Tag Archives: Egypt

What are the Saudis Thinking?

Two stories made a big splash today, suggesting US-Saudi ties are fraying and that Riyadh is hugely disappointed by U.S. policies. Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan is at the center of both the Wall Street Journal and Reuters articles. European diplomats reportedly met with Prince Bandar (pictured) over the weekend. He made it perfectly clear to them that Riyadh was ready to scale back cooperation with the U.S. on Syria and arm rebel factions now fighting the Assad regime. Sources told Reuters that Saudi Arabia would reconsider arms deals with the U.S. and oil sales just days after the Kingdom rejected a two-year non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

Three recent developments have inspired Saudi Arabia to beat its own path of late. With this post, I’m trying to capture the logic driving Riyadh. This post is deliberately sympathetic because the media has largely failed to express their views. Saudi leaders haven’t articulated them carefully, either.

Start with Syria. For two years the U.S. has hinted at arming rebels but held back. These hints hardened into explicit promises in June, when the Obama administration first accused the Assad regime of using chemical weapons and crossing the president’s “red line.” In response, the White House pledged to arm rebels. Even then, the goal was not to oust Assad, but to create a stalemate that would force both sides to negotiate.

Countless stories since then have made it clear that rebels are not receiving enough arms or aid from the U.S. and that allies have withheld aid so as to not anger Washington. As reported by Greg Miller on October 5, an ongoing CIA training program “is so minuscule that it is expected to produce only a few hundred trained fighters each month even after it is enlarged, a level that officials said will do little to bolster rebel forces [.]”

The August 21 chemical attack on a Damascus neighborhood changed everything—it seemed. With 1,400 dead, evidence mounting, and outrage rising, the Obama administration prepared to strike Syria. Warships were positioned off the coast and the White House appeared deadly serious. It encouraged the Saudis to rally Arab opinion at the Arab League and beyond. Saudi officials made the case for war and, according to the Wall Street Journal’s Ellen Knickmeyer, they even asked for target lists to study, so that they could join an attack.

But the strikes never came. British Prime Minister David Cameron failed to secure enough votes to intervene. In the U.S., Obama decided to seek congressional authorization after a brief public debate turned against an attack. The Saudis, for their part, made their case loudly and in many venues, even offering to pay in full for an expanded effort to oust Assad rather than teach him a lesson. They did so with confidence that the U.S. would follow through and were subsequently humiliated by the U.S. climbing down. Settling for a Russian deal to remove Assad’s chemical weapons, while pursuing a deeply flawed peace process in Geneva and not punishing the regime in any meaningful way, has created a sense of abandonment in Riyadh.

This may sound absurd to those who hate Saudi Arabia because they think the system is morally bankrupt—but there is a moral component to Saudi foreign policy in Syria. Their support for rebels is not simply a cold calculation to cut off Iran’s right hand in the Arab world. Leaders like King Abdullah see a country under siege from outsiders, both Sunni jihadists and Iranian agents, and a brutal regime defended by Russia and China at the United Nations. They believe the only way to save Syria and stop the killing is to remove Assad by force.

Then there’s Iran. It’s widely assumed that the Saudis fear a “grand bargain” that would allow them to dominate the region. According to this reading, a comprehensive nuclear deal would really be a prelude to a regional security agreement that lessens the burden on the U.S. and gives Iran more breathing room. This fear isn’t new. It dates back to before the Shah fell. Gulf Arab leaders worry that Iran—with its larger population, stronger military and formidable nationalism—could dominate the neighborhood unless outsiders help secure the Gulf.

But why would the Saudis be unhappy with nuclear deal that satisfies the rest of the world? What they’re most alarmed by, I’m guessing, is the public outreach that creates immense pressure to reach a deal even if it’s flawed. A thaw in U.S.-Iranian relations is not out of the question for Saudi Arabia. It’s easy to forget, in a time of heightened sectarianism and bloody proxy battles, that the Saudis have an embassy in Tehran and the two sides occasionally do business in spite of mistrust.

