Part I: Governments on Anti-Islam Film
The leaders of Islamist governments in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia have condemned attacks on U.S. embassies and consulates in reaction to the offensive “Innocence of Muslims” film. In public statements and private contacts with American officials, all three leaders assured the United States that the assaults did not reflect government policy or public opinion among the majority in their countries. Each of them blamed small groups of extremists.
But in at least one case, the United States had to prod a key government into more visible or decisive action. Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s delayed response to the violent protest around the U.S. Embassy on Sept. 11 triggered widespread criticism in Washington and other Western capitals. He did not immediately denounce the attack nor deploy sufficient security forces to secure American compound. In a Sept. 12 interview, President Obama said, “if they take actions that indicate they’re not taking responsibilities…that’s going to be a real big problem.” Later the same day, Obama spoke with Morsi by phone and urged him to publicly speak out against the attacks. On Sept. 13, Morsi delivered a televised statement explicitly pledging to protect embassies and foreigners and calling on Egyptians to not attack them.
The following are statements by leaders on the inflammatory film and anti-U.S. demonstrations.
Mustafa A.G. Abushagur
Prime Minister of Libya
“Libya lost one of its most ardent international supporters last week with the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens…Libya is a moderate, tolerant country that does not condone violence as a form of expression. While others protested and rallied over alleged insults, Libyans gathered in the public squares of our cities to mourn the loss of our American friends, to honor the American contribution to our freedom and to reject the violence a small group of criminals perpetrated against the U.S. Consulate…
Let me be clear: The Libyan people will never trade one form of authoritarianism or extremism for another. We didn’t free ourselves from a tyrant’s iron grip just to be shackled by ideological dogmatism or any other form of tyranny.
There is never a justification for terrorism. It runs counter to the foundations and values of a free Libya, of democracy and of Islam. The Libyan people are determined to bring to justice those who were involved in the attack against the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi last week.”—in an op-ed for the Washington Post published on Sept. 19
President of Egypt
“The obscenities recently released as part of an organized campaign against Islamic sanctities is unacceptable and requires a firm stand. We have a responsibility in this international gathering to study how we can protect the world from instability and hatred. Egypt respects freedom of expression; one that is not used to incite hatred against anyone; one that is not directed towards one specific religion or culture; a freedom of expression that tackles extremism and violence; not the freedom of expression that deepens ignorance and disregards others. But we also stand firmly against the use of violence in expressing objection to these obscenities.”—in his statement to the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 26
“We can never condone this kind of violence, but we need to deal with the situation wisely.” —in an interview for The New York Times published on Sept. 23.
“On behalf of the Egyptian people; Muslims and Copts, I have extended condolences to President Obama over Benghazi victims. I condemned this act and considered it a crime against humanity. I have asserted to him that Islam holds man in high esteem and that anybody who kills another without justification is considered as if he killed all mankind.” —in a speech to worshippers in Rome on Sept. 14
“We Egyptians reject any kind of assault or insult against our prophet. I condemn and oppose all who… insult our prophet…It is our duty to protect our guests and visitors from abroad. I call on everyone to take that into consideration, not to violate Egyptian law… not to assault embassies.” —to Egyptian state television on Sept. 13
Prime Minister of Tunisia
“To answer violence with violence is strictly prohibited and we can’t defend it. Even if I am against these types of films, which portray a negative image and our provocative to our culture and religion, answering with violence is wrong. We don’t have any excuse to react with violence…Now regarding the protests here in Tunis in front of the U.S. embassy, if there’s no violence then there’s no reason to stop them…
Without exception, those who break the law, regardless of their political or religious affiliation, should be punished. We don’t care who might be behind this, whether they are Salafis from the right or left wing, it doesn’t matter.”—in an interview with BBC Arabic on Sept. 13
President of Libya
“Madam Secretary, that [killing of U.S. personnel] was a very painful, huge tragedy, not only to the American people and the families of the victims but also for the Libyan people. The Libyan people lost a friend, lost someone who was very supportive of them, someone who was very supportive of their revolution, and someone who was always there for them…
Let us look at the necessity to expedite the investigation in the incident and to pursue – to bring to justice those perpetrators. Of course, we are – we express our great readiness to cooperate with the U.S. Government in order to cooperate in the investigation and bring those perpetrators to justice.
Madam Secretary, I also will seize this opportunity to reaffirm that what happened on the 11th of September towards these U.S. citizens does not express in any way the conscience of the Libyan people, their aspirations, their hopes, or their sentiments towards the American people.
Madam Secretary, and I am confident that the protest that happened last Friday in Benghazi and the other protests that took place across the Libyan cities in protest to what happened are a very clear message to how we feel toward the United States.” – in remarks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sept. 24.
President of Tunisia
“The goal of these violent extremists is not political participation; it is to create chaos. We should not forget that before attacking American symbols, these extremists had degraded Tunisian symbols, like the flag and national anthem...The demonstrations that took place against the anti-Islamic video “Innocence of Muslims” involved small numbers of extremists; there were only about 3,000 in Tunisia. Counterprotests denouncing the violence also took place in Benghazi, Libya, after the killing of Ambassador Stevens; numerous Muslim leaders have implored believers not to respond to provocations; and no demonstration occurred last Friday, after a French newspaper published demeaning caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.” – in an op-ed for The New York Times on Sept. 27
Prime Minister of Egypt
“Although it was unacceptable to insult our Prophet” it was also “unjustifiable to have a peaceful demo[nstration] turned violent…Egyptians Arabs, Muslims - we need to reflect the true identity of Muslims, how peaceful they are, and talk to the Western media about the true heart of the Muslims, that they condemn violence…This is a small number of people doing irresponsible work and everybody's paying the price.”—in an interview with BBC Arabic on Sept. 15
Foreign Minister of Tunisia
“I’m here to express my condolences for the loss of the American Ambassador in Libya and the three other members of staff. I’m also here to express our regret and full and strong condemnation for the storming of the American Embassy and school in Tunisia last Friday. This event does not reflect the real image of Tunisia. As a newborn democracy, all of you know that we are in process to dismantle the heavy legacy of political despotism and to set up the foundations of a new democracy. And we have the heavy, broader responsibility to succeed in this process of democratization. And I’m sure if we succeed, at least we send a positive message to the region, is that democracy is possible in that part of the world.” – in remarks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sept. 21.