Editorial: Despairing of democracy

Neither Bush nor Obama has succeeded in overcoming Arab resentment and hatred of the West.

Egyptians protest at US embassy 390 (photo credit: Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters)
Egyptians protest at US embassy 390
(photo credit: 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 Prophet.”
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 Benghazi.
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 remains unchanged.
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 justice.
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 US.
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.