A tide of Anti-American rallies swept across the Arab world on September 12-14, with the biggest of them – in Libya, Egypt, and Yemen – involving violent attacks on US diplomatic missions. The Muslims' outrage was prompted by the publication on YouTube, evidently in sync with the anniversary of the September 11 drama, of "Innocence of Muslims", a film containing a crude depiction of Prophet Mohammed along with statements like “Islam is cancer”. The film's author who identifies himself as Sam Bacile, and Israeli-American, says he a priori pursued a political objective and intended to expose the corrosive impact of Islam. Alliterative accounts trace the movie back to different producers, leaving a distinct impression that its creation was conceived as a provocation from the outset.
US ambassador, an embassy staff member, and two security officers were killed and a dozen of Libyan servicemen – wounded in Benghazi, Libya, when Muslim protesters stormed and seized the local US consulate. Intense gunfire and launches of rocket-propelled grenades during the outbreak of violence left the consulate building severely damaged and ablaze. While Libyan parliament speaker Mohammed Yousef al Magariaf apologized to the US over what had happened, credible reports in the media said that the attackers were members of the February 17 Brigade and Ansar al-Sharia, two hardline Islamist groups with records of fighting in the ranks of the anti-Gaddafi “rebels”. Regardless of the accounts, the Libyan administration is trying to shift the blame for the incident on the supporters of Gaddafi, though spokesman for Libya's supreme security committee Abdel-Monem Al-Hurr had to admit that it could be linked to the release of the notorious movie.
Anti-American rallies raged for days in Cairo, Egypt, where protesters clashed with police at the Tahrir Square and the US embassy came under siege. Egyptians managed to replace the US flag on top of the embassy with a banner marked with a quotation from Quran, a symbol widely known to be employed by Al Qaeda. The embassy walls were covered with graffiti expressing anti-American sentiments and praising Al Qaeda.
Central to the context is the fact that the tide of anti-Americanism is a symbolic development which marks the collapse of the entire US Middle Eastern policy. Attempts to write off the unfolding anti-US protests as narrowly explained by a reaction to the provocative movie sound helpless, considering that caricatures mocking Prophet Mohammed, books loaded with criticisms of Islam, and movies congenial to ”Innocence of Islam” are nothing new. The latest round of anti-American protests erupted exactly in the countries transformed in the course of the Arab Spring which bulldozed the former secular regimes and propelled the respective forces of politicized Islam to power. The US contributed crucial assistance to the transitions but, as it transpires, remains the number one enemy for the Islamist beneficiaries. The simple truth was highlighted by the cruel killing of the US ambassador in Benghazi, the city with a reputation of an anti-Gaddafi stronghold.
Libya's new administration clearly lacks a grip on the country while the heavily armed tribal clans across the country – mostly radical Muslims and veterans of the campaign which displaced the former Libyan leader – are locked in what appears to be a chronic conflict.
Hundreds of Muslim extremists, downright terrorists among them, were released from jails in Libya in the wake of the fall of Gaddafi's regime and are now out of hiding, recruiting new flock to their groups and using the weaponry grabbed in Libyan army arsenals or supplied by NATO in the recent past. Terrorist acts occur in Libya with an increasing frequency as a result: the British consul's cortège came under fire early last summer in revenge for the killing of Al Qaeda's high-ranking leader Yahya al-Libi in Yemen, a terrorists strike against the first secretary of the Egyptian embassy in Tripoli took place in August, and a twin attack – against the police headquarters and the female police academy – followed the same month, with the murder of a former Libyan army air force colonel trailing.
Things look somewhat different in Egypt at the moment. Social protests against the corrupt and authoritarian regime are brewing in the country, with a broad political spectrum – liberal democrats, the left, and Islamists – drawn into the orbit of the process. Deciding between H. Mubarak, a tested ally of the US, and his opponents must have been a difficult dilemma for Washington, the eventual decision being to sacrifice the former in order to retain influence over Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood, a group long hooked-up to the US, then rose to power and the US backed its leader M. Morsi – as a more acceptable figure – against the Egyptian military in a dispute that followed.
Several objectives can be discerned behind the US support for the forces of politicized Islam, including its top-radical brands. First, those were entrained to displace defiant national leaders like late M. Gaddafi. Secondly, Washington evidently hoped to redirect the escalating social protests in Muslim countries in the way that would enable the US protégées to take over, a blueprint that materialized in Egypt and Yemen. Thirdly, the US plans to mobilize the Sunni Muslims against the anti-American and anti-Israeli Shia regime in Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The US, moreover, pushes is allies – Turkey in the Middle East and France in Europe – into the gamble, thus exposing them to serious risks. Turkey may face the consequences of having the economic cooperation with Syria, Ankara's traditional trade partner, derailed, and have to deal with the strengthening of the Kurdish resistance. For Paris, the related problem on the horizon is the replay of the Arab-Muslim world's conflicts on the French territory, a trend visible behind such incidents as the shooting in Toulouse last March and the August murder of a French citizen and four British citizens of Iraqi origin.
The anti-American surge and the tragedy which culminated in the death of the US diplomat in Benghazi left no doubt that flirting with politicized Islam means playing with fire, a game which can easily spin out of control. In the now-distant past, the US propped up Bin Laden and the Talibs to bring down the pro-Soviet regime in Afghanistan, but eventually Bin Laden who seemed to be under Washington's full control became the US prime enemy. The pattern may re-emerge these days, with the US and its allies sliding towards a disaster comparable to September 11…