The broadcast of a controversial video deemed insulting to Islam's prophet, Muhammed, is prompting outrage in much of the Muslim world. Individuals angered by the film, which was released by a person in the US and allegedly portrays Muhammed engaging in sexual activities and calling for massacres, have already taken to the streets in multiple countries and staged violent attacks against US diplomatic missions. More violent unrest is probable in the coming days, as opponents of the video become organized; protests are especially likely following midmorning prayers Sept. 14. Militant groups may also take advantage of the heightened anti-US sentiment to stage attacks in some countries.
Controversial Video Triggers Unrest
Clashes between security personnel and demonstrators could occur anywhere large crowds materialize. Expect heightened security surrounding all US diplomatic facilities. Major business and traffic disruptions are likely wherever violence breaks out; police or protesters may block roads, and businesses will likely close at the first sign of unrest.
Middle East/North Africa
The reaction to the controversial video has thus far been most severe in several countries in the Middle East and North Africa. An especially deadly assault on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya Sept. 11 left US Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other US citizens dead. At least five other US citizens and a number of Libyans were injured in the attack, which saw assailants fire rocket-propelled grenades at the facility before setting it ablaze. Officials speculate that the incident was actually a planned attack at the facility, but that the militants responsible took advantage of anti-US sentiment over the video to gather a mob outside the facility; however, investigations into the incident are ongoing.
Outrage has also been high in Cairo, Egypt, where protesters stormed the US Embassy Sept. 11, ripped down the US flag, and replaced it with an Islamic flag. That incident remained peaceful, but protests are continuing in the streets. Security forces apparently made no move to prevent the protesters from scaling the embassy walls and are allowing demonstrations to proceed. Protests have also occurred Sept. 12 outside of the US Embassy in Tunis, Tunisia, where police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of demonstrators after they attempted to break through the gates of the embassy compound. Protesters also gathered outside the US Consulate in Casablanca, Morocco Sept. 12, though that incident remained peaceful.
Protests and unrest will likely continue and may spread to additional countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Rallies are especially likely to occur after Friday prayers. Demonstrations are most likely to occur outside US diplomatic facilities, although gatherings could also take place outside well-known Western businesses, government buildings, in major intersections or city squares, or at venues frequented by Westerners. Protests are most likely to occur in Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, and Yemen; however, they cannot be ruled out in any country.
Unrest has not yet erupted in the Asia/Pacific region, though reactions to such publications are sometimes delayed to allow news to travel to more remote areas, and violence may erupt in the coming days. Many government leaders have strongly condemned the publication; Afghanistan banned the YouTube website in a bid to prevent Afghans from viewing the film, though reports indicate that the video is still airing in parts of Kabul. Violent protests are especially likely in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which have witnessed widespread unrest during similar incidents in the past. Demonstrations may also occur in other countries with sizeable Muslim populations, including Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Maldives, and Malaysia. Other countries have significant Muslim populations in specific areas, such as southern Thailand and the southern Philippines, and may also witness unrest.
US diplomatic missions are probable focal points for protests, especially after Friday morning prayers. Mobs could attempt to vandalize diplomatic offices and Western-branded restaurants, gas stations, or businesses. Harassment of Western-appearing passersby also cannot be ruled out, especially in Pakistan.
Protests are possible in parts of Africa. Hundreds of people demonstrated in front of the US Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, Sept. 12. Protesters delivered a message to staff members, demanding an apology and that the offensive video be taken off of YouTube. There was no major reported violence.
Authorities in Nigeria have also heightened security measures around all diplomatic missions and other sensitive sites in the country. US embassies in Burundi and Zambia have reportedly warned of possible anti-US protests. Additional, potentially violent protests are possible, particularly near US and other Western embassies, businesses, and popular venues frequented by Westerners.
Europe is home to more than 44 million Muslims; however, widespread protests and unrest are unlikely to occur in the region. Peaceful demonstrations are possible either condemning the nature of the video or condemning the subsequent violence at the Libyan and Egyptian embassies. France, which is home to one of the largest Muslim communities in Western Europe, has seen a rise of Islamophobic incidents over the past two years. Some of these include attempted arson, vandalism, and intimidation attacks. On the same evening as the violence in Egypt and Libya, a member of a mosque in the west-central city of Limoges discovered the building's door desecrated with human excrement. It remains unknown of the incident was linked to the violence. Other recent attacks include an incident in August that saw assailants hang two pig heads outside of a mosque in the southwestern town of Montauban. These attacks did not incite any significant unrest, and community leaders have called for "calm vigilance." If protests do occur, they will likely remain peaceful and only cause transportation disruptions due to blocked roads near the rally sites.
The possibility of an attack on a US Embassy in the former Soviet republics is remote. While there are sizeable Muslim populations in Azerbaijan, Central Asia, and scattered throughout Russia, Muslims in the former Soviet republics typically do not react with the same level of fervor to perceived slights of Muhammed as followers in other majority-Muslim countries. The US embassies in these countries are, for the most part, very well guarded, so in the very unlikely event of rising anti-US sentiment, "soft" targets such as blatantly US-owned businesses could be vulnerable. Protests over the video are also extremely unlikely; any gathering that occurs will probably number only a handful of people and not cause any disruptions.
Previous perceived religious insults, including reports on the desecration of the Quran or the Prophet Muhammed, have led to global protests, particularly in areas with large Muslim populations. The low-budget film that sparked the latest controversy was apparently posted on social networking sites in July; however, it received little attention until early September when it was reposted and dubbed in Arabic. Details regarding the creation of the film are still forthcoming; however, recent reports indicate that the video was produced by an Israeli-American who has since gone into hiding. Egyptian media had previously alleged that members of the Coptic Christian diaspora in the US were responsible for the film, but such rumors appear to be false; regardless, targeted attacks against Coptic Christians in Egypt remain possible. Allegations also surfaced claiming that controversial US pastor Terry Jones was responsible for the film; however, while Jones has voiced his support for the project, he has denied involvement.