Editorial: Despairing of democracy
Neither Bush nor Obama has succeeded in overcoming Arab resentment and hatred of the West.
Egyptians protest at US embassy. Photo: Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters
The wave of violent, senseless and deadly assaults on US legations in the region
in recent days elicits a deep sense of disappointment, even despair. A decade of
attempts by a series of American administrations and a handful of Western
countries to combat Islamic extremism and to promote democracy in the region
appears to have achieved nothing.
On September 11, 11 years to the day
since murderous Islamic terrorists shocked the world by staging the most deadly
attack on US soil ever, the Islamists struck again.
In Benghazi, the
attack on the consulate left Ambassador to Libya J. Christopher Stevens and
three additional US diplomats dead. In Cairo, protesters scaled the walls of the
US Embassy, pulled down the American flag and tried to raise a black flag with
the words “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his
Rabidly anti-American Muslim clerics, such as Muhammad
al-Zawahiri, who led the demonstrations in Cairo, claimed the unrest was sparked
by a contentious and denigrating video of the Prophet Muhammad called Innocence
of Muslims. But the amateurish video, promoted by a network of right-wing
Christians, which depicts Muhammad as “a homosexual son of undetermined
patrimony,” was at most an additional factor exploited to incite
well-orchestrated attacks on the US legations. This was particularly true in
Besides the telltale date, the assailants were well-armed; they
knew the US ambassador was in Benghazi; they knew how to track him. This was no
spontaneous protest against an obscure video.
The attack in Benghazi
seems to send out the message that even when the US does the right thing –
joining a coalition of Western countries in helping the Libyan people free
themselves from their hated dictator – hatred for America and all it stands for
Adding to the tragedy is the fact that Stevens, the US
ambassador killed in the attack, was an idealistic and highly skilled diplomat
who began his work in Libya in the early days of the revolution as an envoy to
the rebel opposition. He managed to build relationships with Libya’s various
revolutionary groups and truly believed in the power of democracy to improve
Libyans’ lives. If Stevens failed, it is difficult to imagine who could possibly
succeed in shepherding Libya toward democracy.
Libya’s saving grace was
the broad-based opposition to the attack. Even Salafi groups have reportedly
condemned the killing, and other Islamist organizations have distanced
themselves from the rogue elements said to have carried out the violence,
inviting Libya’s militias to hunt them down and bring them to
Unfortunately, the situation in Egypt is different. President
Mohamed Morsy did say that the attacks on American personnel were
“unacceptable.” But that was 24 hours after the fact. And in the same televised
address while visiting Brussels, Morsy, referring to the video, warned against
maligning Islam’s founding prophet. “The Prophet Muhammad and Islamic sanctities
are red lines for all of us,” he said.
Meanwhile, Egypt’s ruling Muslim
Brotherhood has called for a continuation of the demonstrations against the
Morsy and the Muslim Brotherhood are, apparently, ungrateful to the
US for the $2 billion a year in aid it receives, making it the second-largest
recipient of American aid after Israel. Nor do they seem to appreciate that it was US President Barack Obama who called on
the Egyptian military to quickly hand over power to the democratically elected
civilian government – a move that helped Morsy assume power.
In the years
that followed the September 11, 2001, attacks, president George W. Bush tried to
win Arab publics by promoting democracy. Obama has opted for a policy of
deference, respect and engagement. But despite the trillions of dollars and the
thousands of American lives lost in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere to advance
their respective policies, neither Bush nor Obama has succeeded in overcoming
Arab resentment and hatred of the West. This is a sobering lesson to be taught
on September 11, 2012.