Egypt is another point of contention. The Saudis genuinely believe they backed a popular uprising in Egypt this summer, when the democratically-elected president, Muhammad Mursi, was ousted by a military supported by millions and millions of Egyptians. The ensuing crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, to which Mursi belonged, has killed over one thousand people. Thousands of others are in jail. But the general who led the coup is hugely popular and could win the presidency if he ran for office today. This is good enough for Riyadh.

At the same time, the Saudis sees the growing insurgency in Sinai and Islamists resorting to terrorism as proof that violence is part of the Brotherhood’s DNA. The Saudis are quick to frame their support for Egypt’s military as a response to this threat.

In an effort to bolster the interim government, discredit the Brotherhood, and improve Egypt’s fiscal standing, the Saudis have committed $12 billion in aid along with Kuwait and the UAE. By contrast, the U.S. decided this month to strip Egypt of military aid, leaving the Saudis to scratch their head in astonishment. Such confusion could have been avoided if the U.S. acted decisively in the early days of the coup and withdrew aid immediately. But the delayed reaction has only complicated the relationship. Why do it now when the worst of the crackdown is over and terrorism is a serious threat gaining momentum?


What other factors are driving Saudi policy today? Please comment.


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Egypt’s Prospects Wane Without Leadership

The Middle East Policy Council just published a new briefing titled “Anxiety Grips Egypt’s Economy.” Co-written by this author, it addresses some of the systemic issues facing Egypt right now. Subsidy reform, the Central Bank’s struggle to manage currency devaluation, inflation, fuel shortages, black markets, and loan prospects are all covered. Perhaps most importantly, the article makes the case that the United States is not sworn to approve a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. This seems apparent now that the U.S. Ambassador has called on Egypt’s government to do more and act fast.

The IMF loan, negotiated last year and expected to be finalized last December, was delayed by drawn-out political crises in Egypt, which began in late November. It is still on hold today even though all parties recognize that it is absolutely necessary. (The IMF deal is now considered the ultimate stamp of approval by the international community. It could unleash an additional $14.5 billion in aid from other sources.)

The problem is leadership, which Cairo lacks. President Mohammad Morsi has thus far shown a perplexing willingness to consolidate power by decree and rush through political reforms by referendum. While, at the same time, he has refused to make tough decisions affecting Egypt’s economy ahead of parliamentary elections. He and his party–the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party or FJP–are clearly afraid of alienating voters, even though the value of the Egyptian pound falls to news lows every day and the poor stand to lose the most from steady inflation.

Take an extra moment and revisit our November 15 briefing for MEPC. That article (“Egypt’s Economy Looks to 2013“) was hopeful by comparison. Until that point, Morsi’s government had said all the right things; the IMF loan looked certain. But three short months have turned Egypt’s prospects upside down. A courageous leader needs to deliver an ambitious economic plan, campaign for it publicly, and–at the same time–protect Egypt’s most vulnerable.

Can Morsi be that leader?

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Don’t Expect Egypt’s Military to Intervene

This is a guest post by Matthew Kimmel. Last week, Matt wrote an article on Saudi Arabia’s troubled Eastern Province, titled “The Most Important Uprising You Haven’t Heard Of.” He is a graduate of Arizona State University and recently finished his M.A. in Middle East Studies at George Washington University. Earlier this year, he conducted original research and interviews with military officials in Egypt.

History does not repeat itself, but it does often rhyme.

Right now, Egypt appears to be going through a flashback to the events of February of 2011. Masses of demonstrators are in Tahrir Square protesting against a president who has taken autocratic steps to consolidate his power and disarm his opponents. There are clashes between the president’s supporters and a coalition of liberal and youth activist groups as Morsi claims that demonstrators are foreign elements (given how many leaders in the middle east have made this claim recently, one must wonder if there are bands of foreign troublemakers simply on tour throughout the region). And just like the period before the fall of Mubarak, the military appears to remain indifferent.

This should not be a surprise. The best way that the Egyptian military will be able to retain the powers that it has worked so hard to preserve since the fall of Mubarak will be to remain an impartial observer until it can latch on to whatever group appears to be the victor of this newest round of political conflict. This is due to several factors: the way the military perceives itself and how it was treated by the Egyptian people when SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) ruled Egypt from February 2011 through June 2012; the benefits that Morsi has offered the military; and the uncertain political atmosphere that is percolating in Cairo.

There are two key phrases that emerged repeatedly during this author’s talks with Egyptian military leaders last year which encapsulate how the military sees itself: “the Egyptian army is the guardian of the revolution,” and “the army and the people are in one hand.” The Egyptian army sees itself as the preserver and guardian of Nasser’s revolution, as well as supporters of the Egyptian people. It is they who protect the Egyptian people from both the felool (elite and aristocratic elements of society) and foreign influence, and who ensure the dignity and stability of Egypt.

However, when it took the reins of power in the period following the fall of Mubarak it found itself over its head. The military always had some measure of insulation from the day-to-day activities of governance, and once that layer of insulation was gone it quickly found itself struggling. Incidents like the Maspero protests and the al Ahly soccer riots showed that the military simply did not have the PR experience to deal with governing from the front as opposed to behind the scenes. As such, the military found itself eager to return to the barracks, where it could continue to control large swaths of the Egyptian economy and preserve its role in society without having to deal with the annoyance of day-to-day governance.

Despite the claims of many, the elite of the Egyptian military had no desire to continue to rule, as long as a few key aspects of power were kept intact. These aspects of power could essentially be split into three categories: the preservation of the economic privileges of the military, the ability to conduct military trials for civilians, and a lack of government oversight towards the military budget. The military was thankful that they found a leader who would give them all of this in Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood member who won Egypt’s first democratic presidential election in June.

Morsi’s announcement on November 22 granting himself massive new powers overshadowed a number of important constitutional articles. Key among those were articles 197 and 198. These two articles pledge that the military budget will not be subject to parliamentary oversight, and that it will still be able to try civilians in courts under conditions that will be established later. These agreements are exactly what the military wants. It keeps their economic power and the ability to control “rogue” elements of society that may threaten their power. These powers are of key importance to the army, and since Morsi has given these key points to them, the military should have no desire to get rid of him. However, as the events of February 2011 show, the military will throw a leader under the bus if it feels threatened. As such, no one should expect the military to actively oppose Morsi. But no one should also expect the military to side with Morsi if it looks like the protests against him have larger popular support.

For right now the pro- and anti-Morsi groups appear to be roughly equal in strength. As such, the military can be expected to maintain an appearance of neutrality. They have already tried to display themselves as an independent arbiter of justice by using their might to separate pro- and anti-Morsi supporters and agreeing to oversee the constitutional referendum on December 15. The military is also attempting to stage unity talks in an effort to both relieve the tension and show they are trying to act as neutral arbitrators. Compounding these efforts are statements made by the army that they will ensure that the constitutional referendum will be neutral. However, given the rapidly evolving nature of the situation in Egypt, this could change very quickly.

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The Egyptian Example

The Muslim Brotherhood waited 84 years to gain access to the levers of power in Egypt. In 2012, following President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, they won the largest share of seats in parliament; Brother Muhammad Mursi won the highest office in Egypt’s first democratic presidential election; and both constituent assemblies–tasked with writing a new constitution–were stacked with Brothers or those sympathetic to them. The Brotherhood now has a chance to govern with the whole world watching.

Its success or failure will decide Egypt’s future. But it will also affect the Brotherhood as an international brand. Across the region, the Brotherhood has spawned offshoots and parties which can be found in Jordan, Syria, North Africa, etc. These organizations are not closely tied. They enjoy varying degrees of support and matured under specific conditions in very different countries. Their political programs, however, are not so easy to distinguish. As a result, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood—the original Brotherhood—has a chance to energize franchises or doom them by example in a region where democracy is lurching forward or bubbling up from below.

In Egypt, the Brotherhood’s sudden rise was stunning. It was also predictable. The Brotherhood maintained strong community ties in a religious society that for so long relied on them when the government failed to provide services. These connections allowed them to “hit the ground running” when real politicking began. Liberals, secularists, and youth organizations lit the spark that exploded the Mubarak regime; their outrage and deft use of social media animated protests and, without them, he might still be in power. But the Brotherhood’s age and structure equipped it for the long game of campaigning, getting out the vote, and ultimately winning elections. Many of its affiliates possess the same advantages in other countries.

Unlike most of its neighbors, Egypt has reached the nasty “negotiation” phase of the democratic process, whereby different interest groups wrestle with the existential questions of government. How much power is too much? Which offices should wield it? How can oversight be institutionalized? And how can minorities be protected in a system that–by design–draws legitimacy from the majority? This process will last years. So far it has been a bruising experience for everyone involved—but it’s been especially taxing on the Muslim Brotherhood, which has made several missteps.

First, they promised to run for only 30 percent of parliamentary seats. They took almost 50 percent. Next they said they would not field a candidate for president. Mursi won. The first constitutional (or constituent) assembly was terminated by the courts because it was chosen by a house of parliament that was dissolved on a technicality. It was also dominated by Islamists aligned with the Brotherhood. The second assembly completed its draft constitution on November 29. Just four female members participated and zero Christians were involved after several withdrew from the process. A rushed draft will be put to referendum on December 15, having been written almost exclusively by conservatives. Many in Egypt will tell you the Brotherhood cannot be trusted. (And some Gulf Arabs will say, “I told you so!”)

The Brotherhood’s record deserves a second—and dare I say sympathetic—look. The party backtracked on promises like any political party would if given the chance to gain more influence, especially after decades of oppression. The second constitutional assembly and its faulty draft should raise alarms. But the rush to referendum was a direct result of the threat of another judicial intervention that could have canceled the assembly’s work again.

President Mursi’s November 22 decree is much harder to justify. It granted the president immense power and made him immune to judicial oversight. In a system that currently has no parliament, Mursi enjoys both executive and legislative authority. The decree went a step further by nullifying the courts. Egyptians hit the streets by the tens of thousands to protest and Mursi backtracked rhetorically; he promised that his decree was temporary and that he would give back powers once a constitution was finalized. That wasn’t enough to satisfy two hundred thousand protesters in Cairo who called Mursi a “pharaoh” this week. Protests continue outside the presidential palace and a clear resolution seems far off.

For years, Mubarak and leaders like him swore that the Brotherhood was a radical movement, ready to impose its will on moderate Arabs and harm American interests. By this self-serving logic, only autocrats could hold them back. If Mursi and his party fail—by abusing power, overseeing a total breakdown in the Egyptian economy, or establishing a top-heavy system that is oppressively conservative—Islamists elsewhere could lose out too when it comes time to run for office. Thus, Egypt’s first democratic experiment could serve as a cautionary tale for Muslim democrats, unless they already hold power (like in Tunisia or Gaza).

This outcome would not legitimize Mubarak’s argument. There is no good excuse for tyranny. But it could empower liberals and opponents of the Brotherhood inside and outside of Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood’s success would have the opposite effect.

December 5 update: I feel obligated to post a link to an old article by Nathan J. Brown of George Washington University and the Carnegie Endowment. Back in May, he made some of the same exact points made here in an article titled, “A Muslim Brotherhood win would resonate far beyond Egypt.” Brown writes some of the very best commentary on Egypt and the ongoing democratic transition. If I’d seen this earlier, I would have simply linked to it!

