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Protests in the Middle East

Aired September 14, 2012 - 15:00:00   ET


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Hello again, everyone, I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to the weekend edition of our program.

It's a week that's been dominated by the tragic and violent events shaking the Arab world following the release of an obscure film that was made here in America.

Hillary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State, called that film disgusting and reprehensible. Nonetheless, she said, the violence that it triggered was totally unjustified.

The attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, left four Americans dead, including Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador, who had dedicated his life to building a free and democratic Libya.

As the violence and the protests escalated, scores of people have been injured and there have been deaths reported in Yemen and in Lebanon. On the fourth day of protests, attacks spread to other Western targets.

In Sudan, the British embassy was attacked and the German embassy was set on fire. The violent protests first broke out in Egypt on Tuesday night, and many in the U.S. asked whether the country's new government had done enough to condemn the attacks.

But the week ended with all these governments in the region condemning the attacks and reaffirming their relations and responsibilities to the United States.

After a phone conversation with President Obama, the Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi, made his first public comments about these protests while he was on a trip to Brussels.


MOHAMMED MORSI, PRESIDENT OF EGYPT (through translator): Those who made up their small movie that defames the prophet, we condemn strongly that. We assured President Obama that we will be keen and we will not permit any such event, any such occurrence in our country against the embassies present in our territories.


AMANPOUR: With me to discuss all this is Tariq Ramadan, Islamic scholar and author of "Islam and the Arab Awakening."

Tariq, I'm going to get to you in just a moment.

But first, I want to turn to Jihad Haddad in Cairo. He's senior adviser to the Muslim Brotherhood and its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party.

Mr. Haddad, thank you for being with me again. Let me get to you straightaway about the protests and what we can expect from the Egyptian authorities. We've got live pictures. They're still carrying on. What is the aim of the Egyptian government and security personnel regarding these protests?

JIHAD HADDAD, SR. ADVISER., MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD: I think the aim is clear and as President Morsi reiterated it, it's to protect the embassies, the vicinities, the physical building and the staff. I think that the police force on the ground has been up considerably since the past two days.

They are being -- they are escalating in numbers in order to counter these violent actions that are happening. And I think that if they keep this going and if all embassy staff and buildings remain safe, they should be in the clear (ph).

AMANPOUR: I can hear a little bit of what sounds to me like perhaps gunfire or rubber bullets; I'm not sure whether I'm accurate. But clearly it's still tense and there is a big protest planned for Friday by the Muslim Brotherhood. What is the purpose of that? Could that not inflame the situation?

HADDAD: Certainly. Well, the situation started in flames since that movie reached the Arab public opinion and the Arab mass media, which is unfortunate that it did, because it strikes a lot of anger. Now the problem is it has already ignited in flames.

These flames, when they started with the angry mob protests on last Tuesday, which the Muslim Brotherhood did not either participate with in the beginning or the end, they resulted in vandalism and violent action, which we all condemned.

Thus, the Muslim Brotherhood is resetting the scene and getting the proper direction of how Egyptians should express their anger within a peaceful context that does not abuse international law and that protects the-- and that -- or protects the laws of civil, peaceful expression of opinion.

And thus, the marches that were called for and the demonstrations by the Muslim Brotherhood will happen tomorrow, Friday, distributed across all mosques in Egypt, much more controlled and peaceful in nature, because this is a slogan that we never jeopardize.

AMANPOUR: And as we still hear that gunshot, I mean, I know you're talking to me and you probably don't know what's going on, but if you do, let me know. I want to ask you what about this --

HADDAD: I can explain to you what's going on now, if you need to.

AMANPOUR: Yes, go ahead.

HADDAD: Well, at the moment, there's between 100 and 500 scattered individuals, unrelated to any of the political parties or social grassroots movement in Egypt. They are currently throwing stones, throwing the smoke bombs back at the police forces and trying to penetrate the barricade leading into the U.S. embassy.

What we don't know is their motives. They're -- the Egyptian authorities have arrested six individuals last Tuesday, but no details have been released about who they are or what -- how they're related to it. But what we understand is that they were part of the vandalism that happened at the U.S. embassy.

And I think that -- they made sure that these protesters did not penetrate the barricades and they should be investigated afterwards and how this escalated to this level, we should be able to give a clearer picture on the motivations that escalated this from a peaceful demonstration into such violent and vandalism actions.

AMANPOUR: Well, we will -- we'll go to you, hopefully, when you know more about what motivated them.

But let me ask you, finally, this business about whether Egypt is an ally or not, you heard me say the White House told me that this does not signify a change in U.S. policy. Does the -- does Egypt worry about whether the United States is going to, I don't know, downgrade relations?

