Friday morning just as mid-day prayer was beginning across the heart of the Muslim world Mike Hayden, retired Air Force General, former Director of the National Security Agency and former Director of the CIA, appeared on CBS This Morning.
At the top of the interview he set out a helpful framework for observing what would unfold. Hayden offered,
“How many people demonstrate in how many cities?”
“How close to American installations are they allowed to get?”
“How violent are they?”
“What do these governments… do to protect Americans and American installations?”
“We are going to learn an awfully lot about how much power, how many legs this movement has.”
I might want to edit Mr. Hayden’s comment to reference “these movements have”, but otherwise let’s look at how his questions were answered.
How many people demonstrate in how many cities?
The Friday demonstrations were quite wide-spread, ranging from Morocco to Indonesia. There were related protests in Australia and elsewhere on Saturday morning. Precise numbers are difficult. But media reports most often estimated hundreds rather than thousands. In Cairo Bloomberg News report “more than 1000 people” joined the protests. By Saturday morning Egyptian police out-numbered protesters in Tahrir Square.
How close to American installations are they allowed to get?
In Tunis and Khartoum the embassy perimeters were temporarily penetrated during clashes with security forces. But even in these two cases host governments demonstrated considerable commitment to containing the demonstrations (more below).
How violent are they?
The “protests” ranged from signs and shouts, to throwing rocks, to petrol bombs, to looting a school, to a sustained attack by the Taliban on Camp Bastion in Southern Afghanistan. Other than the Taliban attack and raids on Sinai peacekeepers, there was apparently no repeat of the para-military operations that seems to have characterized the capture of the US Consulate in Benghazi and the death of diplomats there. (I heard rumors of an organized after-sundown attack in Sana, but cannot find it confirmed.)
Below is a map developed by Max Fisher at The Atlantic. He explains, “I’ve charted the violent protests in red and the protests that did not produce violence in yellow. It’s an imperfect distinction; I’ve counted the stone-throwers in Jerusalem as a violent protest but the flag-burners in Lahore as non-violent. But it gives you a somewhat more nuanced view into who is expressing anger and how they’re doing it…”
What did the (host) governments do?
Police and security forces were effectively deployed. Attacks were condemned. Arrests were made. In Egypt — allegedly after a push by the White House — significant steps were successfully taken by both the government and the Muslim Brotherhood to dampen demonstrations. Despite the domestic political risk from Salafists, the current Islamist government decided to deploy its political and religious legitimacy to fulfill international — and some would say, religious — obligations. They have also been proactive in framing the issue by having State media highlight condemnations of the offending video by Secretary Clinton and others.
What did we learn?
Well… you tell me.