Friday, 14 September 2012

Violent protests challenge recovery in Libya and Egypt

The United States has dispatched two warships and a Marine unit to bulk up protection in Libya following violent protests in the country.

An attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi September 12 killed four staff members including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens.

Senior officials in U.S. President Barack Obama's administration said a 50-member Marine unit from the Fleet Antiterrorism Security Team is being flown from its base in Europe and that two U.S. warships, the USS Laboon and the USS McFaul, are being redeployed to the Libyan coast.

The FBI has opened an investigation into the deaths of the four Americans, according to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said on September 13 in a press release.

Earlier on September 13, United States President Barak Obama both condemned the attack and promised to bring the perpetrators to justice. His condemnation has been echoed in the European Union and Russia.

The consulate attack in Libya is one in a string of recent, and ongoing violent protests around the world. The protests, so far isolated to majority Muslim countries, are reacting to a controversial anti-Islam video released earlier in the summer.

Large demonstrations in Morocco, Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt, Iraq, and the Palestinian territories have turned violent. Other demonstrations are being planned across the world in Zambia, Malaysia, India, Sudan, Kuwait, and Indonesia.

The controversial video reportedly insulting the Muslim prophet Mohammed has angered Salafist groups throughout the Arab world.

Created by an Israeli-American director, the short film was supported by the controversial Florida-based Christian pastor Terry Jones

More protests are beginning elsewhere in the Middle East. Close to 200 people in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli on September 13 protested the anti-Islam film.

The Lebanese protesters burned U.S. flags, chanting "God is great" and carried banners with "There is no God but God, and Mohammed is his prophet."

According to sources on the ground in Tripoli Lebanese security forces have been heavily set up, even though the number of protesters is small.

The current spike in protests reflects the response in 2005 to the Danish Mohammed cartoons. Those protests killed multiple people.

The Libyan demonstrations are important for who conducted them. The relatively peaceful protests in Egypt will test Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi’s new government just as much as his Libyan counterparts in Tripoli.

Benghazi is a strong Salafist city in the East of Libya. During last year’s unrest it was the heart of the anti-Gadhafi movement.

700 dusty kilometres away in Tripoli the country’s national congress picked Mustafa Abu Shagour, the current deputy prime minister, as the country's next prime minister. Abu Shagour succeeded over former Libyan National Transitional Council foreign affairs chief Mahmoud Jibril by only two votes.

The attack in Benghazi will raise serious questions for the new government in Tripoli.

The country is already struggling to unify the disparate and belligerent tribes that patchwork the nation. A growing jihadist presence in Benghazi is not being contained and may serve to strike deeper divisions in the war-torn country.

While the Middle East and North Africa is experiencing unprecedented civil upheavals, their move toward democracy has not been straightforward.

The Islamic parties coming to power from Egypt, Tunisia and Libya are trying to balance a new-found freedom of speech and a conservative interpretation of Islamic beliefs.

If the violent protests continue to spread across the region, it could undermine the attempts to rebuild struggling economies. The unrest of the Arab Spring has not cooled in many places and stability is tenuous at best.

The attack on the U.S. Embassy raises questions about how well protected the building’s staff really was. The assailants reportedly entered the compound easily and moved unimpeded from building to building.

The infusion of more military personnel will likely deter any follow-on attacks in Libya but a serious review of embassy security will likely be underway in Washington.

Many governments have issued travel warnings to the Middle East and other majority Islamic countries.

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