Fallout in Libya: Has the Arab Spring turned against us?

After the killing of Ambassador Christopher Stevens in Benghazi, the role of the West in building Arab democracies becomes even more problematic

Egyptians replace the American flag with a black Islamic flag at the U.S. embassy in Cairo
(Image credit: AP Photo/Mohammed Abu Zaid)

President Obama pledged that the attack which killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans won't "break the bonds" between the U.S. and Libya. Still, while the hunt for the killers gets underway and the mystery surrounding the anti-Islam film trailer that provoked the violence deepens, the U.S. is reportedly evacuating its diplomats. At least one American pro-democracy organization — the National Democratic Institute, which is funded by Congress — is also pulling up stakes, fueling fears among some Libyans that the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi could cause Western nations to flee the country. In Egypt, where protesters stormed the American Embassy, relations between Americans and locals are also strained. While the Libyan government immediately and forcefully condemned the Benghazi attack, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi issued only a mild rebuke of the Cairo mobs. Last year's wave of revolts in North Africa and the Middle East sparked hopes that American-style democracy was blooming in the region, but has the Arab Spring taken a decidedly anti-American turn?

The Arab Street is growing more anti-American: These outrageous attacks underscored "an alarming shift" since the Arab Spring uprisings, says Doug Schoen at Forbes. Polls show that anti-American sentiment is "growing exponentially" on the Arab Street, which is why Morsi, an Islamist, largely ignored the violence and reserved his harsh words for the makers of an anti-Islam film trailer that provoked the mob. We should brace for Egypt to get "even more hostile" toward us, and Israel, down the road.

"Embassy attacks underscore an alarming post-Arab Spring shift towards anti-American and anti-Israel sentiment"

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We need to support Arab democracy more, not less: "The easy response, for Americans suffering from Arab Spring fatigue, would be to give up on the Middle East," says Shadi Hamid at Foreign Policy. But the U.S. undermined Arab democracy for decades by supporting brutal autocrats — policies that inspired anti-American anger which won't disappear overnight. Disengaging would only cede the region to the Muslim extremists attacking us now, so the U.S. "must redouble its commitment to the Arab Spring."

"Don't give up on the Arab Spring"

Toppling the dictators was the easy part: The Arab world hasn't taken some unexpected turn, says Simon Tisdall at Britain's Guardian. In Libya, we should have known that toppling Moammar Gadhafi was much easier than "preventing an Iraq-style implosion, or some form of Afghan anarchy." Armed groups, including Islamists, are challenging the central government and claiming control of "fractured fiefdoms." By jumping in with little thought of the future, "Western powers have started a fire they cannot extinguish."

"Libyan attack: it should have been clear deposing Gadhafi was the easy bit"

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