With the hangover of the Arab Spring manifesting itself in violence aimed at several U.S. embassies, the Middle East should be called the "Muddle East," said Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress at an AEI event on Friday. Despite the violence, which earlier this week resulted in the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, the U.S. needs to stay in the game, Katulis advised.
Katulis joined Hisham Melham of Al Arabiya news channel and AEI's Danielle Pletka to discuss the larger implications of this week's protests, ostensibly over a video produced in the U.S. that negatively portrays the Prophet Mohammad. Melham argued that the protests are not about a video. "It's all about politics," he said, and claimed it is unfortunate that the U.S. apologizes "every time an idiot holds up a camera."
Melham added that it is not the job of the U.S. president to try to reassure the Middle East region that Islam is a great religion, and he warned that the region will need years — in fact, probably decades — to learn how to make democracy work. He said it will not happen if most people in the region continue to discriminate among women, minorities and political opponents.
Katulis concluded that it is critical that the U.S. encourage those with a strong desire for pluralism to take leading roles. He and Pletka agreed that America's foreign aid dollars give the country substantial leverage, but said the U.S. cannot go back to propping up authoritarians. Aid is "not a check we write to our guy," Pletka said.
On the anniversary of 9/11, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo issued a statement condemning a YouTube video that depicts the prophet Mohammed in a derogatory way. Possibly attempting to stave off planned protests, the statement – an apology to Muslims for “efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims” – failed to persuade, and in the ensuing hours a mob attacked the embassy, burned the U.S. flag and tried to raise al-Qaeda's in its stead. Hours later, radicals in Libya attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, killing the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three members of his staff. Subsequent reports indicate the attacks may have been coordinated.
Is extremism going to be the hallmark of the new Middle East, post–Arab Spring? Or are these attacks an aberration? Is the United States doing all it can to marginalize terrorists and extremists in the Arab world’s new governments? Join AEI for a timely panel discussion on this week’s attacks.