Egyptian Perspective on Anti-American Riots

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Kareem Awadalla, the host of a political program for the Egyptian Radio and Television Union, and a Humphrey Fellow who’s currently studying journalism at ASU, shares his perspective on riots and violence against U.S. diplomatic compounds taking place in the Middle East.

Ted Simons: An anti-Islam film made in America, its trailer posted on YouTube, incited protests and riots in the Middle East this week. News of the film enraged and provoked demonstrators outside the U.S. embassy in Egypt. In Libya, the violence turned tragic when Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, and three other American diplomats, were killed in an attack on the U.S. consulate in the state of Benghazi.
Video [President Obama]: It's especially tragic that Chris Stevens died in Benghazi, because it's a city he helped to save. At the height of the Libyan revolution, Chris led our diplomatic post in Benghazi. With characteristic skill, courage, and resolve, he built partnerships with Libyan revolutionaries and helped them as they planned to build a new Libya.
Video [Hillary Clinton]: Many Americans are asking, indeed I asked myself, how could this happen? How could this happen in a country we helped liberate, in a city we helped save from destruction? This question reflects just how complicated, and at times how confounding, the world can be.
Ted Simons: And for some perspective on these events in the Middle East, I spoke with Kareem Awadalla, he hosts a political program for the Egyptian radio and television union and he's currently studying at ASU's Cronkite School of journalism as part of his 10 month Humphrey fellowship. I spoke with Kareem earlier today. Thank you so much for joining us tonight on "Arizona Horizon."
Kareem Awadalla: Thanks for having me.
Ted Simons: Let's try to find out what's going on here. Why are these protests breaking out? Is it only because of this film or is something else going on here?
Kareem Awadalla: First, my condolences to the family of Mr. Chris Stevens, the former ambassador in Libya and all the people that have, all the families that have lost someone or relative in what happened in Libya. And to understand what's going on in the Middle East, we have to go back more than 11 years ago. Because I think it started during the war against Iraq, this kind of mass destruction, weapons that they claimed Iraq had and they apologized because they discovered nothing was there. After that 9-11, these are the major steps, 9-11 and after 9-11, the American administration has clarified that it is time to have war against terrorism, and before I -- I have to say something, part of this even in the United States, during 9-11 I believe some of your international news, big News Corporations have been, I don't know, airing people dancing, and celebrating the things of 9-11. I do remember this day very good, because my birthday is on the 11th of September so I was in Egypt and I know for a fact this wasn't the case. However, after this 9-11 thing, your administration has claimed this is -- claimed a war against terrorism, which was in the beginning declared a very good thing. In Egypt for instance we had our share with terrorism in the 1990s. Anyone imagining life without terrorism, this is great thing. And then all of a sudden it turned into war against Islam.
Ted Simons: Who said it was war against Islam?
Kareem Awadalla: That's a good thing. No, I cannot point fingers saying who said so, but that's the way it turned. That's the way the direction was changed towards this part, and no one was not -- was coming and saying, this is not what we mean. We are not against Islam in general, the kind of people who use maybe a Islam to legalize any terrorist activities. But this is the perception that it turned to be war against Islam. During that time, I cannot blame or point fingers who did say so, who is responsible for marketing this idea, but I can just say it would be much better for the United States or the administration to come and say, this is not what we mean. This is not what we want, because this had a very bad implication afterwards.
Ted Simons: Before we go on though, President Bush, on numerous occasions, said this was not a war against Islam. Numerous occasions. President Obama has gone out of his way to the point where he's being criticized by Americans for bending too far forward in saying, this is not a war against Islam, it is a war against radical violent extremist Islam. How much more needs to be said, and does it need to be said in a different way?
Kareem Awadalla: A different way would be -- yes. Speaking back to George Bush era, which actually honestly speaking the United States has not been hated any more than that, worldwide. I don't know, I'm speaking even about the Middle East -- during that time it wasn't really the best time for the United States. Maybe he came out saying that this is not war against Islam, but the actions were not like that. We had Iraq under attack, Afghanistan under attack, and Muslim countries under attack. Not only that, there has been rumors in the Islamic countries and very strong rumors saying, for instance, United States is forcing the former government to change the service of religion for the students. The United States is out to get Muslims. When you go to United States, you have to take off your shoes and you treated very badly because you are Muslim. This is some of it is completely rumor, however, I've been reporting, I told my friends who work for the American Embassy, are you aware these rumors are there, and they say yes, and I say, "Why don't you address it? Going and going and going and actually not addressing can these rumors you're giving a very fertile soil for people with prejudice to use this kind of thing and to feed the paranoia that the United States is against Islam.
Ted Simons: I can hear people right now watching and listening to what you're saying and say what more do we need to do to keep those folks from being paranoid and believing in rumors? I can only stop so many rumors about me before I start thinking, this is isn't a me problem, it's a you problem. You're the one believing--
Kareem Awadalla: You said what more. What did you do then in the beginning? In the first place?
Ted Simons: The president -- the United States repeatedly mentioned, went to a mosque, went out of his way to show this was not a war against Islam.
Kareem Awadalla: You're speaking about Obama?
Ted Simons: I'm speaking about any president. Which president of the United States has gone out of his way to say this is a war against Islam?