HADDAD: Well, I think that the effort, the very positive effort that has been pushed (ph) in the past couple of months between U.S. diplomats and Egyptian diplomats on rebuilding and redefining the U.S.-Egyptian relationship is working in the right direction.

It's very unfortunate that all of these events happened specifically on the night of 9/11, which is very symbolic in its nature, and also specifically after the leave of the delegation of the United States businessmen.

Unfortunately, all of these accumulation of events have, let's say, destabilized the image of Egypt in the international world's eye.

But we also, as much as we understand President Obama's comments in their own context as he stated, I think that the understanding also extends to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party's comments in the context of Egypt.

And we cannot let any type of lunatic individuals on one side or angry mobs that turn into violent, active mobs dictate how the strategic relationship between two very significant countries in the world, like Egypt and the U.S. define it.

AMANPOUR: Jihad Haddad, that was a very strong affirmation of what you hope will happen. You've certainly got your work cut out for you and we'll be watching closely. Thank you very much for joining me.

And I want to turn now to Islamic scholar, Tariq Ramadan, as I said, author of the book, "Islam and the Arab Awakening."

You've heard all that's going on. You've heard what the United States has said, too; this has got nothing to do with the U.S. government. Actually, I just want to play what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today about this movie.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: To us, to me, personally, this video is disgusting and reprehensible. It appears to have a deeply cynical purpose, to denigrate a great religion and to provoke rage. But as I said yesterday, there is no justification, none at all, for responding to this video with violence.

We condemn the violence that has resulted in the strongest terms. And we greatly appreciate that many Muslims in the United States and around the world have spoken out on this issue.


AMANPOUR: It's categoric. There's no room for wiggle there. She's very, very strong about denouncing this video and denouncing the violence.

Is this situation that has erupted now going to put the Arab Spring and the United States on a -- on a difficult path? Is it derailing the Arab Spring?

TARIQ RAMADAN, ISLAMIC SCHOLAR AND AUTHOR: You know, I am not always in agreement with American policies. But I should say that what I heard from Hillary Clinton on this is clear and this is exactly the right position. Has nothing to do with their American administration and nothing can justify what we are seeing in Libya or in Egypt. And we have to condemn this.

And it's very important for us as Muslim scholars and intellectuals to be clear, that there is an accepted diversity in Islam, but there are things anti-Islamic. And this is not acceptable to start with.

The second point is, yes. We can see people nurturing this and pushing in that direction. And we see that, at the beginning, the people who were demonstrating were mainly Salafis. And we know now the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt are in a kind of a competition as to the religious credibility. Are we -- or is the West or are we more Islam?

The Salafi are pushing. They are pushing in Egypt. They are pushing in Libya. They are pushing in Tunisia. And this is what I'm trying to explain in the books. One of the main challenges for the Muslims is really this internal discussion. So if now we have these groups pushing, and it's out of control, because now we don't have the Salafi.

We have people who are coming, young people, they are coming. And they want to show that we are against the West. We are against the Americans. And it could be out of control and change the whole thing.

The answer to this, as to the Arab awakening, is to say, don't confuse these people with millions of Muslims, not only many millions of Muslims, who took into the street peacefully, non-violently, against dictatorships. And they are Muslims, and this is a stand (ph).

AMANPOUR: Absolutely. But how to your point about this challenge of this internal war, if you like, how will these millions, who demonstrated peacefully for democracy, and how will the governments that have come out of that, rein in the hardliners? Or is it a perpetual struggle? They don't want democracy. They don't really want what these governments are (inaudible).


RAMADAN: This is very important, and this is why, for example, when dealing with all this and trying to understand what was happening, and trying to come with the current challenges after the uprisings and after the dictators were removed, as we are now, what I'm trying to study in the book and coming to the point here, is really to say, OK. What are the challenges?

One of the challenges is really this relationship between the Salafi that were yesterday not involved in politics and over the last three years, now we want -- we see them involved in democratic process, has been now in Egypt, in the -- in Tunisia. It's very important for the Muslims here to clear this, to take strong position, not to enter into a position.

This is why I can't understand what is said about, you know, having a demonstration today, led by the Muslim Brotherhood. I don't think it's the time. It's a message that it sent to the Salafi by saying we also care about Islam. But it's very sensitive --


AMANPOUR: But they say they're trying to take ownership of these demonstrations, and leach out the violence.


AMANPOUR: But let me just ask you --

RAMADAN: -- that's very difficult.

AMANPOUR: -- we should say you're no ordinary scholar or intellectual. Your grandfather founded the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood, you know, defied so many expectations by basically coming into power around the Arab world right now.

