CAIRO – Young demonstrators in Cairo and Sanaa, Yemen, battled government security forces Thursday in anti-American protests over an online video made in the United States that mocks the Muslim prophet Muhammad.
In Yemen’s capital, at least four protesters were killed and more than 30 were injured, some of them severely, on the third consecutive day of protests across the Middle East. Crowds broke into the U.S. Embassy compound in Sanaa, burning cars and looting offices before they were subdued by the Yemeni army.
There were no reports of American injuries, unlike in Benghazi, Libya, on Tuesday night, where gunmen, in the midst of a street protest, stormed the U.S. Consulate and killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
The Obama administration was bracing for another potential eruption of violent demonstrations in parts of the Muslim world after today’s weekly prayers – traditionally a time of protest in the Middle East and North Africa.
The U.S. put all of its diplomatic missions overseas on high alert, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered an explicit denunciation of the video as the administration sought to pre-empt further turmoil at its embassies and consulates.
“The United States government had absolutely nothing to do with this video,” she said before a meeting with the foreign minister of Morocco at the State Department. “We absolutely reject its content and message.”
In Cairo, where the first anti-video protest erupted Tuesday, hordes of young men on Thursday, seeking to reach the U.S. Embassy, tossed rocks and Molotov cocktails at police, who fired back with tear gas. The cat-and-mouse game continued for hours, with the demonstrators unable to get to the embassy.
A constant from the first demonstration has been the large numbers of unemployed young men in attendance. From the fall of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak in February 2011 to popular protests that helped end the reign of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, young men, frustrated by a lack of jobs or freedoms, have served as the shock troops of the region’s so-called “Arab Spring” uprisings.
Despite wholesale political change in several countries, many have found they still face similar problems and uncertainties as in the past. The anti-video protests have provided a fresh opportunity to return to the streets and express their rage and frustration.
In Sanaa on Thursday, teenage boys and young men thronging the streets around the U.S. Embassy engaged in the bloody protest. At first, they overwhelmed the smaller number of security officers and entered the embassy gates, where they threw stones at the building and burned tires and two cars. They also smashed security office windows outside the embassy walls.
Later, government forces reached the area and fired shots and tear gas grenades in the air to disperse the crowd.
Yemeni President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi apologized to President Barack Obama and formed a committee to investigate the incident.
Supporters of Yemen’s main Islamist opposition party, Islah, called for a day of protest today after noon prayers, calling it “the Friday of Defending the Prophet Muhammad.”
Egypt’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood also called for demonstrations after Friday prayers, as did authorities in Iran and the Gaza Strip. Large protests were expected in Baghdad and Iraq’s second-largest city, Basra, as well as Amman, Jordan.
“There is no justification, none at all, for responding to this video with violence,” Clinton said. “We condemn the violence that has resulted in the strongest terms. … It is especially wrong for violence to be directed against diplomatic missions. These are places whose very purpose is peaceful: to promote better understanding across countries and cultures.”