Analysis: Cairo = Benghazi: The writing on the wall

The attacks in Benghazi and Cairo did not come out of the blue. There had been warnings.

Protesters in front of the US embassy in Cairo 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Protesters in front of the US embassy in Cairo 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Two American representations in the Middle East were assaulted on the very day America marked the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks which saw more than 3,000 people murdered.
In September 2001, then-US president George. W. Bush declared war on Islamic terror.
That war is still ongoing under President Barack Obama, who now uses drones to target al-Qaida terrorists in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. His efforts culminated with the killing of Osama bin Laden last year.
Yet while operations continued on the ground, an ideological sea change was taking place in the White House. Obama appeared determined to woo Arab and Islamic nations – witness his Ankara and Cairo speeches. He went as far as to distort American history to praise what he called the contribution of Islam to the development and progress of the United States – and went a step further when he asserted that there was no Islamic terrorism and that the United States was fighting “criminals” of an unspecified nature.
US Army manuals no longer mentioned Islamic terrorism; neither did those of the CIA and other security organizations.
This at a time when terrorists and terrorist organizations were proclaiming daily that they were working in the name of Islam and that their objective was to topple democracy, their principal enemy.
Now isn’t America the standard bearer of democracy today? Which begs the question: How can you fight a determined and fanatic enemy such as Islamic terrorism while ignoring its nature and its aims? On the one hand, fighting “anonymous” terrorists in Arab and Islamic countries, on the other, making an all out effort to appease the proponents of the very Islamic ideology which gave birth to this murderous terrorism.
The dramatic outcome of the attacks in Benghazi and Cairo are to a large extent the result of this ambiguity. Obama apparently believed that through his dialogue with the Muslim Brothers, his support of the move to topple Hosni Mubarak and NATO’s contribution to the downfall of Muammar Gaddafi, he was protecting America against terrorist attacks.
He is blind to the fact that Islam is fighting the values of democracy and America which is a symbol of pluralism, freedom of expression, equality for women, freedom of religion and more. Otherwise, how can one explain that there was no tightening of security in every American representative legation in the world, and specifically in Arab countries, on the anniversary of 9/11? It is well known that the anniversary of a terrorist attack is often the occasion for new attacks. For Israel such days always see reinforced security in strategic points and embassies around the globe.
The attacks in Benghazi and Cairo did not come out of the blue. There had been warnings.
On September 10, the Egyptian daily Al-Fajr published a communiqué signed by several jihadist organizations such as Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Gamaa Islamiya and others, announcing that they were going to set fire to the American Embassy in Cairo and to capture whoever remained alive if the United States did not release all the jihadists jailed in Guantanamo as well as the blind Sheikh Abdel Rahman, spiritual leader of the Gamaa Islamiya and the man who gave his blessing to the Anwar Sadat assassination in 1981 as well as to the first attack on the Twin Towers in 1991, who is serving a life sentence in the States.
If that information appeared in the press, the intelligence services of Egypt and of the United States must have known more details.
That is not all. On the morning of the 11th, further communiqués received by public institutions indicated that after 5 p.m. that day there would be a demonstration against the American Embassy to protest against a hitherto unknown film insulting the prophet produced in the United States probably by Copts who had migrated there to flee persecution at home. Yet even this new communiqué did not bring about a tightening of security round the place. In any case, why didn’t Obama call President Mohamed Morsy to ask for added protection, and why didn’t Morsy do so as a matter of course? Then when the demonstration started, security forces did not put much of a fight and let protesters scale the walls and take down the Stars and Stripes, which they defiled and burned and in its stead raised the Salafis’ black flag.
It was not so long ago that the young Egyptian who had done the same to the flag of Israel during the infamous assault on the Israeli Embassy (on September 9, 2011) had been made into a hero and covered with praise...
Benghazi was worse. The consulate burned to the ground and four Americans were murdered, among them the ambassador, a dedicated friend of the Libyan people, who was visiting Libya’s second city. It since became clear that this had been a well-prepared attack not necessarily connected to the film. Heavy weapons, including rocket-propelled grenades, were used. It is difficult to believe that Libyan authorities and their informants – and American intelligence services – were unaware of what was going on.
Perhaps it was Obama’s blindness which prevented him from ordering that all American institutions abroad be reinforced on September 11 and from liaising with local security forces. In fact, the Libyan vice minister of the interior, when reporting on the attack and the murder of the ambassador, blamed the Americans, somewhat disingenuously, for not having taking the necessary steps to protect the building and to provide for an escape route.
The American Embassy in Cairo, which knew of the planned demonstration, hastened to condemn those who had made the film which was the apparent reason for that demonstration. So did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who later declared with pathos that she could not understand how Libyans could murder her ambassador after all America had done to help them get rid of Gaddafi. Once again, no understanding of Islam and its objectives.
Obama berated the filmmakers at length, after condemning the murder of the ambassador and swearing that he would cooperate with Libyan authorities to catch “the criminals.”
It seems as if there were more condemnations for the film than for the attackers, though it is far from clear that it was the real reason behind the attack. Freedom of expression is enshrined in the American constitution, yet American leaders were apologizing to terrorists who had attacked them, as if they were acknowledging that America itself was guilty of the creation of the film! America’s apologies did not help. The fire spread all over the Arab/Muslim world. American embassies, institutions and even shops were attacked in many countries.
This was also a show of force by the Salafi and jihadist organizations to embarrass the new regimes of the Muslim Brothers which need more time to strike root, and indeed the security forces in Cairo and Tunis were slow to react.
It soon became clear, however, that the attacks in Cairo and Benghazi were part of a new wave of anti-American hatred. It very much looks like a worldwide “pogrom” intended to instill fear in the hearts of the “infidels” of the West and to tell them bluntly, ‘Don’t mess with us.’ It is indeed a sad day for all those who believed that an Arab Spring would bring Arab nations closer to democracy and progress. The opposite happened. Liberal and democratic values are still foreign to Islamic and Arab traditions.
Today the Arab world is turning to religious dictatorships; the Muslim Brothers and other Islamic trends such as the Salafis are dragging it toward extremism and instability.
What remains to be seen is how the West will react – and more important, what America will do. Obama said on Wednesday that Egypt was no longer America’s friend – perhaps the first step toward a painful awakening.
The writer, a Fellow of The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden