As the UN General Assembly kicks off this week in New York, one of the topics world leaders will be discussing is the recent protests throughout the Arab world. In the week and a half since the attack on the US Embassy in Libya and the murder of four American diplomats, there have been accusations of radical Islamist take-overs and calls by some to simply walk away from the region. These reactionary positions do not, however, reflect the real context of the Arab Spring, local realities, and they certainly lack any strategic vision. It is worth noting that following the attacks, the young Libyan government not only worked closely with the United States to investigate the incident and secure US personnel, but is now in the midst of forcibly disbanding and arresting the radical militias responsible for the attack. What follows is a sort of mini-symposium of some of the best short-articles that have been published over the last week or so, providing critical analysis for those interested in actually understanding what is happening in the Middle East, and what the US should do about it.
Don’t Give Up on the Arab Spring – Foreign Policy
The White House must redouble its commitment to the Arab Spring. Across the region, Salafist extremists and other unsavory characters are trying to fill the power vacuum left by a weak and confused international community. Americans, now more than ever, need to hear a clear narrative of why Arab democrats need our support in their struggle against radicals. To put it more bluntly, what the Obama administration may need — both to turn the tables on its critics at home and its enemies abroad — is to opt for a “don’t let the terrorists win” response. To be sure, it’s a crude sentiment — and one that can be used to justify nearly anything, as it was under the Bush administration. But today it actually makes sense. It has the added virtue of being not only good policy for the Arab world, but good politics back home.
The Sources of Salafi Conduct – Foreign Affairs
Indeed, most of the Salafi groups do not aspire to take over the state through violence or even elections — their numbers are too small. Instead, they seek to use public anger to pull these states to the right. Where they have strong political and cultural institutions behind them, as in Egypt, they can do so through political pressure and shows of strength in the street. Where such institutions are lacking, Salafis instead use vigilantism or preaching to challenge the powers that be.
Despite the eruption of violence, the United States must remain steadfast in its commitments to Egypt and the region more broadly. Rather than withdraw from the Arab world, American public and private sectors should engage with even greater energy and help a long-repressed region finally begin to realize its aspirations.
A Time for Statesmanship – Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Marina Ottaway & Sarah Chayes
It is the duty of Arab governments to curb the violence and protect the diplomatic missions. But it is equally incumbent on the Obama administration, as well as on Congress and the Romney campaign, to refrain from steps that will make matters worse. In doing their part to defuse tensions, they must also walk a fine line between domestic politics and international statesmanship.
Libya Will Not be Another Iraq – US Institute of Peace
Most important was the response from Libya’s civil society. The afternoon after the attack, more than 200 Libyan civil society activists came together to protest the violence – even though such public expression could make them targets of these religious extremists. The demonstration served both as a testament to people’s passionate determination for a peaceful transition. Libyans recognize a new tyranny that could emerge is violent extremism in the name of Islam. Libyans at home and across the diaspora have expressed a firm dedication to not let that happen.