'The Innocence of Muslims' movie protests: Another Arab Spring on the cusp?

As campaign season is in full swing, the talking points have shifted dramatically in the past couple days to foreign policy—thanks to a sudden uprising in the Muslim world.

While much of the world was commemorating the 11th anniversary of the September11, 2001 terror attacks on America, a storm was brewing in the Muslim world. Violent protests ignited in Libya, leading to an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, killing U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, along with three other American staffers.

Protests were not isolated to Libya—protestors stormed the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, Egypt and later, on Thursday, stormed the U.S. Embassy compound in Yemen’s capital of Sanaa.

The protests and concurrent violence are alleged to be centered on anger in the Muslim world over a movie called “The Innocence of Muslims.” The movie, created in the U.S., which was released on June 23, 2012, was eventually dubbed in Arabic and posted on YouTube—making its way to the Muslim world.

The film is said to ridicule Islam's Prophet Muhammad.

The seemingly spontaneous uproar in the region has taken some by surprise, but has also come as a worrisome reminder of the unrest that roiled those very countries nearly two years ago. The so-called “Arab Spring”—the wave of uprisings that swept through much of the Arab and Muslim world—was born in North Africa’s Tunisia in December of 2010 and quickly spread to Egypt, Yemen, and Libya, among other nations.

The Arab Spring was rooted heavily in civil uprisings against arguably dysfunctional and negligent governments. The civilian movements, which lead to a great number of deaths (a concrete official number was never found), also lead to the ouster of several of the nations’ longtime leaders.

The countries, many of which are still effectively dealing with notable leadership gaps, have been plagued by the increased prominence of militant and Islamist groups. Local militant groups, and some off-shoots of mega terror group Al-Qaida, are suspected of both orchestrating and carrying out the actual attacks recently.


The uprisings in Libya during the Arab Spring were seemingly the most long, drawn-out and bloodiest, thanks mostly to the staying power of longtime leader Muammer Gaddafi. The uprisings in the country started on February 17, 2011 and the Gaddafi government was not overthrown until August 23, 2011. Gaddafi was captured and killed on October 11, 2011 by members of the Libyan National Liberation Army (NLA), bringing his 41 years of leadership of the country to a bloody end.

Since Gaddafi’s death, the country is still thought to be in a period of democratic transition, despite the election of Mohamed Magariaf as president last month.


The protests in Egypt, which centered primarily in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, came after the initial start of the Arab Spring in Tunisia. The protests in Egypt captured and dominated headlines for the large majority of its duration—a staggering 18days. The protests began on January 25, 2011, and during its span, lead to bloody clashes between the Egyptian government, run by then-President Hosni Mubarak.

The government worked to eliminate the country’s Internet access, blocking protestor’s heavily utility of social media to thrust the protests forward.

Mubarak in February ceded his power to Vice President Omar Suleiman, but quickly announced that he would continue to rule the country—fueling the continued protests. Power was then handed to the Armed Forces of Egypt and the Egyptian Parliament and the Constitution of Egypt was dissolved and suspended.

After a lengthy process, Mohamed Morsi (a former Member of Parliament in the People's Assembly of Egypt) was elected president of Egypt and assumed office June 30, 2012.

Hosni Mubarak (who had served as president of Egypt since 1981) and his former interior minister Habib al-Adli were convicted to life on prison because of their role in not stopping the killings during the first days of the 2011 revolutions in their country. It is now believed that Mubarak’s health is in decline.


Protests in Yemen started in mid-January over calls to modify the Yemeni Constitution, as well as address economic and social issues that were plaguing the country. There were quickly calls for Yemen’s president Ali Abdullah Saleh to resign. Saleh had held his role since 1990.

The Yemeni government under Saleh was overthrown on February 27, 2012—when Saleh stepped down and ceded power to his deputy, Abd Rabbuh Al-Hadi.

In the midst of the turmoil, there was an assassination attempt against Saleh, where he, and several other Yemeni officials were injured. He then left Yemen to seek medical treatment. Since that time, Saleh has seemingly stayed out of Yemeni public affairs. Al-Hadi remains in power in Yemen.

U.S. Involvement

The incidents, rooted in the recent history that has shaken the region and the Western powers that are invested in the countries roiled by unrest, will continue to play a serious role in U.S. foreign policy. The immediacy and seriousness of the discussions surrounding the most recent events in the country serve as a show of how important the region is to U.S. policy.

The response to the protests this week quickly became campaign fodder between President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Romney had made comments this week suggesting that Obama was weak and didn't react appropriately in condemnation of the attacks on the U.S. missions. He was criticized in some political and foreign policy circles for his response, but was backed up Thursday by Sen. John McCain, who said the president's "feckless foreign policy" has weakened America.

While Romney slowed his attacks on Obama on that one subject, he later said at an event in Virginia: "Why are you politicizing Libya?"

Obama responded to Romney's attacks on the diplomatic crisis by suggesting the Republican is reckless and untested as a world leader. Obama accused him of having "a tendency to shoot first and aim later."

Immediately following the first string of attacks on September 11, 2012, President Obama vowed that the United States would "work with the Libyan government to bring to justice" those who killed U.S. ambassador Stevens and the other staffers.

In remarks made from the White House, Obama said: “We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, but there is absolutely no justification for this type of senseless violence, none."

Since the attacks, Obama has made personal phone calls to: President Mohamed Magariaf of Libya, Egyptian President Morsi and Yemeni President Hadi, as well as a few other leaders in the region.