Ted Simons: Again, it's a matter of actions more than speaks. The action was going again, I know the words were like that, however words were not so much marketed during that time. Actions were more violent towards Islam. Something else, you were saying something I forgot what --
Ted Simons: I want to get back to what's going on --
Kareem Awadalla: You said something very important, I want to address.
Ted Simons:I do want to get to this film and why this stuff is happening right now. A film that is -- it's a trailer for a film that may not even exist, and it's poorly done by all accounts, it's hardly anything that would make -- why is this causing the Middle East to explode?
Kareem Awadalla: Can I just say something before we go to this point? The thing is, the United States, the people in the United States, yesterday I've seen Mr. Romney coming on CNN, saying it's not right, apologize for our values. The thing is, since when do you think the people worldwide know your values and understand it? The thing is people don't believe, don't know how things go in the United States. I received phone calls from people in my country saying are you safe, I say yes, and how are things going? I said how is things going? It's OK, but the American administration should not approve such a movie like that. This is something you don't understand. This is something that's happening. Egypt, for instance, is the third world's biggest country in the movie industry because we -- there is Bollywood, Hollywood and Egypt. Any movie to be produced, they should take approval over the script from the government, that is not provoking any minorities, religion, any kind of countries. So this is the way people think it is in the United States. Again, this is something you never address to the people from my country or from other countries. So they believe the concept is, having this movie going on this time, this means this movie got the approval from the American administration and the American administration is encouraging this kind of --
Ted Simons: Is that what the average Egyptian believes?
Kareem Awadalla: It's actually most of the Egyptians. No one ever had said the way it is in the United States is not like the way it's happening --
Ted Simons: So every film we send to the Middle East we need to say that the big LEBOWSKY doesn't exist, Fargo people don't really exist?
Kareem Awadalla: No. Not with every movie you're doing. What should be happening is that as long as your culture is -- you should deliver a complete image of what you have. What should be known or educated or told to the people from the Middle East, that the American administration has nothing to do with approving any kind of movies. This is not the way things are. Like yesterday, for instance, Mr. Obama was having a great speech saying that this movie we don't agree with what's going on, we don't encouraging that. But this is freedom of speech. Again today people over the CNN from Egypt and from Libya and other countries saying Obama is guilty. Why Barack Obama is guilty? Because he didn't say that I don't have anything to do with approving it. Still the people --
Ted Simons: OK. Last point. We've got to get going. The last point, obviously this is a fascinating discussion here. Obviously, I'm hearing that the United States isn't doing this, isn't doing that, isn't doing this, that, and the other, because folks in the Middle East are perceiving this, that, and the other. At what point is there a responsibility among those in the Middle East to investigate, to do a little work before believing everybody rumor that comes down the pike?
Kareem Awadalla: I agree with you. There's big deal to be done. Actually, what's happening in Libya is separate from what's happening in Egypt. What's happening in Egypt, you, sum it up as people protesting. It's a movie they don't like. I would address why, because I know in the United States having provoking religion is not a big deal to you, it's not as sensitive as it is in the Middle East. To give you an example, how sensitive is it for the people in the Middle East, especially with the United States having this kind of bad history that the United States is out to get Islam, it's as sensitive, as if someone is having, let's say a movie promoting racism, or promoting torture among, I don't know, people from different racism. This would be disaster in your country. People will not perceive it in a good way.
Ted Simons: We would not perceive it in a good way. It would not be a disaster. No one would care. No one would watch it.
Kareem Awadalla: No, I don't think so.
Ted Simons: You don't think so? How long have you been in this country? You don't think so?
Kareem Awadalla: Yeah. I --
Ted Simons: I can tell you about art exhibits that have curled my hair. And they come, they go, and no one kills anyone over them.
Kareem Awadalla: No, no, no. I'm not speaking about killing. I'm speaking about protest and people are angry from that. I'm not saying this would be a matter of killing. I've been to -- I don't remember the name of the institution, the black people in journalism or something, minorities in journalism, and I've said it is a very sensitive issue.
Ted Simons: Of course it is.
Kareem Awadalla: So it is as sensitive as addressing religion in the Middle East. Especially -- I believe if you have the same movie, speaking about any other prophet in the United States and projecting this prophet as homosexual, womanizer, and child molester and this kind of thing, in any other religion people in the United States wouldn't be happy as well. This would create like unhappiness feeling, protests, not reaching killing someone, which is something I don't agree, I don't approve with. And hope luckily things will not turn to be like that in most of the country.
Ted Simons: We have to stop it right there. Very good discussion. It's good to have you here. Thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.
Kareem Awadalla: Thanks so much for having me. I'm so much happy that I had the chance to speak with people and hopefully this will change something.
Ted Simons: Thank you very much.
Kareem Awadalla: Thanks. I just would like to say something -- my discussion was not here to defend someone or to fight or speak in the name of someone. Neither am I here to offer any more condolences. I was just trying to highlight the difference between things that is causing this kind of very high tension.
Ted Simons: Done deal. Thank you so much.
Kareem Awadalla: Thanks for having me.

Kareem Awadalla:Host, Egyptian Radio and Television Union, ASU Humphrey Fellow;

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