Benghazi’s Identity Crisis

Sep 21 2012 @ 3:10pm

Two dueling protests are scheduled today in Benghazi: One is another anti-film protest planned by Ansar Al-Sharia, the Islamist militia that remains a prime suspect in the consulate attacks, while the the other (seen above) has been organized by residents and activists to pressure Ansar Al-Sharia and other extremist groups to disband, as well as to urge the central government to get more involved. Chris Stephen reports on a city at a crossroads:

“Everything we have been working for has been crushed,” says Hana el-Galal, one of the city’s most prominent civil rights activists. Until last week’s attack she had been confident after the success of trouble-free elections in July. She and other rights groups had been due to meet Stevens the day after he died. “We lost a friend and nationally we lost a lot.” Signs of just how much Libya threatens to lose if the killers are not brought to justice and the militias disciplined are all around: all foreign missions in the city have been evacuated, together with the United Nations.

Earlier in the week, Marc Lynch reflected on the disagreements within Arab Spring nations:

The Islamist protestors using the YouTube film to whip up outrage are only one small voice in a contested, turbulent new public sphere. The new Arab public is far more diverse and self-confident today than it was six years ago, and able and willing to push back against simplistic interpretations. Political jockeying between Muslim Brothers and salafis in transitional countries may create incentives for outbidding on Islamic issues, but the political arena — both at home and abroad — offers more countervailing forces and pressure points. Leaders of transitional governments have different political interests than did the old dictators, as do Islamist movements now struggling with the exercise of power amidst ongoing institutional crisis and polarized politics. There are certainly plenty of people and movements on both sides who yearn for a return to the simple politics of a clash of civilizations, but there are many more who are manifestly impatient with such dichotomies and now have the political space to reject them.