and Tahrir Square. U.S. President Barack Obama called for Egypt to honor its commitments to protect U.S. diplomats and facilities. Relations between the United States and Egypt have become increasingly tense, and Obama in an interview with Telemundo, "I don't think that we would consider [Egypt] an ally, but we don't consider them an enemy." The United States has put embassies across the Arab world on high alert bracing for demonstrations expected after Friday prayers.

Syria

U.N. and Arab League envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi arrived in Damascus Thursday saying the conflict is worsening. He stated, "We came to Syria to consult with our Syrian brothers. There is a crisis in Syria, and I believe it is getting worse." Brahimi is set to meet with President Bashar al-Assad and opposition representatives on Friday. He is scheduled to meet with a delegation from the opposition National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change (NCCDC), a group of leftists, Kurds, and independent political activists. Meanwhile, heavy clashes were reported in the western and southern regions of Aleppo and outside Damascus. According to an activist, "There is a fresh campaign on the eastern parts of Damascus." Residents of the southern district of Tadamon said the opposition Free Syria Army (FSA) has pulled out of the neighborhood. One resident said, "Any house that had any link to the Free Syrian Army has been destroyed." And residents said the army threatened to destroy the remaining houses if the FSA is allowed to reenter. Increased sectarian violence is being reported between Shiite and Sunni communities, and the conflict is causing regional divisions along sectarian lines.

Headlines  

  • The United Nation's International Atomic Energy Agency has passed a resolution rebuking Iran for its nuclear development program.
  • Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Lebanon's capital Beirut on Friday amid regional unrest.
  • Turkish forces have reportedly killed 75 Kurdish militants in weeklong clashes along the Iraqi and Iranian borders in Hakkari province.

Arguments and Analysis 

The U.S.-Egypt Relationship Needs Therapy, Not a Divorce' (Nathan Brown, The New Republic)

"It's important to note that Egypt's domestic political process is actually surviving the rhetorical race to the gutter. A new constitution is being written; civilian control of the military is slowly evolving; and the new president has used his temporary dictatorial powers both sparingly and wisely.

But the country's foreign relations may have suffered a blow with the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. The attack itself that will cause problems for Egypt's diplomacy; foreign audiences that learned to cheer for Egyptian crowds last year will now learn again to fear them. An even greater problem will be caused, however, by the slow and quirky official Egyptian reaction to the violence done by the demonstrators."

‘‘Our Condolences,' the Muslim Brotherhood Says' (Khairat el-Shater, New York Times letter to the editor)

"Despite our resentment of the continued appearance of productions like the anti-Muslim film that led to the current violence, we do not hold the American government or its citizens responsible for acts of the few that abuse the laws protecting freedom of expression.

In a new democratic Egypt, Egyptians earned the right to voice their anger over such issues, and they expect their government to uphold and protect their right to do so. However, they should do so peacefully and within the bounds of the law."

Manipulated Outrage and Misplaced Fury' (Husain Haqqani, The Wall Street Journal)

"The attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions this week-beginning in Egypt and Libya, and moving to Yemen and other Muslim countries-came under cover of riots against an obscure online video insulting Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. But the mob violence and assaults should be seen for what they really are: an effort by Islamists to garner support and mobilize their base by exacerbating anti-Western sentiments.

When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to calm Muslims Thursday by denouncing the video, she was unwittingly playing along with the ruse the radicals set up. The United States would have been better off focusing on the only outrage that was of legitimate interest to the American government: the lack of respect-shown by a complaisant Egyptian government and other Islamists-for U.S. diplomatic missions."

--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey 

MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images

The Middle East Channel

Yemenis attack the U.S. embassy in protest over an anti-Islamist video

Hundreds of Yemenis have stormed the U.S. embassy in the capital of Sanaa a day after attacks spread through Libya and Egypt over a video seen as offensive to Islam. The protesters breached the embassy compound in Sanaa, but were driven back when Yemeni troops fired guns into the air and used water cannon and tear gas. It is unclear if the embassy was occupied at the time of the attack; reports say the staff had already been evacuated. Clashes outside the U.S. embassy in Cairo continued into Thursday where 16 people were reported injured overnight, 13 of whom were security forces. Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi called for calm, saying he condemned all who insult the prophet Muhammad, but "it is our duty to protect our guests and visitors from abroad." Unrest was also reported in Iran, Morocco, Sudan, Iraq, and Tunisia, while a small protest took place in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Evidence has surfaced that has led officials to believe the attack in Benghazi may have been planned by a militant group. U.S. President Barack Obama said he will work with the Libyan authorities to bring those responsible for the attack in Benghazi, which killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three staff members, to justice. Meanwhile, there is much ambiguity over the film that spurred the violence. The film's 14-minute trailer was posted to YouTube, but has since been blocked in several Muslim countries. Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a Coptic Christian living near Los Angeles, has admitted to the Associated Press that he was involved in the production of the film.

