Professors extend commentary on protests
Published: Sunday, October 14, 2012
Updated: Sunday, October 14, 2012 23:10
The Arab Spring swept through the Middle East in full force during 2011. The Middle East has recently regained the attention of the world when deadly protests erupted in response to the “Innocence of the Muslims” video.
The video coincided with the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, which resulted in the death of American Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three members of his staff.
Middle Eastern unrest and constant political alterations have led to Western attention in the field as well as in the classroom. Texas A&M’s Bush School of Government and Public Service, for example, has subsequently begun expanding its course studies of the Middle East.
The revolution’s beginning
The Arab revolutions, commonly referred to as The Arab Spring, sparked in Tunisia in December 2010, after a man set himself on fire to protest his lack of opportunity and the police’s disrespect toward the public. The revolts spread like wildfire in the Middle Eastern desert. These protests forced longtime autocratic rulers from power in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen.
In Egypt, former dictator Hosni Mubarak, was forced to step down from power in February 2011 after 18 days of massive public demonstrations. Since then, there has been a power struggle between Egypt’s president, Mohamed Morsi, and the military within Egypt.
Larry Napper, former U.S. ambassador and senior lecturer at the Bush School, said Morsi gained more political power over the military, especially in August, when he forced the retirement of his defense minister and other prominent military leaders.
“It would appear for the present that Morsi has been able to carve out more power,” Napper said. “But the military is still there and is still a very important political, social and foreign affairs force in Egyptian politics.”
Mohammed Tabaar, Bush School professor who specializes in Middle Eastern studies, said the unrest is typical in countries experiencing a governmental shift.
“New democracies are not very stable by nature. That’s how it is everywhere. Even those countries that are not going through this transition are unstable,” Tabaar said.
Egypt-U.S. relations are being further complicated with Egypt’s request for monetary aid from the U.S. and the International Monetary Fund.
Napper said Egypt is in desperate need for monetary assistance and that the Egyptian President must work with the U.S. in lieu of this need.
“It is difficult to overstate the importance of Egypt to the United States. Egypt is the largest Arab country with an enormous cultural and political influence throughout the Arab world,” Napper said. “It is critically important to the future of U.S. relations in the entire Middle East to have a relatively stable Egypt, with whom we have good relations.”
Tabaar said Egypt needs these funds because Egypt is, essentially, out of funds and needs to live up to the expectations of the public, now that they have elected their own regime.
“I don’t think relations with Egypt are going to change dramatically in terms of actual cooperation,” political science professor at the Bush School Ahmer Tarar said. “What you will likely have is an Egyptian leader saying things for domestic consumption that really irritates the U.S. leaders and alarms the U.S. public, that could be in regards to Israel and Iran.”
Napper said Egypt’s request for aid has not been received enthusiastically, in part because of the protests held at the American embassy in Cairo in response to the “Innocence of the Muslims” video.
Libya is also in a state of unrest after dictator Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown. Libyan rebels forced Gadhafi to flee the capital city in August 2011 and Gadhafi was eventually captured and killed.
“In Egypt, there is a strong state. In Libya, we don’t have that,” Tabaar said. “In Libya, you have militia groups that are taking advantage of a power vacuum.”
Napper said the danger in Libya now comes from the absence of authority, not too much of it.
“You have a collapse of authority and the place is swimming with weapons. Everyone can get ahold of military weapons,” he said.
Napper said the militia groups acquired their weapons when Gadhafi was overthrown and his weapon reserves were looted.
During the attack in September on the American consulate in Libya, anti-aircraft weapons and rocket-propelled grenades were used as part of the assault. With regards to the motivation behind the attacks on the consulate, there is no clear answer whether these attacks were motivated by the reactions to the “Innocence of the Muslims” video or if the attacks were preplanned.
“I am confident that, to at least some extent, [the attack] was spontaneous and genuinely driven by the reactions to the movie,” Tarar said. “But it is still unknown whether it was preplanned or largely spontaneous.”
Napper said an accountability review is required by law after any significant loss of life or property in an American diplomatic mission. He said the accountability review is meant to determine cause and responsibility.
Napper said he would wait for the accountability report to arrive before making any definitive comments on the reasons behind the attack.
In the light of the attack, Tabaar said it is not a sign that Libya is becoming more radical. Napper added that there was a pro-American demonstration in Libya after the attack on the consulate.
Tabaar said Libya is not as important to America as Egypt, because Libya has been typically more intertwined with Europe.
Napper said it will take an enormous amount of time to see what lasting effects the Arab Spring and other similar revolutions and protests will have on the Middle East, the U.S. and the rest of the world.