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With the hangover of the Arab Spring manifesting itself in violence aimed at several U.S. embassies, the Middle East should be called the "Muddle East," said Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress at an AEI event on Friday. Despite the violence, which earlier this week resulted in the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya, the U.S. needs to stay in the game, Katulis advised.
Katulis joined Hisham Melham of Al Arabiya news channel and AEI's Danielle Pletka to discuss the larger implications of this week's protests, ostensibly over a video produced in the U.S. that negatively portrays the Prophet Mohammad. Melham argued that the protests are not about a video. "It's all about politics," he said, and claimed it is unfortunate that the U.S. apologizes "every time an idiot holds up a camera."
Melham added that it is not the job of the U.S. president to try to reassure the Middle East region that Islam is a great religion, and he warned that the region will need years — in fact, probably decades — to learn how to make democracy work. He said it will not happen if most people in the region continue to discriminate among women, minorities and political opponents.
Katulis concluded that it is critical that the U.S. encourage those with a strong desire for pluralism to take leading roles. He and Pletka agreed that America's foreign aid dollars give the country substantial leverage, but said the U.S. cannot go back to propping up authoritarians. Aid is "not a check we write to our guy," Pletka said.
On the anniversary of 9/11, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo issued a statement condemning a YouTube video that depicts the prophet Mohammed in a derogatory way. Possibly attempting to stave off planned protests, the statement – an apology to Muslims for “efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims” – failed to persuade, and in the ensuing hours a mob attacked the embassy, burned the U.S. flag and tried to raise al-Qaeda's in its stead. Hours later, radicals in Libya attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, killing the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three members of his staff. Subsequent reports indicate the attacks may have been coordinated.
Is extremism going to be the hallmark of the new Middle East, post–Arab Spring? Or are these attacks an aberration? Is the United States doing all it can to marginalize terrorists and extremists in the Arab world’s new governments? Join AEI for a timely panel discussion on this week’s attacks.
Brian Katulis, Center for American Progress
Hisham Melhem, Al Arabiya News Channel
Danielle Pletka, AEI
For more information, please contact Alex Della Rocchetta at ADR@aei.org, 202.862.7152.
For media inquiries, please contact Véronique Rodman at email@example.com, 202.862.4871.
Brian Katulis is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, where he focuses on U.S. national security policy in the Middle East and South Asia. Katulis has served as a consultant to numerous U.S. government agencies, private corporations and non-governmental organizations on projects in more than two dozen countries, including in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Egypt and Colombia. From 1995 to 1998, he lived and worked in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Egypt for the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. In 1994 and 1995, he was a Fulbright scholar in Amman, Jordan, where he conducted research on the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan. Katulis has published articles in several newspapers and journals, including in The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe, the Baltimore Sun and Middle East Policy, among other publications. He is the co-author of “The Prosperity Agenda” (John Wiley & Sons, 2008), a book on U.S. national security.
Hisham Melhem is the Washington, D.C., bureau chief of Al Arabiya News Channel. He is also the correspondent for Annahar, the leading Lebanese daily. For four years he hosted "Across the Ocean," a weekly current affairs program on U.S.-Arab relations for Al-Arabiya. Melhem's writings appear in publications ranging from the literary journal Al-Mawaqef to the Los Angeles Times, as well as in magazines such as Foreign Policy, Middle East Report, Middle East Insight and Middle East Policy. He is the author of “Dual Containment: The Demise of a Fallacy,” which was published by the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University. Melhem was awarded the 1998 Alumni Medallion, an honor bestowed upon alumni of Villanova University for exceptional professional and personal achievements.
Danielle Pletka is the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at AEI. Before joining AEI, she served for 10 years as a senior professional staff member for the Near East and South Asia on the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Pletka writes regularly on the Middle East and South Asia, U.S. national security, terrorism and weapons proliferation for a range of American newspapers and magazines. Her writings and interviews have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, CBS News, the Los Angeles Times and POLITICO, among others. She has testified before the U.S. Congress on the Iranian threat and other terrorist activities in the Middle East. Pletka is the co-editor of “Dissent and Reform in the Arab World: Empowering Democrats” (AEI Press, 2008) and the co-author of “Containing and Deterring a Nuclear Iran” (AEI Press, 2011). Her most recent study, “Iranian influence in the Levant, Egypt, Iraq, and Afghanistan,” was published in May 2012. She is currently working on a follow-up report on U.S.–Iranian competitive strategies in the Middle East, to be published in the fall of 2012.