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November brief on Egypt’s economy and the year ahead

The Middle East Policy Council just posted my new bulletin on the Egyptian economy, where it stands today, and where it’s headed with the help of aid from all over the globe. Topics include Egypt’s currency, the unsustainable burden of energy subsidies, and the IMF loan package, which remains controversial but on track. Looking at other countries in the region, Egypt seems special. To date, it has received the most attention from the international community and the most foreign aid by far. The country’s economic problems are serious and complicated–and President Mursi’s government must still use this aid wisely in coordination with donors–but there is room for optimism in Egypt almost two years after Hosni Mubarak was ousted.

Read the brief, “Egypt’s Economy Looks to 2013,” at MEPC.org.

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Leadership in Cairo, Tripoli and Washington

Two weeks later we’re still experiencing the fallout from attacks on U.S. embassies around the world. In Egypt, hundreds assaulted the embassy in Cairo. No Americans were hurt but the sight alone was enough to shock Americans and harm Egypt’s fragile image as a new and trustworthy democracy. The net effect was worse in Libya, where the U.S. ambassador and three others were killed in a sophisticated attack. Unfortunately, Libya disappeared from the U.S. news cycle following last year’s NATO intervention, and many wrongly concluded that authorities had refused to protect Americans, when they were simply incapable.

At home, President Obama was attacked for not projecting enough strength in the region, which would have supposedly deterred aggression. Outrage inevitably led to calls for the severing of foreign aid. Late yesterday, $450 million in non-military aid to Egypt was indefinitely halted by a House subcommittee.  It may ultimately be disbursed but not until Congress reconvenes in November.

With this post I want to focus on why leaders in Egypt and Libya deserve a second chance and how the U.S. can help both countries address their toughest challenges.

Mohammed Mursi is Egypt’s first democratically elected president. His response to the protests was miserably inadequate. Indeed, he did not respond until more than 24 hours later, and even then his comments were tepid. On September 13, two days after the embassy attack, Obama told the press that Egypt was neither an ally or an enemy, but rather a country finding its way. While some insist Obama’s comments were made in error, since every administration since the 1970s has considered Egypt an “ally,” I think his remarks could have been designed to force a serious response from Egypt’s new president. Mursi condemned the attacks later that day.

Mursi’s delay is inexcusable but there is reason to believe he is a credible partner moving forward. Egypt’s primary concern right now is the economy and recent developments show he and his cabinet are serious about fixing it, even if the hard work hasn’t begun yet. Mursi’s election in June injected some confidence into the country’s stock index (the EGX30). Since he took office, it’s climbed more than 50 percent—from a low of 4,000 points to around 6,000 now. His government is currently working on an economic plan. It should be unveiled in the next few weeks and is expected to include subsidy reforms, which is a good sign. (Today, nearly half of Egypt’s budget is dedicated to servicing debt and covering subsidy costs.)

Also on track is a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, which will be finalized before the end of 2012. Even Egypt’s Salafi party, which rejects interest as un-Islamic and could derail a deal if it reaches parliament, is now on record saying they will accept the IMF loan out of desperation. According to Prime Minister Hisham Qandil, the terms are quite good. At the same time, Mursi has methodically reached out to Gulf Arab nations like Saudi Arabia for aid, in spite of Riyadh’s long-held suspicions about Mursi’s affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood. Along with Qatar, the Saudis have deposited hundreds of millions of dollars into Egyptian banks; billion-dollar aid projects are now underway.

Mursi’s seriousness on economic matters is encouraging. And as IMF chief Christine Lagarde said last month in Cairo, “We have perfectly competent authorities to negotiate with.” The Obama administration is inclined to agree. Earlier this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed that aid would be forthcoming, although it was held up on Friday. Going forward, the White House will have to work closer with Congress in order to ensure the smooth transfer of aid. And instead of expanding bilateral aid, the U.S. can forgive debt, encourage foreign investment, and back IMF and World Bank initiatives. It could also re-prioritize its annual $1.5 billion aid package in a way that benefits the people more than the military. Mursi’s silence is not part of a trend yet and so it seems premature to cut assistance to a government that might eventually set the agenda for the Arab world.

