The protests were sparked by the release in Arabic of part of a low-budget movie deriding Muhammad and Islam called “The Innocence of Muslims,” which was reportedly produced in California.
An American ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three staff members were killed in the attack on the consulate in Benghazi. The incident represents the first time a U.S. ambassador has been killed since 1979. U.S. Embassies in Egypt and Tunisia were besieged by demonstrators. In Sudan the targets of the protests included the German and British Embassies. U.S. flags were burned.
Washington responded by sending two destroyers to the Libyan coast, along with extra troops and special forces to the region. And extra U.S. drones have been dispatched to the skies over Libya and Yemen. President Barack Obama vowed that “justice will be done.”
Personnel deemed nonessential have been ordered to leave U.S. diplomatic missions in Sudan, Tunisia and Libya. Consular services have been suspended in Yemen.
The events strained relations between Washington and the Egyptian government of President Mohamed Morsi, who was elected in June. In a phone call to Morsi Sept. 12, President Obama warned “that relations would be jeopardized if the authorities in Cairo failed to protect American diplomats and stand more firmly against anti-American attacks,” the New York Times reported.
Morsi has been negotiating with Washington for more than $1 billion in aid, debt forgiveness and U.S. investments. Morsi’s party, the Muslim Brotherhood, was among the initial forces calling for protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo where protesters scaled the walls, tearing down the U.S. flag and replacing it with a black Islamic flag. The Egyptian government eventually cracked down on protesters Sept. 15.
Hatred of U.S. imperialism remains widespread among working people throughout the region, fueled by decades of war and U.S. support for dictatorial and anti-working-class regimes.
Salafist groups have used the protests to present themselves as more radically anti-U.S. vis-à-vis rival Islamist forces in the newly elected Muslim Brotherhood governments in Tunisia and Egypt, and the pro-Brotherhood one in Libya.
The White House pressured Google, which owns Internet video server YouTube, to block access to the movie trailer, which they eventually did in India, Indonesia, Libya and Egypt. The site has been banned by the Pakistani government.
The incident has renewed the bourgeois political debate over freedom of speech as protected in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, with some suggesting there are types of speech that should be restricted.
The U.S. Embassy in Cairo issued a statement on the movie before it was stormed by protesters titled, “U.S. Embassy Condemns Religious Incitement,” saying “We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech.”
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney denounced the Obama administration for the statement as an “apology for our values” and “sympathizing” with those who attacked the embassy. Romney’s statements were met with mixed reactions, including among Republican pundits who derided Romney for bad timing and not publicly backing the commander-in-chief at a time of crisis.
Canadian gov’t closes embassy, cuts off diplomatic ties with Iran
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