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Friday, September 28, 2012

Recent Protests in Muslim Countries: Background and Issues for Congress

Christopher M. Blanchard, Coordinator
Specialist in Middle Eastern Affairs

Muslims in a number of countries have responded in recent days with anger at the United States that many observers describe as a response to a privately produced film circulating on the Internet that denigrates Islam and the prophet Mohammed. In some cases, this outrage has taken the form of public expressions by relatively small groups of demonstrators, and in other countries the demonstrations have been larger. In the most extreme cases, such demonstrations have been accompanied by violent attacks against U.S. diplomatic personnel and diplomatic facilities. Preexisting anti-U.S. sentiment and domestic political frustrations also appear to be contributing to the unrest. On September 11, 2012, attacks on U.S. interim diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, killed four U.S. personnel, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Vandalism and violence against U.S. facilities in Yemen, Egypt, Tunisia, and Sudan indicates the potency of the issue, as does the spread of clashes between protestors and local security forces elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa and in some countries in South and Southeast Asia. The geographic scope of the protests and the reportedly broadly shared outrage of participants have overshadowed important distinctions in political context, divergences in host government responses, and the fact that the groups demonstrating, particularly those committing violent acts, are small relative to much larger and diverse populations.

This report provides background information and analysis about the recent wave of protests and includes a summary appendix of select incidents and international responses organized geographically by country. The report discusses several issues of potential interest to Congress, including emerging debates on foreign assistance funding for countries affected by unrest, intelligence and diplomatic security policies, war powers considerations, and the potential effects of the current controversy on long-running international debates on religion and freedom of expression.

Date of Report: September 20, 2012
Number of Pages: 24
Order Number: R42743
Price: $29.95

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