Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Attacks on the US Diplomatic Missions in Cairo and Benghazi

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Update from AIJAC

Sept. 13, 2012
Number 09/12 #03

This Updates deals with the implications of yesterday's mob attack on the US Embassy in Cairo  (see video here) and the armed attack of the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which left US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead. While these attacks have been reported as a response to a crude and objectionable anti-Islam film "Innocence of Muslims" made by some Americans and previewed on Youtube, there is growing evidence that the Cairo demonstration was scheduled for Sept. 11 weeks ago to call for the release of the blind  Sheikh Omar abdel Rahman, convicted for his role in the first World Trade Centre bombing. Meanwhile US officials say the Libya attack looks like it was also pre-planned, (see also here), possibly by an al-Qaeda-linked group, before the film issue ever surfaced.

First up, Washington Institute for Near East policy experts David Schenker and Eric Trager look at the politics in Egypt that led to the Embassy attack, and have some suggestions regarding US policy responses. They point out that, while it probably did not plan the attack, the Muslim Brotherhood-led government is not only not apologising for it but is doubling down, demanding US action against the film and its makers, while the Brotherhood itself is applauding the Embassy attack and staging their own demonstrations near the Embassy.  For their discussion in full, CLICK HERE. Another interesting comment on the politics of the attack within Egypt comes from author and analyst Lee Smith.

Next up, Barry Rubin places the Embassy attack in Egypt in the context of a Muslim Brotherhood-led  Egypt that is becoming "anti-democratic, anti-American and antisemitic", and adduces numerous examples of worrying developments of late. Rubin is particularly critical of the US Administration for failing to recognise the realities of the Egyptian situation (and in other parts of the Arab world where Islamists are making major gains), and for having apologised for the film. For the rest of his argument, CLICK HERE. Also making the case that attempting to appease the extremists incensed over the film by apologising for or condemning the offence it caused is futile is well-known Middle East journalist Michael Totten.

Finally, Libya-based journalist Ann Marlowe discusses the political background to the Benghazi consulate attacks. She stresses that, despite the bloody violence of the attacks, the al-Qaeda-linked types likely responsible have little popular support - and are allowed to operate not because, as in Egypt, the government broadly shares their ideology, but because it lacks the ability to create basic security on the ground over more of the rest of the country. For her look at the background to the attack from on the ground in Libya, CLICK HERE. Meanwhile, Washington Institute Libya expert Aaron Zelin surveys the history and current reality of extreme jihadists in Libya in the context of the attack.

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How to Send Egypt a Message

David Schenker and Eric Trager

New York Daily News, September 12, 2012

The Morsi government is encouraging anti-American unrest; the Obama administration must now send a clear signal back.

The image of a black Al Qaeda flag flying above the United States Embassy in Cairo on Sept. 11 shocked Americans. It should have shaken the Egyptian Government as well. Egypt receives $1.5 billion annually from the U.S., and Washington is about to forgive $1 billion in the ailing state's debt.

But Egypt's government is charting a different course. Rather than denouncing the egregious violation of U.S. sovereignty, Egypt's ruling party, the Muslim Brotherhood, is doubling down. This Friday, the Brotherhood is slated to hold a mass demonstration just two blocks from the U.S. compound in Cairo.

In Egypt and the U.S., the attack is widely being attributed to an obscure anti-Islamic movie. But in fact, Al Gamaa Al Islamiyya, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, announced weeks ago that it would protest in front of the U.S. Embassy on 9/11 to demand the release of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind cleric mastermind of the first World Trade Center Bombing in 1993.

No doubt, the appearance of the video led to a spike in support for the Gamaa demonstration, notably among Salafists and Egypt's infamously drugged-up soccer fans known as "Ultras."

So while the Brotherhood may not have planned the attack, the organization quickly embraced it, exploiting the crime to foment sectarian tensions and burnish its anti-American populist credentials. To wit, in its first official account of events in Arabic, the Brotherhood claimed that the anti-Islamic movie had been funded by Coptic Christians in America and praised Egyptians for "rising up for the victory of the Prophet."

A day later, the Muslim Brotherhood's Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi had not offered an apology to the U.S. Instead, according to the Egyptian daily Al Ahram, Morsi directed the Egyptian Embassy in Washington to take legal action against the film's producers.

Morsi's reticence comes as little surprise. The Muslim Brotherhood has a history of antipathy toward the U.S. and its allies. Morsi himself is a well-documented 9/11 "truther" and, under his leadership, Egypt has made unprecedented diplomatic overtures to Iran.

