Mid-East media deplore Libya, Egypt violence
- 13 September 2012
- From the section Middle East
Reaction in the Middle Eastern media to the killing of the US ambassador to Libya ranges from dismay at the attack to anger at the obscure film that was initially seen as the catalyst for the attack. Many commentators see a link between the killing of Ambassador Chris Stevens and al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri's video call for revenge for the death of his Libyan-born deputy Abu Yahya al-Libi in a US drone attack.
The widely watched pan-Arab satellite television channels all lead with the continuing protests at the US embassy in Cairo and the dispatch of US destroyers to the Libyan coast, while Saudi-funded al-Arabiya also highlights the first TV interview by new Libyan Prime Minister Mustafa Abu Shagur, who says he plans to disarm armed groups in the country.
Iran's official Arabic-language channel al-Alam says protests are spreading throughout the Arab region, from Cairo to Yemen, Tunisia and Morocco. Syrian state TV sees a rare chance to shift attention from troubles at home, and devotes much of its morning bulletin to the protests in the Middle East, highlighting the now discredited claim that the film was made by an Israeli and portraying it as part of a US-led "war against Arabs and Muslims".
The influential London-based Arab press is split, with the Saudi-owned al-Hayat and al-Sharq al-Awsat continuing to lead on Syria. Al-Sharq al-Awsat's tone is sympathetic towards the US, profiling Stevens as a "US ambassador who loved Libya and its revolution". It also notes rising intimidation by extreme Salafist groups in both Egypt and Libya in the days before the attack.
Hassan Haydar writes in al-Hayat that the killing of the ambassador was "sad and shameful", especially given that the US had foiled a "planned massacre" by the Gaddafi government in Benghazi less than 18 months earlier, and that it was also sad and shameful to see Egyptians raise the flag of al-Qaeda on the anniversary of the 11 September attacks in protest at a film "with which the US government has no connection either near or from afar".
The Libyan-oriented al-Arabal-Alamiyah sees the "ominous film" as having "burned the land of the Arab Spring under Washington's feet", while Arab nationalist al-Quds al-Arabi in its generous coverage notes protests by thousands of Libyans against the Benghazi attack. The newspaper's editor, Abd-al-Bari Atwan, writes that the attacks are a "reminder to the US administration that its country is still hated by a large section of the Arab and Islamic public... for its interference on behalf of Israel", but draws a distinction between the "spontaneous" attack in Cairo and the Benghazi raid, which he sees as linked to the al-Qaeda call for vengeance.
'Betraying a guest'
Libyan media coverage in the mainstream and social media is generally hostile to the Benghazi attack. Libyan state TV prominently reports the apology of head of state Mohamed Magarief to the US, in which he likens the Benghazi attack to the 11 September attacks on the United States.
Al-Watan newspaper similarly condemns the "criminal act" and offers its condolences. "Betraying a guest and killing him is not part of the tenets of our noble religion," it says.
The Benghazi independent newspaper New Quryna says the Benghazi attack will lead to "more insults against the Prophet Muhammad, the religion of Islam and Libya". Rawan Ayash tells the paper that "this is not how we defend our honourable Prophet" and Muhammad Warfally refers to a "terrorist attack that shows the need to crack down on militias".
The violence at home and in Libya dominates Egyptian broadcast and press coverage. Commentators deplore the violence. Wael Qandil asks in al-Shuruq daily: "Should we turn into murderers and slaughterers to prove to the world that we love the Prophet?" and concludes that the world will take away an image of the "savagery that it sees as the key to the personality of the Arab and Islamic nations".
Muhammad al-Dusuqi Rushdi asks in al-Yawm al-Sabi what crime the dead US diplomats had committed to deserve death. "Defending Islam means building a respectable homeland in which the poor are not hungry and the sick can find a bed in hospital."
On the Copts United website, Munir Bishay criticises the protesters, saying they harm Islam by portraying it as violent - just as the film does.
Batir Muhammad Ali Wardum writes in Jordan's al-Dustur that the "horrifying scenes" in Benghazi "have created a more negative image of Islam than could a thousand films", and expects "grave political consequences for Libya and the region".
Two Saudi newspapers see conspiracies at work. Yusif al-Kuwaylit in Riyadh says the film-makers "attempted to drag Muslims into long wars", and calls on the US to "balance what it claims to be personal freedom and its general interest". Al-Watan suspects a Syrian attempt at "settling scores with Washington" and "overshadow the massacres being committed by Assad in Syria".
The leading Palestinian newspaper al-Quds pleads for the film not to create "spiteful sectarian tension" between Muslims and Christians. On the Hamas-run Filastin Online website, in contrast, Isam Shawir says "America is settling the scores of the Copts and Jews", and should prosecute everyone involved in the film "or await additional acts of vengeance".
Iranian broadcast media also lead on the protests, with the emphasis firmly on condemnation of the film. Protests in Yemen, Sudan, Jordan, Tunisia and Morocco are reported over the caption "Muslim anger at American-Zionist sedition". Channel 1 TV says "the US has not imagined that after Gaddafi anti-US hatred would be so intense in Libya", and asks: "Will the Benghazi incident change the Yankees' view of the region?"
Few newspapers have published since the 12 September public holiday, but pro-reform Etemaad and pro-government Qods both link the violence to the "insulting film", and the hardline Keyhan wonders what price the US will pay for its presence elsewhere in the region "if the Libyan playground cost the life of an ambassador?"
'Don't come back'
The story attracts considerable comment in the Israeli press, with some writers considering how the US will respond. Yoel Guzansky in Maariv says attacks by armed groups have been mounting steadily in Libya in recent months as the government struggles to establish order, and wonders whether the US will end up deploying drones in Libya as it does in Yemen.
Guy Bechur in the major daily Yediot Aharonot mocks President Obama's support for the Arab Spring, saying it has "turned the Arab states into Afghanistan". He describes the Benghazi attack as a clear Salafist message to the US: "Go away and don't come back."
Ilene Prusher in the English-language Jerusalem Post suspects that the Benghazi attack was planned, "most likely by Islamic radicals who have been gaining ground in Libya", to coincide with the 11 September anniversary. She quotes an unnamed reporter in Benghazi who allegedly noted attempts among local Islamic activists to "whip up anger toward the US" over the Zawahiri video in the days prior to the raid. "The attack is a painful blow to the Obama administration's attempts to improve its profile in the region," she concludes.
There are also harsh words for the film-makers. Dan Margalit in the pro-government freesheet Yisrael Hayom says the makers of the "negligible film" deserve punishment for causing public panic, as insulting Islam "always stirs a violent response".
Hemi Shalev in the liberal broadsheet Haaretz praises journalists for debunking the story of an Israeli connection, and denounces the "filthy and primitive work of incitement" as the sort that was "once used to justify discrimination against, and extermination of, European Jews". Nonetheless, he adds that it was not the film, but the "hate-filled fanatics" who killed Ambassador Stevens.