In the past 24 hours, protesters scaled the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and militants orchestrated a brutal attack on the American consulate in Benghazi. In a video today on CFR.org (below and here), I discuss the protests in Egypt and the deplorable terrorist act in Libya that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Though the uproar in both places is ostensibly linked to an incendiary film that disparages Islam, the underlying causes in each place are considerably different. Religious sentiment and tensions fueled the fairly peaceful protests in Egypt, but in Libya a heavily-armed terrorist group supportive of al-Qaeda executed what seemed to be a well-planned attack perhaps timed to coincide with the 9/11 anniversary. The protests against the film were likely an additional subterfuge.
Despite everything that’s happened, the full impact of the film is yet to be seen. As I write on CNN.com today:
The tragic violence in Libya and the unrest in Egypt raise the stakes on long simmering tensions and issues. While debates over free speech and the role of religion in society have defined the Egyptian political scene in recent months, religious frictions between Egyptian Coptic Christians and Muslims are now at an important inflection point. The association of an Egyptian Copt with the offensive video is sure to inflame those tensions. In Libya, the violence is yet another indication of competing visions for the future of the country which despite a successful national election in July have not been resolved.
If history is anything to go by, we can expect difficult weeks ahead as protests against the video spread and likely erupt into violence in other places. In a notorious case beginning in 2005, cartoons negatively depicting Prophet Mohammed, published in a Danish newspaper, sparked uproar from Indonesia to Afghanistan to Morocco. At least 200 people lost their lives in unrest related to that controversy. How much momentum the current video controversy generates will depend in no small on part on whether Islamic leaders in Egypt and other countries call for restraint or choose to fan the flames.
You can read the full article here.