There are constitutions that are going to be written. Is the Muslim Brotherhood going to be the face of democracy that you can live with, that we can live with, that the majority of people in the Arab world can live with?

RAMADAN: Once again, we have to look at what happened over the last 50 years. They have a bold and now they are saying that we are -- we want to promote a civil state. We want rule of law and all this.

Ten years ago when Erdogan came to power, many people --


AMANPOUR: The prime minister of Turkey.

RAMADAN: -- many people were asking the same question. And we saw that he was dealing with the secular system and promoting now something which is mainly accepted by the world, even though it's not --

AMANPOUR: So you're saying Egypt could be a Turkey?

RAMADAN: -- Egypt could be Egypt and with the Muslim Brotherhood, it could be a democracy. Now what we want to see is the true challenges. I don't care myself about, you know, Islamists telling me a civil state.

What I want to know now, what -- how -- which type of Islamic preference are we going to have? Which kind of transparent democratic processes are we going to have? What are we going to do for education?

And the main question is about education, job market, unemployment. It's not about these very silly, superficial discussions that we have between the secularists and the Islamists. It's deeper than that. It's political and economic policies that have to be (inaudible).


AMANPOUR: How do you see it playing out, briefly?

RAMADAN: So far, I'm not very happy; I think that we are very far (ph) . Me, exactly with what we are seeing now, and this is why, from the very beginning, when I was talking about the Arab awakening, I was saying we have to be cautiously optimistic. This is what could happen when, you know, we have this kind of polarization.

Let us hope that coming from Egypt, coming from Libya and Tunisia, we have a political vision which is transnational, promoting democracy, but also referring to Islam in an open way.

AMANPOUR: Tariq Ramadan, thank you so much for being here.

RAMADAN: Thanks a lot.


AMANPOUR: And when we come, the U.S. and its allies help Libya throw off 40 years of dictatorship, from the top reaches of government to the people on the street today, tears and apologies to the United States for the death of a beloved diplomat.

But will this violence affect U.S. relations in the post-Arab Spring? Our panel of experts weighs in.



AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program, where we've been talking about how this week has become a seminal moment for the emerging Arab democracies, how those mostly moderate governments and also the United States and the West can deal with extremist Islamist minorities. It's a question being posed from Egypt to Libya and, indeed, across the Arab world.

This week, I spoke to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, author of "Moving the Mountain: Beyond Ground Zero to a New Vision of Islam in America;" and Jamie Rubin, former assistant secretary of state under President Clinton, and also my husband.


AMANPOUR: Thank you both for being here.

Let me ask you this question that all Americans want to know, and obviously people in the region as well.

This attack, does this mean that the Arab Spring, its fundamentals are in jeopardy? Could it subvert what happened?

JAMES RUBIN, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: I don't think so. I think it's a major blow to the American diplomatic community.

There hasn't been an assassination of an American ambassador in some 40 years like this, particularly this individual who really was someone associated with the uprising in Libya, was a great friend of the rebels in their early days. And the making of him as ambassador was the crowning moment for the U.S.-Libyan relationship.

I hope and expect that, because of his commitment to the U.S.-Libyan relationship, that there will be a pause before Americans, American officials, American political figures somehow throw the Libyan success of overthrowing Gadhafi out with the bathwater of this terrible event.

AMANPOUR: So you have better sources than me. What do you make of these reports that are coming into CNN, that it wasn't necessarily a spontaneous protest launched by the anti-Islamic film, but that it was planned and that it could have been by an offshoot of Al Qaeda, and it was really a call from the second in command of Al Qaeda?

RUBIN: I -- from my understanding, I have spoken to someone who would know; we don't yet have evidence that this is connected to the protests about the film in the United States. The real Al Qaeda in the Maghreb, the real Al Qaeda affiliate in Algeria and in Mali and in this area is not believed to be part of this.

But there are small pockets of extremist groups in this part of Libya. And in a sense the fact that the embassy -- the consulate really wasn't a fortified compound and the fact that this was an RPG suggests that this wasn't a subject of elaborate planning with a massive explosive, but rather a target of opportunity, where a rather limited defended building was hit by the kind of weaponry that is now rife throughout Libya.

AMANPOUR: But let me ask you, then, because obviously what happened in Egypt, it's a very strange series of coincidences. In Egypt, you had these protests about this film, that is, by admission of the filmmaker himself, designed to be inflammatory, it's condemning Islam and it's mocking Islam.

What is happening in the United States and what should happen in the United States in terms of trying to put a stop to that? Or can it be such a thing?

