Terrorists attacked the U.S. Benghazi consulate on September 11, killing ambassador Christopher Stevens, State Department official Sean Smith, and CIA contractors Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods. Chris Stevens was the first American ambassador killed in the line of duty since 1988. Initially erroneously reported as a spontaneous protest over the anti-Muslim film, the Innocence of Muslims, the attack was later confirmed to have been a planned assault by Islamist militants. To this date the perpetrators remain unknown, though the Libyan Islamist militia Ansar al-Shariah is suspected of having been involved and possibly having led the attack. U.S. intelligence officials are still investigating the possibility of ties between Ansar al-Sharia, which espouses jihadi theology, and other suspected involved militants to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
The Benghazi attack took place against a backdrop of instability and violence that has spread throughout Libya in the wake of last year’s uprising that overthrew Muammar Qaddafi. Libya’s General National Congress recently designated seven southern military areas restricted zones with the aim to improve security and stem the flow of weapons, militants, and narcotics that currently flow freely across Libya’s borders. Today, the country’s weak security forces still exert little authority at best, particularly in the south, which has witnessed a dramatic increase in violent tribal conflict. Events in Libya demonstrate the challenge of establishing fully functioning, if not democratic, institutions in countries where dictators had centralized all power and authority in the figure of one person. The events of this year’s 9/11 in Libya continue to reverberate throughout American politics today.
Unrest in Jordan
Mid-November demonstrations in Jordan that left at least one demonstrator dead, precipitated by the lifting of fuel subsidies, led to some instant predictions of an Egypt or Tunisia-like uprising in the Hashemite kingdom. With some demonstrators calling for the end of King Abdullah’s rule, a clear and ominous red-line in Jordan’s political discourse was indeed crossed. Demonstrations are, however, part of Jordan’s political culture, and the country clearly faces severe economic and political challenges. At least two hundred thousand Syrians have taken refuge in Jordan, energy expenditures account for over 30 percent of the government’s budget, and overseas assistance has declined, while the country faces the same youth bulge sweeping the rest of the region. What has Jordan observers worried is the fusion of economic discontent, anger at perceived government corruption, and the frustration within some of the East Bank tribes. To date, the Hashemites have been able to deflect popular discontent onto the government; King Abdullah sacked four prime ministers in the past year alone.
But Abdullah recognizes that more needs to be done. Jordan will hold new parliamentary elections on January 23 as part of the king’s reform initiative. However, the Islamic Action Front, Jordan’s leading Islamist party, is boycotting the election. The key challenge facing the regime is to ensure that the elections and their aftermath are truly transformative and that Jordanian political institutions are seen as the appropriate fora for addressing political grievances. With Iraq to the east, Syria to the north, Palestine to the west, and Egypt to the south, Jordanians see unrest all around. While a source of inspiration for some, it is a cautionary sign for most Jordanians. Nonetheless, Jordan faces significant challenges and will doubtlessly experience major bumps on the immediate road ahead.