Thursday, September 13, 2012

Middle East Situation 11 Years after the 9/11 Attack: from Arab Spring into Autumn of Disappointment

Pres. Barack Obama (a public domain image from Wikimedia Commons)

People the world over were euphoric over the death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of US Navy SEALS on May 2, 2011. Many people especially the Americans were gratified that justice was served to one of the most notorious terrorists of the world who was responsible for the death of thousands of innocent lives during the 9/11 attack in 2001. Although the death of bin Laden has not totally eliminated Al Qaeda, his terror group, its activities are significantly reduced and some of its top leaders are either neutralized or killed.

Then there was the Arab Spring in December 2010 that started in Tunisia where Prime Minister Ali was forced out from power by his own people. The movement spread to other Arab countries such as Libya and Egypt and others where long reigning and well entrenched dictators like Muammar Khadaffy and Hosni Mubarak were swept from power by people’s uprising. At present the leader of Syria is under threat of being overthrown too.

What is significant about the incidents is that it was the western countries which are instrumental in the ouster of the dictators. In Egypt the administration of US President Barack Obama played an important role to have the former Egyptian president resigned from office. France took the lead in helping the rebels fight the dictator Muammar Khadaffy.  Later, the participation of the US enabled the allied forces to target strategic areas with precision aerial bombs which weakened the dictator’s forces. Khaddafy was later killed as he tried to escape from Libya.

As soon as Mubarak was out from office it appeared that groups who are perceived as hostile to the west such as the Muslim Brotherhood loomed as the force that would come to power in the country. They won the majority of seats in the parliament, and Muhammad Morsi, a leading member of the group was elected as president. The west considers the Muslim Brotherhood as an extremist group whose agenda is not compatible with its ideals.

The 2012 anniversary of the 9/11 attack was marred with violence in the fledgling governments in the Middle East. Some people there were up in arms against a video that is offensive to the sensitivities of the Muslims. In Egypt the walls of the US embassy were scaled by protesters. It seemed that during that time, the military and the police were not around to quell the demonstration. That sight was in contrast to the previous demonstration leading to the ouster of Mubarak where security forces were always around to be on top of the situation.

In Libya, also during the 9/11 anniversary, the insurgents stormed the US consulate in Benghazi . Later, news broke out that US Ambassador  J. Christopher Stevens’ along with 3 American consulate staff was killed  in the attack.

Mitt Romney
Relative to the incident, President Barack Obama came under fire by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for allegedly issuing statements apologizing to the protesters for that offensive video rather than condemning their attack of the US embassies in Egypt and Libya.                                                

In a press conference on the incidents, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton issued statement expressing disapproval of the inflammatory video but also emphasized her country’s respect of the rights of its citizens to freedom of expression. She also said that the act of violence is not a justifiable reaction to the offensive video. She also condemned the attack of the American embassies and their personnel, and stated that it was only carried out by small armed group, and it was not caused by the Libyan government or its people.                               

White House also issued statement distancing itself from a previous one that triggered Romney’s remark. President Obama blasted Romney for politicizing the incident in the Middle East. He found allies in the mainstream US media who grilled Romney during his own press conference for his remark that was critical to Obama.  However, Romney stood by his statements and said that the United States should not apologize for its values.

Some observers thought that the protest over the video was only a pretext for a planned and coordinated attack on American interest in the Middle East in the 9/11 anniversary. Many videos, articles, blogs and even websites that are critical to Islam have been in the internet for over a long time. And it is only now that a wide spread protest over that single video is staged when other posts are equally or more offensive. What is conspicuously significant is that the timing of the protest and attack in Egypt and Libya coincided with the anniversary of 9/11. With the incident, the world can only surmise that extremist groups such as Al Qaeda, which aims to dominate the world with its distorted interpretation of Islam is still around and is still capable of wreaking havoc around the world.

At present the situation in the Middle East is filled with uncertainty. It comes just about only two months before the presidential election on November 6, 2012. It will certainly become one of the main issues that will be exploited by both contending parties to get the nod of the voters. US voters are likely to give more weight to the economy than to foreign affairs in making their choice for a candidate. However, the incidents in Middle East are too remarkable to notice. Obama’s handling of it can make a significant impact on the result of 2012 US presidential election.