But the attack on the Embassy went beyond the pale. For starters, it was preventable. A terrorist organization's calls for protests outside the Embassy should have prompted the deployment of additional Egyptian security forces. Morsi's abdication of responsibility and the Muslim Brotherhood's defense of the assault should be the last straw.

Washington should present President Morsi with a choice: Either abide by international norms or preside over an Egypt increasingly threatened by economic collapse. At present, Egypt's economy is tanking as instability and violence continue to scare away both tourists and investors.

To forestall a crisis, Washington committed to forgive that $1 billion in debt, and it has ardently supported a pending $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund loan. And just this week, the Embassy in Cairo sponsored a delegation of American businessmen in Cairo to encourage U.S. investment in an Egypt that was "open for business."

All of this should be put on hold. Washington can tolerate a lot, but it cannot invest in an Egypt that refuses at a minimum to secure American diplomats. So long as the Muslim Brotherhood and the Morsi Administration insist on encouraging Salafists and soccer hooligans to target U.S. interests, the U.S. can and should impose costs for this choice.

In addition to economic repercussions, there should be diplomatic consequences for Morsi's behavior. Absent unequivocal expressions of public remorse in Arabic, U.S. officials should refuse to meet with Morsi when he visits New York in late September for the United Nations General Assembly.

Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have never been shy about expressing their feelings to the United States, whether about 9/11 conspiracy theories, or in advocating for the release of convicted terrorist Omar Abdel Rahman. Morsi's visit to the U.S. is an opportunity for Washington to deliver a similarly unvarnished message: Inciting potentially violent protests against the United States is the act of a rogue, not an ally.

David Schenker is director of the Program on Arab Politics at The Washington Institute. Eric Trager is the Institute's Next Generation fellow.

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The Egyptian Government Did Not Protect U.S. Embassy and Obama Apologizes Instead of Protesting

By Barry Rubin

Pajamas Media, 12 Sep 2012



Egypt tells us everything we need to know about the horror of Obama's Middle East policy. The latest development is that a group of several Salafist and Jihadist groups--including the local affiliate of al-Qaida--announced a demonstration outside the U.S. Embassy. This was explained as a protest against some obscure film made in America by a crackpot that criticizes Islam but has never actually been shown to an audience and probably never will be!

But note well that everyone--except the Western media--understands that holding such a demonstration on September 11 means supporting the September 11 attack. The Egyptian government knew the time of the demonstration and the participants--it was all publicly announced--yet Egyptian security forces did not protect the embassy. And so the demonstrators scaled the wall, entered the compound, tore up the American flag, and put up the historic revolutionary flag of Islam (the eighth century black, not the seventh century green one) in its stead. Why didn't Egyptian security forces stop them? It was a deliberate decision no doubt taken at the highest level.

Rather than expose the phony excuse for the demonstration and condemn the Egyptian government's behavior, the U.S. government groveled. It issued statements in English apologizing for the fact that someone had exercised his right of free speech within its country. The tweets it sent out in Arabic were even worse, pitiful pleas of the we-are-on-your-side-against-this-terrible-Islamophobia variety. And will Egypt's failure to protect the embassy--because it is on the side of America's enemies--have any effect on the Obama Administration's helping the Egyptian government get two German submarines (against Israel's efforts); take $1 billion off Egypt's debt; and have a nice meeting with the visiting Egyptian president (while refusing to meet Israel's prime minister, this supposedly super-pro-Israel president)? You know the answer.

This is a policy of institutionalized cowardice unprecedented in U.S. history.

Last week, the U.S. government asked its good buddy Egyptian President al-Mursi to inspect an Iranian ship suspected of carrying arms to Syria while it passed through the Suez Canal. Remember that to do so is arguably in Egypt’s own interest since Cairo is supporting the rebels while Tehran backs the regime. But it is also possible that the U.S. government blundered, or was badly timed, since international agreements dictate that Egypt is not supposed to inspect ships in the Canal itself. The Egyptian government despite three decades of massive U.S. aid, licensing to produce advanced American tanks and other equipment, strategic backing, and an invitation to Washington to meet Obama—refused to help out, since he possibly could have done it outside of the canal itself.  Indeed, al-Mursi headed for Tehran to attend a “non-aligned” conference, albeit admittedly one with broad international support.

