The attack on the US consulate in Benghazi appears to have been planned. Although details will emerge only after a thorough investigation,the incident in Libya is different from the protests at the US embassy in Cairo. At the centre of the tensions is a film seen to be anti-Islamic,which has touched off ripples in a region that is still struggling to settle down after the tumult of the Arab revolutions. Despite the context of political fragility and churn,however,the violent reaction highlights the failure of the state in each case,with anti-US protests now spilling into Sanaa,Yemen.
Libyas continuing lawlessness is complicated by the arms still possessed and used by militia groups,as tragically demonstrated in Benghazi. Yet,the new Libyan order had been quickly put in place after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi unlike in Egypt,which suffered several violent spasms till Mohamed Morsi assumed presidential office in June. Morsi,under pressure from the Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood,will now have to ensure that this weeks incident is not repeated. While the Libyan government immediately condemned the Benghazi attack and pledged to bring the perpetrators to justice,the Egyptian president took his time to warn troublemakers.
The incident will play into the US presidential election,with Mitt Romney,the Republican candidate,having already made a cynical and widely criticised attempt to exploit it. But the onus is on the US to stay the course and,in fact,deepen its engagement with the fledgling administrations in Tripoli and Cairo. With the Egyptian Coptic Christian activist who reportedly promoted the film on the internet identified as an associate of Terry Jones,the American pastor whose threats to burn the Quran caused violent riots in Afghanistan last year,the US will also need to work out ways to deal with challenges,both internal and external,such as those framed by recent events. Afghanistan is particularly volatile; a similar incident there could destabilise the subcontinent. India must bear that in mind as it builds its own relationships with post-Arab Spring governments in the Middle East.