It seems as if the world is talking about the violence and protests in the Middle East. With so much news flying around, it can be difficult to make sense of what is going on.
The protests in Libya received the most initial focus, due to the tragic deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. The cause for this attack was first attributed to an offensive anti-Islamic video that had been hosted on YouTube. However, reports have recently surfaced that suggest otherwise.
The assault was not a chaotic protest gone wild. At some point, there was a small group of armed men who broke into the consulate compound and used rocket-propelled grenades to set the building on fire. Although Ambassador Stevens may not have been the target, several important documents with confidential information were taken from the embassy prior to the fire.
Multiple US and Libyan officials believe the attack was planned in advance. Mohammed al-Megaryef, Libya’s assembly chief, said this:
“I don’t want to talk about what happened in other countries but as for Libya, the operation was meticulously executed… There was planning. It was not a peaceful protest which degenerated into an armed attack or aggression. That’s how it was planned.”
Libyan President Mohamed Yousef El-Magariaf, also feels the protest was premeditated,
“It was planned, definitely, it was planned by foreigners, by people who entered the country a few months ago, and they were planning this criminal act since their arrival.”
Al-Qaeda leaders have stated their support. Prior to the attack, Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri also issued videos commanding followers to “fight and kill the crusaders.” It seems rather ironic that the attack on the embassy in Libya coincided with the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Susan Rice, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, directly contradicted those statements, still claiming the attack was a result of a protest against the video that began in Egypt,
“We believe that folks in Benghazi, a small number of people came to the embassy to – or to the consulate, rather, to replicate the sort of challenge that was posed in Cairo. And then as that unfolded, it seems to have been hijacked, let us say, by some individual clusters of extremists who came with heavier weapons… And it then evolved from there.”
It is worth remembering that both sides have incentives to exaggerate. The Libyan officials obviously want to spin the attack as coming from “foreigners” to avoid blame. On the other hand, Ambassador Rice wants to make the attack seem unforeseeable. What is clear is that the “challenge” in Cairo that Ambassador Rice speaks of was violent, contrary to a previous quote by Lariat Reporter Jessica Chia,
“Protestors in Egypt responded to the film nonviolently, by removing the U.S. flag from the embassy in Cairo.”
The Egyptian protesters were actually quite violent (as Ambassador Rice says in her statement). They scaled the walls of the embassy, stormed the courtyard, tore down the American flag, set it on fire to the cheers of the crowd, and hoisted up a militant Islamic flag instead. Over the next few days, the protesters clashed repeatedly with police and security forces that had to use tear gas, resulting in over 200 arrests.
These protests in Egypt were finally condemned by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy after more than a day of silence.
The protests in Egypt were clearly an extreme reaction to the anti-Islam film. However, the attack in Libya seems to have a different motivation - a deliberate attack plan carried out against the United States, masked as a protest against an offensive video.
A variation of this article was originally published in the Baylor Lariat on 9/18/12.