Did I mention that the al-Mursi government is about to retire 70 generals? Get it? Just as the Islamist government broke the Turkish army because Obama would not back America's old allies, now the Egyptian Islamist government is going to break Egypt's army. Who will replace these generals? Two types: opportunists and Islamists. [Here's a good analysis of the army situation.] And then the army will be completely transformed. And then the state Islamic institutions, And then the courts.

Meanwhile the Western media and U.S. government will stand by and not comprehend a fundamental transformation unfolding before their eyes. Or will they comprehend it but think that it is a good thing? The first possibility is total incompetence and ideological blindness. The second possibility approaches the equivalent of criminal conduct in the destruction of U.S. interests, not to mention democracy, human rights, and the maintenance of peace.

Did I mention that the al-Mursi government is installing several Brotherhood leaders as provincial governors, members of the media council, and--yes, they do have a sense of humor--leaders of human rights' commissions? And now al-Mursi is controlling what is going to be in Egypt's new constitution, too.

Does this mean Egypt will ally with Iran? Only if Iran surrenders to radical Sunni Islamism ruling every Arab state. Since Tehran will never agree, in the end Egypt will fight Iran for influence tooth and nail. The two anti-American countries will kill the others’ surrogates. But it means al-Mursi feels no friendlier toward America than he does toward Iran. And Cairo will not lift a finger to help Washington against Tehran unless by doing so the Egyptian Brotherhood advances its own cause of putting more Sunni Islamists (anti-Americans, of course) into power.

And right now that means Syria. Indeed, al-Mursi offered Iran a deal: give us Syria and we'll help you escape isolation over the nuclear issue. Tehran will turn him down, no credit to U.S. policy. Al-Mursi is just asking too much.

Egypt, the Arab world’s most important single country, has been turned from an ally of America against the Iranian threat into, at best, a neutral between Washington and Tehran that will do nothing to help America.

Egypt, the Arab world’s most important single country, has been turned from an ally of America—albeit an imperfect one of course—in maintaining and trying to extend Arab-Israeli peace into a leading advocate of expanding the conflict and even going to war potentially.

Egypt, the Arab world’s most important single country, has been turned from an ally of America in fighting international terrorism into an ally of most international terrorist groups except those that occasionally target Egypt itself.

But here’s one for the 600 rabbis who front for Obama: The destruction of the Egyptian natural gas pipeline and deal, as a result of the instability and revolution that the U.S. government helped promote, has done as much economic damage as all the Arab and Islamic sabotage, boycotts and Western sanctions or disinvestments in Israel’s history.

Egypt alone is a catastrophe, even without mentioning another dozen examples.

How much longer is the obvious fact that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood regime is anti-democratic, anti-American and antisemitic going to be denied?  But wait there’s more, lot’s more.

After meeting Egypt’s new president, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said, "I was convinced that President Mursi is his own man," adding that the new president is committed to democratic reforms and to representing all Egyptians.

Question: How does Panetta know this?

Answer: This is what Mursi told him.

Of course, by endorsing Mursi before he does anything, the U.S. government puts its seal of approval on the Muslim Brotherhood regime. Shouldn’t it have to do something to prove itself before Obama gives up all that leverage? What next? Perhaps Mursi will get the Nobel Peace Prize after a couple of months in office.

Note the phrase “his own man.” What does that mean? Why that Mursi won’t follow the Brotherhood’s orders. He will even stand up against it, presumably to be more moderate, right? There is no reason to believe that this is true.

Panetta added: "They agreed that they would cooperate in every way possible to ensure that extremists like al Qaeda are dealt with."  Of course, they are more likely to cooperate against al-Qaeda, a group they don’t like. But will they cooperate against Egyptian Salafist terrorists, Hamas, and lots of other terrorists? Of course not.

Indeed, at the precise moment Panetta was meeting Mursi, the new president was releasing Islamist terrorists from Egyptian prisons. These include terrorists from Islamic Jihad which is part of the al-Qaeda coalition and one of the groups that organized the attack on the U.S. embassy! How do you square that one, Secretary Panetta?
And finally, Mursi pointed out to Panetta that his own son was born in California, when the future Egyptian president was studying there. His son, Mursi noted, could be the president of the United States one day.

I’ll let you, dear readers, pick up on that previous paragraph.

Of course, the Obama Administration can claim one success in Egypt: the regime pulled its forces out of eastern Sinai in accord with the Egypt-Israel peace treaty. The problem is that it has been reported in the Egyptian media—a good source though not confirmed—that the regime made a deal with the al-Qaida terrorists who attacked Israel. If they promised to stop fighting (for how long?) the Egyptian government would release all of their gunmen.