Libya is different. Although the economy is stunted, Tripoli doesn’t need aid: it needs more hands-on assistance instead. The government already has access to over $100 billion in frozen Qaddafi-era assets and a nationalized oil industry that is pumping at pre-war levels of 1.5 million b/d. In today’s prices, that’s more than $5 billion in revenues every month. This explain why the U.S. has given Libya only about $200 million since the revolution started and why in fiscal year 2013 Libya will receive a tiny sum of $1.5 million–with an M, not a B. (Aid in 2011-2012 was mostly spent on urgent humanitarian relief and safeguarding WMD materials.)

Security is Libya’s number one priority; the oil industry can power Libya’s economic recovery in the meantime and frozen assets can be spent on ambitious recovery projects. After the civil war, many of Libya’s powerful militias dug in rather than dissolved. This was only natural since the country’s new order was completely up for grabs following Qaddafi’s demise. Cities have developed violent rivalries, extremists remain active, and militias refuse to disarm. Libya’s new government recognizes the danger but remains handicapped by the problem’s immense scope. “Security is a top priority for the next three to six months and 70 percent of our efforts are dedicated to stabilizing Libya,” Prime Minister-elect Mustafa Abushagur said on September 20.

Unlike Egyptian officials, Libya’s leadership responded quickly to the attacks. Their statements echoed widespread pro-American sentiment in the country. On social media, average Libyans called the ambassador a “martyr,” and in the streets, others carried signs that read, “We demand justice for Stevens,” and “Thugs and killers don’t represent Benghazi or Islam.” One week after the consulate attack, thousands of pro-government demonstrators marched on militia strongholds in the country’s east, forcing out some factions. The government is trying to capitalize on public outrage, demanding that militias disband or submit to Tripoli’s authority. This won’t be easy but Tripoli has the funds and public support to start the process. The U.S. can accelerate these efforts with training programs and military exchanges that aim to professionalize the Libyan army and instill a sense of national purpose.

Credible partners should not be cast aside so quickly, when one spoke up too late, and another is a victim of its own chronic instability. The best way forward, in my opinion, is to prioritize programs that improve the lives of average citizens. In Egypt, this means creating new business opportunities, approving loans, and forgiving debt; in Libya, security is paramount, and the U.S. should lead an effort to train Libya’s security forces in coordination with other NATO partners. In doing so, Washington can establish more durable bonds that cannot be held hostage by extremists in the future.

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“A New Beginning” Under Siege

The destructive potential of this week’s unrest in the Middle East is hard to overstate. The U.S. has already lost a star diplomat and three other Americans, while protests in Cairo continue boiling after four days, and more than a dozen other embassies face demonstrations that could turn violent. The immediate safety of American diplomats and staffers is paramount. But the long-term effects could harm U.S. relations with this part of the world for a generation.

If the situation deteriorates further, and more Americans are killed, it will be increasingly difficult for Washington to support democracy where extremists are empowered and unchecked.  Obama’s 2009 promise of “A New Beginning” with the Muslim world, which he delivered in Cairo, is now under siege–a hostage to extremists attacking embassies and American public opinion.

I hope that this fever breaks and I wished it had broken sooner. It’s too simple to suggest that what we’re seeing is a natural reaction to an inflammatory film, however, the production value of which is being called “sub-pornographic.” These demonstrations are also a product of domestic politics in these countries and a consequence of weak states that remain unable to satisfy even their most basic international obligations (like protecting embassies). As I write this, wire services report that more embassies are being attacked and the American flag is being replaced with the black banner of the prophet. See Foreign Policy‘s liveblog also.

Emile Hokayem of the International Institute for Strategic Studies neatly summed up this week’s mess on Twitter earlier today: “Convergence of values btw West and Arab world over democracy/governance is turning into divergence of values over blasphemy/freedom of exp[ression],” he said. I’d like to start by illustrating the scope and severity of these protests with a stunning map provided by the Atlantic (zoom out to get the full effect). What follows is my required reading list.