IMAM FEISAL ABDUL RAUF, FOUNDER, CORDOBA HOUSE: Well, this is why I've said repeatedly that the real battlefront is not between America and Islam or Muslims and Christians, Muslims and Jews, but between the -- all of the moderate, justice-loving people, the good people, devout people against all the extremists, because we have extremists in all -- in all religions, and even atheists as well.

And what happens that when an extremist commits an act, it fuels this kind of a response. And you have this vicious circle.

So we, the moderates of all faith traditions, have to band together to coalesce together, build powerful coalitions on all fronts, governments, civil society, et cetera, to combat and stand as one against the extremists of all faith traditions. This is a -- this is the most powerful way to go forward.

I also want to point out to those who claim to -- that all this is done in the name of Islam, that Islam is very explicit. The Koran states explicitly that no soul shall be responsible for the sins or the crimes of another. And while this film is indeed offensive, and those who have done this have done this deliberately to offend Muslims, we should not kill innocent people.

And the majority of Arabs and Muslims in the world are grateful. As you know, we had the ambassador, we have an ambassador say how the government, the Libyan people are grateful to America for having gotten rid of Moammar Gadhafi, having gotten rid of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.

And for these images to me as an American, as an American Muslim, of our embassy and our flag being desecrated is just the wrong message that we have to send.

AMANPOUR: Secretary Clinton was very strong in her condemnation, as you said; no justification for this kind of violence whatsoever. And President Obama also talked about America as a land of tolerance. Let's play what he just said.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Since our founding, the United States has been a nation that respects all faiths. We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. But there is absolutely no justification to this type of senseless violence -- none. The world must stand together to unequivocally reject these brutal acts.


AMANPOUR: So we sort of --

RAUF: Another point that I could say, Christiane, you know, for those Muslims, when attempts like this are made to make us angry and provoke us, that's exactly what these extremists want. So --


AMANPOUR: Plays into their hands.

RAUF: You're playing right into their hands by getting angry. The right response as a Muslim is to ignore them, to ignore these provocations. And the Koran says, whoever tries to wrong you, the best response is to respond by a good action.

AMANPOUR: Jamie, obviously what's come out of Libya and Egypt and elsewhere has been a pleasant surprise in terms of the democracy, in terms of the elections; by and large, they've been called free and fair. They were more successful than anybody hoped for in Libya; they've brought moderates to power, the same in Egypt and in Tunisia.

But there are these groups of Salafis. There are these radicals who don't want this Arab Spring to emerge democratically. What can be done, if anything, to neutralize them? These are the people who are fanning all these flames.

RUBIN: Well, ultimately, the United States has limited influence over the political debate within these countries. But we can help on the margins and we can certainly support those who believe in what we just heard, and that is that in Libya, we need to work more closely, perhaps with support that we haven't provided before to the Libyan government, who really are our friends.

And I really suspect are really frankly not only embarrassed but horrified that their friend, Ambassador Chris, their -- the person who was with them at the most difficult moments has somehow -- now is dead.

AMANPOUR: From the U.S. point of view, we've got all sorts of statistics of Islamophobia that's on the rise in this country, unprecedented number of attacks, for instance, during the recent season of Ramadan here in the United States.

Does the United States also have to combat the extremism here?

RUBIN: Well, of course, I mean, we are a country where the word tolerance is built deeply into our system, and we have to make that true, both through law enforcement, through education, through -- we can defend somebody's right to speak, but that doesn't mean we can't condemn what they say.

And we have to be very, very clear on that. And we can't let the Arab Spring be hijacked by the extremists and remember that it's a good news story, positive development for the people of the Middle East.

AMANPOUR: On that note, Imam Feisal, Jamie, thank you very much indeed.


AMANPOUR: And when we come back, more on those American diplomats who were caught in the crossfire between reprehensible prejudice and inexcusable violence. One of them, a fallen warrior in the fight for religious tolerance. We'll explain when we come back.



AMANPOUR: And as we leave you, this final thought, imagine a world where a warrior against religious intolerance gives his life in that struggle. Since Wednesday's attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya, most of the world's attention has been focused on U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and information officer Sean Smith.

Now another of the four victims has become known. His name is Glen Doherty, a former U.S. Navy SEAL. He was part of the security detail that was protecting Ambassador Stevens. He was also an advocate for religious tolerance within the United States Armed Forces as an adviser to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.

He and the others were caught between two extremes, the film that Hillary Clinton and many others have called disgusting and reprehensible, and the violent, inexcusable reaction that followed, which she and many others have condemned with equal fervor.

As we remember the dead, the struggle for understanding among all religious goes on.

That's it for our program. Thank you for watching and goodbye from New York.