Syria

The new U.N. and Arab league envoy to Syria, Lakdhar Brahimi, has arrived in Damascus for his first visit since taking the post. He is scheduled to meet with President Bashar al-Assad, members of the Syrian opposition, and civil society figures. Brahimi assumed the position after Kofi Annan resigned out of frustration in August. Brahimi told the Arab League "he was approaching the crisis in Syria with his eyes open and the full knowledge that it was an extremely difficult task." Violent clashes have continued across Syria with a government airstrike on the country's second largest city of Aleppo, which killed an estimated 11 people according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. In some accounts, hospitals seem to be directly targeted in Aleppo. The staff at one hospital said it had been bombed at least four times. Much of the hospital is now unusable, and a medical student there said it is unsafe for patients to stay there. He said, "We treat them and then they must immediately go somewhere else." A doctor in the town of Al-Bab, about 25 miles northeast of Aleppo, said his hospital had been hit so many times that they moved it to a secret location. Many doctors are leaving Syria, fearing they face reprisals from the Assad regime for treating wounded opposition forces. Additionally, Syrian forces reportedly raided the home of former member of parliament Ahmad al-Turk, killing him and arresting his son.

Headlines  

  • United States trained engineer, Mustafa Abu Shagur, was elected by Libya's national congress as the new prime minister, narrowly beating out wartime rebel premier Mahmoud Jibril.
  • British Foreign Secretary William Hague has arrived in Baghdad, expressing Britain's commitment to the political process and vowing to help Iraq on its "path to stability."
  • Former Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif under Mubarak has been sentenced to three years in jail for appropriating state property and embezzling public funds.

Arguments & Analysis 

The politics of outrage is still an irresistible temptation' (Issandr El Amrani, The National)

"One of the hopes - for me at least - of the Arab uprisings is that they will lead to a qualitative change in the substance of Arab politics. I mean this not just in the sense that undemocratic regimes will be undone, replaced by real politics with real stakes and rotation of power. I also mean that I hope the uprisings can short-circuit some old tropes of regional politics, about identity, wounded pride and angry impotence.

Alas, this week's embassy protests and senseless killings show there is still much farther to go."

Despite everything, Libya's still a success' (The Economist)

"The murder of Christopher Stevens, the American ambassador to Libya, along with three of his colleagues at his consulate in Benghazi, Libya's second city, was not an isolated instance of violence directed against Westerners since the fall of Muammar Qaddafi's regime nearly a year ago. In the past few months the British ambassador's convoy on a visit to Benghazi has been attacked. So have the offices of the Red Cross and the UN in that city, the cradle of the Libyan revolution. The perpetrators of all those crimes were thought to be Salafists espousing an extreme fundamentalist version of Islam that harks back to the days of the Prophet Muhammad.

...Yet there has also been remarkable progress, especially on the political front, in the months since the death of Qaddafi on October 20th. On September 12th the newly elected General National Congress, a proto-parliament, elected Mustafa Abushagur, a secular-minded electrical engineering professor previously based in California who had been in exile for 31 years, as prime minister. He is expected in a few weeks to appoint Libya's first-ever democratically chosen government. Another body, whose method of selection is unclear, will write a constitution. A full-fledged parliament is to be elected within 18 months. These steady advances have been achieved with surprisingly little discord and much satisfaction after decades of tyranny. The mood in the country is still overwhelmingly hopeful."

Neocon Gambits' (David Remnick, The New Yorker)

"It is hard to overestimate the risks that Benjamin Netanyahu poses to the future of his own country. As Prime Minister, he has done more than any other political figure to embolden and elevate the reactionary forces in Israel, to eliminate the dwindling possibility of a just settlement with the Palestinians, and to isolate his country on the world diplomatic stage. Now Netanyahu seems determined, more than ever, to alienate the President of the United States and, as an ally of Mitt Romney's campaign, to make himself a factor in the 2012 election-one no less pivotal than the most super Super PAC. "Who are you trying to replace?" the opposition leader, Shaul Mofaz, asked of Netanyahu in the Knesset on Wednesday. "The Administration in Washington or that in Tehran?""

--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey 

AFP/Getty Images