The U.S.-Egypt Relationship Needs Therapy, Not a Divorce,” Nathan J. Brown (The New Republic). This article is particularly useful because it focuses on the domestic angle in Egypt and how the new government responded to the challenge at home but failed to address Washington’s anxiety:

Egypt’s leader (and the Brotherhood movement that nurtured him) reacted in a very shrewd and agile manner to events—as if all that mattered was Egyptian public opinion. President Muhammad Morsi himself held his tongue for over a day. The only visible action he took was to direct the Egyptian embassy in Washington to take legal action against those who made the film that sparked the protests. He spoke out against the attack only when his silence had deafened many overseas, and still coupled that statement with an insistence that insulting the prophet of Islam was a red line.

“‘Our Condolences,’ the Muslim Brotherhood Says,” Khairat el-Shater, Deputy President of the Muslim Brotherhood (Letter to the Editor in the New York Times). The Brotherhood’s double-speak and President Muhammad Mursi’s silence betray a stunning lack of empathy or even intuition when it comes to foreign relations. I for one am stunned that Mursi’s response took so long, since he’s been touring the world this month and last, trying to affirm his status as a statesman. I understand his high-wire act: as a conservative politician belonging to a religious party, he must defend his constituents and their Muslim sensibilities—but a simple expression of regret and a stern promise to protect the embassy should have come much, much sooner. That much is common sense.

Desperate Salafi attack in a weak Libya,” Fred Wehrey (Financial Times). I disagree with Wehrey, who suggests that Salafi attacks a sign of weakness. But his reading of the situation is very helpful. Wehrey might be right—Salafis might feel desperate—but given the violent proclivities of such groups, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Salafi militants attack U.S. interests even if they were successful at the polls back in July (they got trounced by moderates, technocrats, and local personalities). Violence is an essential component of their program; I doubt it would be shelved if Libyans gave them a popular mandate.

The Wrath of Libya’s Salafis,” also by Fred Wehrey (Sada). Wehrey is especially good at getting down into the nuts and bolts of Libya’s domestic politics and competing factions—both violent and peaceful. This is a much more involved analysis but absolutely essential for understanding Libya’s problems and it’s trajectory as a state recovering from civil war. I can’t recommend it enough.

The proper U.S. response to Cairo attack,” Robert Kagan (Washington Post). Kagan believes the U.S. has a lot more to lose if it simply abandons emerging democracies in the Middle East. He writes:

Some conservatives are starting to make a glib comparison between the evolution of Egypt today and the Iranian revolution of 1979. This is a faulty analysis. Egypt is not declaring jihad on the West, and Morsi is not Ayatollah Khomeini. We need to avoid an undiscriminating Islamophobia and distinguish between those who want to kill Americans and those who may dislike the West but are primarily interested in rebuilding their societies after decades of dictatorship.

The Muslim Protests: Two Myths Down, Three to Go,” Robert Wright (The Atlantic). Wright offers a short but sweet reality check, which corrects the early narrative surrounding both the controversial film’s history and the inspiration for protests. Wright also points out that the film serves as a pretext for protests but is not the sole trigger for unrest.

Moments of Truth in Libya and Egypt,” Marc Lynch (Abu Aardvark). Lynch’s gut reaction to Wednesday’s news still holds. He argued then that the key indicator for countries like Libya and Egypt would be the popular response to protests—not the controversial film that motivated some to attack the U.S. embassy. Lynch writes:

[The] response to the eruption by empowered publics, elected leaders and influential voices across political society — including, especially, Islamists — really does matter. Authoritarian regimes in the past frequently allowed, or even encouraged, such violent eruptions over these issues. Islamist movements in perennial opposition leaped at the chance to score political points while taking no responsibility for what followed. Today will be a pivotal moment in the urgent debates about how such movements will respond to political power and a stake in the political system. Libya’s leaders thus far look to be passing that test. Egypt’s do not… Morsi and the Brotherhood do not seem to understand, or perhaps they simply do not care, how important their public stance is today in defining their image [both at home and abroad].”

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