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Libya Hit With Turbulent Week



This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. There have been unexpectedly violent protests across much of the Arab world this week. The first was in Cairo. Then, of course, in Benghazi, Libya, protesters attacked and killed four U.S. embassy staff there.

Since then, protests have broken out across the region, again in Egypt, in Tunisia and in Yemen. NPR's correspondent in Benghazi is Leila Fadel. She joins us now. Leila, thanks for being with us.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: And are things in Libya, such as you can observe them, any calmer now?

FADEL: Yes. Since that fatal attack on Tuesday, things have calmed remarkably here in Benghazi, but it's always sort of a convener with a tense undertone because everybody in this city really is armed.

SIMON: Well, help us understand the atmosphere there.

FADEL: Well, this was what they call the cradle of Libya's revolt last year against Moammar Gadhafi, the first place that U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens came to when he was the envoy to the opposition of Gadhafi. But at that time, weapons proliferated. Everybody has them, and you had all these different factions now that have weapons, and it's something that Libyan officials admit they really can't control. And part of the reason that officials suspect that that attack was able to get so fatal on Tuesday.

Many people express extreme sadness over what happened to the four Americans including Chris Stevens, who was really well liked and celebrated here.

SIMON: Is all of this unrest just about a movie trailer that relatively few people across the world have seen, or is something else at work here?

FADEL: Well, I think this film, this anti-Muslim film that was posted on YouTube and probably wouldn't have never seen the light of day if it wasn't aired on Al-Nas, which is an ultraconservative Muslim channel in Egypt, just sparked sort of frustrations that people are feeling across this region, not only towards the U.S.

Many resent the U.S. foreign policy over the past few decades supporting autocrats that oppressed people, but also feeling the frustration because since this Arab Spring happened, really not much has changed in a way of reform new governments and democracy really springing up here.

SIMON: Leila, what's your feeling for how foreign policy in the region, U.S. relations with Arab states there might be affected by this unrest?

FADEL: Well, I think this is indicative of just how different the U.S. footprint is in the region right now. Many of these countries are now in transition after the so-called Arab Spring last year and these governments are not the governments that the United States has dealt with for decades. So many of them autocratic, but secular rulers now being replaced by democratically elected Islamist governments.

So, I think it's very clear that this is a new era of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and also these demonstrations against not only U.S. embassies, but symbols of the United States in general may cause serious strain on the relationship between the United States and these countries.

SIMON: With the advantage of a few months hindsight, does this put a different prospective on the events we've labeled Arab Spring?

FADEL: I don't necessarily think so. I mean this is a time that the Arab world is in transition and these governments have never been in power before. Many of these groups have never held positions of power and they're dealing with what is really the biggest diplomatic crisis of their new fledgling governments. So I don't know that this is necessarily a damming of the Arab Spring, if you will, but definitely a bump in the road.

SIMON: Leila Fadel, NPR's correspondent in Benghazi. Thanks very much for being with us.

FADEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.