How Will US Policy Respond To Wave of Mideast Fury?

Article Summary
Americans must have been shocked by the anti-American protests and attacks on its diplomatic posts over the past week, writes Ibrahim al-Sheikh for Azzaman, believing it helped these countries overthrow their former dictators. How well will its response to the crises protect its interests in the region, and how bad will the storm get?

There is no doubt that the protests and angry reactions to the anti-Islamic film were a shock to the US administration, especially given that they are occurring just before the [US presidential] elections, scheduled to take place in less than two months.

The angry protests in Egypt, the attack on the US embassy, the replacement of the American flag with black banners and the murder of the US ambassador in Libya have served as an opportunity for Washington to reconsider its policies that aim to build ties with Islamic regimes. Washington also ought to review its general policy in the Middle East in light of the changes taking place, for the strategies of yesterday are no longer valid.

Reactions [to the video] took the form of public demonstrations in Libya, Egypt and other Arab countries, which were organized by various Islamic parties. However, Arab states did not issue any official statements condemning the film for fear that such a step could harm their relations with the US.

It seems that the political ties between Arab Spring regimes and the US are safe and sound. It is unlikely that relations between the US and Arab Islamic countries will break down, as the new regimes do not differ from their predecessors in terms of their truces with the US. 

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In the past, had such an incident occurred in Libya or Egypt, ties between these countries and the US would have been severed or strained. However, this did not happen, which emphasizes the strength of ties between these two countries and the US, which has a lot of interests in Libya and Egypt. The US has been looking after its interests in both countries and therefore it will not sabotage these ties.

Washington believes that it has tamed the new regimes and trained them not to harbor anti-American sentiment, through democracy and freedom and by helping them get rid of tyrannical regimes. Washington also believes that it played a significant role in the liberation of these countries, as expressed by Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama in statements concerning the attacks on the US embassy in Libya.

However, in Egypt it is still unclear whether the protests will come to an end or will escalate, as the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists have called for more demonstrations. It is difficult to envision how the situation will end. It is possible that the event will take a violent turn in Egypt and many other Arab countries. This video should not have been released in the first place. Freedom does not mean offending other people’s beliefs.

America’s image has been improving in the Arab world for some time. The Arab people, especially those from countries that have witnessed revolutions, were convinced that the US is helping them depose tyrants. However, the anti-Islamic video has stirred up ill feelings and anger toward the US once again. Muslims feel that religion is a red line that cannot be crossed. It seems that some people have misunderstood the concept of democracy and thought that they could offend the Islamic faith without any consequences.

However, the pertinent question is: Why is it that every now and then there are some people who try to offend Islam and Muslims, whether through cartoons, burning the Koran and now through this video? These disrespectful acts are on the rise because our leaders are being lenient in this matter. As is the case regarding political issues, these leaders are subjected to the will of the West.

Those who have published this video seek to tarnish the image of Islam. They do not respect religious values and are trying to express their hatred for Islam and Arabs in the name of freedom of expression.

Washington, on the other hand, seems confused. It has tried to downplay and contain the incident — internally and externally — so as to thwart protests against it. At the domestic level, the Obama administration is acting wisely, working to ensure that the current situation will not affect the president’s popularity. It is cooperating with the Libyan authorities to find the perpetrators. Also, the American administration is trying to show firmness so as not to be accused by its Republican opponents of being lenient on this issue. The recent events serve as a great opportunity for Romney to highlight gaps in Obama’s policy and to tilt the balance in his favor.

The US has supported dictatorial regimes for many years. It has not paid much heed to the people as long as these regimes have been serving its interests. The US is willing to forge relations with all parties — whether secularists, moderate Islamists and even extremists — as long as it serves US interests. However, is US policy on the right track in light of the changes in the region?

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