Meanwhile the most important (formerly) pro-Islamist moderate intellectual in the Arabic-speaking world has defected, an event of monumental importance being ignored in the West. The Egyptian sociologist Saad ed-Din Ibrahim hated the Mubarak regime so much that he joined with the Islamists as allies and insisted that they were really moderate.

Now here’s an interview he just gave, Click here to view this clip on MEMRI TV: 

Interviewer: "You indicated that the Muslim Brotherhood are hijacking the country, not merely the top political posts. Is the Muslim Brotherhood indeed about to hijack the country?"

Ibrahim: "Well, this is how it seems to me, as well as to other observers, some of whom are more knowledgeable than me about the Brotherhood," long-time members, who have now helped him understand the Brotherhood’s “desire to hijack everything and to control everything." [I assume he is referring to relative moderates in the Brotherhood--and some of these individuals have also spoken publicly--who either quit the Brotherhood in disgust a few years ago or were expelled last year.]

I suggest Ibrahim and these people, not to mention the liberals packing their bags and the Christians piling up sandbags, know better than Panetta.

 Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center  and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.

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Reading the Benghazi Embassy Attack


This morning’s attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi by a Muslim extremist group should not be misinterpreted. Amidst our natural outrage at the tragic death of Chris Stevens, the American ambassador to Libya (who was visiting Benghazi) and three other Americans, we should stop to consider the context. The incident by no means represents the general feeling to the US among Libyans—or even the feeling of a substantial minority. While Libyans are vastly more religious than Americans, they showed in the July 7th election that they reject even the Muslim Brotherhood’s version of an Islamic state. Rather, the attack is a sign of the way the current lawlessness in Libya is allowing a largely passive population to be tyrannized by a tiny, violent minority. That minority may be small indeed.

Yesterday, waiting in an endless line at Tripoli Airport for my flight to London, I made the acquaintance of a Libyan-British man from Benghazi, Ibrahim Isbag. Dressed in Salafi clothes and sporting a long beard, he had traveled around Libya during the revolutionary period. It turned out that he had been in Derna a little before my visit this September. We discussed the armed bands of al-Qaeda loyalists who have been a constant threat there. Some of them blew up the Sufi shrine in Derna’s central mosque during Ramadan. Isbag said he had visited the training camp of one such group, who disavowed the attack. He said there were only a tiny number of jihadis there—definitely fewer than twenty. Nothing too scary—if only there were government security forces.

We have violent extremists groups in the US, of course—but we have police and soldiers to keep them from showing their true colors very often. When they do commit an attack, they are usually quickly captured, jailed, and eventually tried. In Libya, however, most of the Qaddafi-era police have not returned to work, the new internal security forces are still embryonic, and there is effectively no Libyan army at the moment.

On my three-week trip to Libya this August and September, I heard countless complaints from Libyans about the lack of security. It has come to pervade the post-revolutionary society. Few dare to speak up any more as their rights are eroded by extremists: I saw fewer than 70 people protesting another shrine destruction in Tripoli on August 26th. Why so few? To some extent, because Libyans do not respect their own history. But mainly, for the same reason the Interior Minister provided when asked by the new National Assembly that day why his forces did not intervene: fear of a bloody clash with the extremists with what he believed an unacceptable loss of life. Few Libyans want to appear on TV cameras where they can be identified by armed bands.

There is also the problem presented by the nature of Libyan society. Libya is like one big small town in many ways, and Libyans are loath to confront other Libyans. Many people I spoke with favored talking with the al-Qaeda groups now pushed out of Derna to the mountains, and bringing them back to the city. No one said they needed to be killed if they didn’t lay down their weapons. This is a country with no history of democracy, really, and, after 42 years of Qaddafi, no sense of the government’s monopoly on violence being a good thing.

I’m optimistic that Libyans will regard this attack as a wake-up call to defend their emerging democracy. They had better, if they want to be part of the larger world. All those dozens of people who have asked me how they can get an American visa so they or their children can study in or visit the US will have to exert pressure on their neighbors to wipe out the extremists. The vast majority of Libyans showed in the July 7th elections that they knew where their interests as citizens lie. Now is the time for them to step up to the plate again. Chris Stevens, a kind man who spoke good Arabic, supported the revolution in Benghazi last year. If his death leads to a turn in the right direction in Libya, it will have meaning for both countries he served.

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