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Issue Guide: Muslims Protest Depictions of Mohammed

Author: Toni Johnson
Updated: September 20, 2012


The attacks on the U.S. embassy in Cairo and the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which killed a U.S. ambassador and three diplomatic employees, have raised new questions about the region's prospects for stability and security. As protests, initially sparked by an anti-Islam film made in the United States, continue to spread across the region, hopes that the crisis can be contained grow dimmer--especially after caricatures of Mohammed were published a week later in France. Some experts see the emerging tensions as a product of the fraught political situation in new Middle East democracies, while others see it as the work of religious extremists and political opportunists looking to propagate a new anti-American narrative post-Arab Spring.

Reasons for the Unrest

New York Times: Cultural Clash Fuels Muslims Raging at Film

David Kirkpatrick writes that in countries where blasphemy is a crime and states have a stronghold on media, many people in the Arab world find it hard to understand why the U.S. government would protect the free speech rights of even the most noxious religious bigots.

CFR Blog: Understanding Egypt's Anti-U.S. Tensions

CFR's Steven Cook writes that protests against the United Stated reflect thirty years of built-up anger on the U.S. role in the region despite recent diplomacy, says.

CFR Blog: Hello, West? It Really Is About the Movie

On Steven Cook's blog, a guest post by Ramy Yaacoub argues that the protests in the Muslim world are about an offensive movie and differing worldviews, rather than a history of subordination to the West.

Media Conference Call: Attacks in Libya and Egypt

CFR's Isobel Coleman and Ed Husain discuss the implications surrounding the recent attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions in Libya and Egypt, and how they could alter U.S. diplomacy and foreign aid.

Voice of Russia: Who Created the Anti-Muslim Film?

How did a trio of men residing in Southern California spur a regional crisis? The Voice of Russia looks at the men suspected to be behind the making of the incendiary web video.

Op-Ed: Arab Spring Nations Don't Yet Grasp Freedom of Dissent

CFR's Ed Husain considers how recent protests in the Middle East reflect the myriad challenges facing a region still coming to grips with decades of authoritarian leadership.

BBC: Anti-Islam Film and Self-Censorship

In this roundup, five experts look at whether self-censorship and regulation should be imposed to appease the sensitivities of religious groups.

TIME: The Agents of Outrage

Bobby Ghosh writes that the Arab Spring replaced hardline dictators with "neophyte democracies" that have weak mandates, ever shifting loyalties, and poor security forces--a situation that has made the region "a place more susceptible than ever to rogue provocateurs fomenting violent upheavals, usually in the name of faith."

TIME: What We Can Learn from the Attacks on U.S. Embassies

Tony Karon says the attacks against U.S. diplomatic missions in the Middle East are "the product of intense jockeying for power in an Arab political landscape riven with both new and familiar challenges."

Economist: Why They Won't Calm Down

The magazine's editors contend that some Muslims' resentment at slights to their religion is readily aroused and manipulated by mischievous politicians preying on an ill-informed and aggrieved populace.

CFR Interview: Islamist Extremism After the Arab Spring

Mideast expert Ali Soufan says the Arab Spring severely weakened the narrative of Islamist extremists, who are now stirring anti-U.S. sentiments in the politically fragile region.

Foreign Affairs: Egypt Fans the Flames

Jyette Klausen says Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi should take responsibility for rousing misplaced public anger and turning a non-event on the Internet into a real-world catastrophe.

Der Spiegel: 'A Drawing Has Never Killed Anyone'

Stefan Simons profiles the editor-in-chief of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, who insists that its publication of Mohammed caricatures was no provocation, but a signal that free speech is alive and well.

Political Implications

CFR Interview: Anti-U.S. Violence in Libya and Egypt

CFR's Robert M. Danin says the twin acts of violence in Libya and Egypt on the anniversary of 9/11 highlight the difficult road ahead for the United States in these nascent democracies.

Foreign Policy: Libya's Downward Spiral

Christopher S. Chivvis says even if the consulate deaths in Benghazi were not linked to al-Qaeda "or its dangerous North African affiliates, the event is still a major threat to Libya's chances of successful transition to stability."

Op-Ed: Meet the New Boss

CFR's Steven Cook writes that while many Americans may be tired of this volatile region, they shouldn't expect the United States to depart anytime soon.

Foreign Affairs: The Sources of Salafi Conduct

The protests engulfing the Mideast go to the heart of who gets to police public morality in the post-Arab Spring states. Salafis are seeking to claim a role as guardians of the public sphere, writes William McCants.

Daily Star: What We Are Really Witnessing

The fact that a handful of small, occasionally violent demonstrations could lead some in the West to question the worth of the Arab struggles for democracy "is a terrible reminder that deep chasms separate these two worlds in some critical areas," writes Rami G. Khouri.

Op-Ed: Will Egypt's Leaders Calm or Fan the Crisis?

CFR's Isobel Coleman writes that the actions of Egypt's President Morsi and other Islamic leaders will play a pivotal role in the successful resolution of this latest crisis in the region.


Video: President Obama and Secretary Clinton at Andrews Air Force Base

President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton deliver remarks at the Transfer of Remains Ceremony marking the return to the United States of the remains of the four Americans killed in Benghazi, Libya, at Andrews Air Force Base on September 14, 2012.

Video: Attacks in Libya, Egypt: Three Things to Know

The attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and the killing of the U.S. ambassador may be "the first salvo" of a civil war in Libya, says CFR's Isobel Coleman.

Other Resources

Essential Document: Egypt's Freedom and Justice Party on Embassy Attack

On September 13, the FJP released a statement condemning attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities, while at the same calling on the U.S. government to take steps to stop the distribution of the anti-Islam film.

Essential Document: Remarks to Honor Deaths in Libya

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's statement honoring U.S. officials that were killed in attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, delivered on September 14, 2012.

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