Yesterday was a day of relative calm throughout the Middle East after nearly a week of violent protests and deaths incited by Innocence of Muslims, the internet’s most infamous and possibly most moronic video. This pause is partly thanks to beefed up security around U.S. embassies around the world, including an elite Marine team dispatched to Sana’a, in Yemen, as well as a successful operation by Egyptian police to clear out thousands of protesters in Cairo, where demonstrations first began.
Another factor is likely the growing denunciation of violence by top religious authorities and clerics in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere — leaders are now instead calling for peaceful protests. A scheduled demonstration in Sana’a was ultimately cancelled due to lack of interest. However, this is all not to say that this incipient calm will necessarily last. Just look at the above photo of massed protesters in Lahore, Pakistan earlier today.
Speaking to USA Today during a visit to Asia, where tensions are also running high, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta agreed that:
There are moments you think that it may be leveling off and then something happens somewhere. I think it’s going to play out that way for a few days. So we’ve got to continue to be very vigilant about tracking this and making sure that we protect our people. I suspect that … these demonstrations are likely to continue over the next few days, if not longer.
Which is why that Marine team was sent to Sana’a with others dispatched to Libya and the Sudan — although the third contingent was recalled after the government in Khartoum complained — and why non-emergency embassy staff have been evacuated from those two cities, as well as Tunis.
So far, protests have sprung up on at least four continents, everywhere from Sydney, Australia — where the prime minister was aghast that a child was seen carrying a placard calling for beheadings — to London — where 200 people massed outside the U.S. embassy there — to Cairo — where the prime minister claims several protesters were paid to hit the pavement — to Tunis — where protesters burned down an American school with no ties to the embassy there. In the Sudan, at least three people were killed after attempting to burn down the German and British embassies; another four protesters were killed in Yemen; two died in Lebanon, where demonstrators torched a KFC; and one man was killed in Tahrir Square, on Friday.
The next few days will confirm whether the fervor and unrest we’ve witnessed — and catalogued in this handy Google Map — has indeed flamed out, or whether Al Qaeda will get its wish to “set the fires blazing” once again.