NATOLIN – Eleven years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States once again finds itself the target of Islamist fundamentalists’ wrath. In the weeks since an armed Islamist mob stormed and burned the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing the ambassador and three other Americans, protests have erupted across the Middle East and North Africa, including further attacks on US – as well as British and German – embassies.
Western governments and international media were quick to attribute the attacks to fury over a US-made film that degrades the prophet Mohammed and disparages Islam. But Libyan President Mohamed Magarief maintains that the video played no role in the Benghazi attack. Indeed, while the video is deplorable, its release – which occurred months ago – cannot account for anger against Western missions across the region.
In fact, a combination of factors is to blame. The attacks were largely conducted by a small set of young men who are receptive to the kind of radical, simplistic ideologies that have gained traction in the region, owing to dire political and socioeconomic circumstances.
Indeed, eighteen months after the Arab Spring erupted, the euphoria that accompanied the fall of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, his Egyptian counterpart, Hosni Mubarak, and Libya’s Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi has faded, with democratic aspirations giving way to bitterness and cynicism. Stuck in transition, protesters and liberalizers are losing hope that they can establish enduring pluralist democracies and generate inclusive economic growth.