Canada to re-open 2 Middle East embassies
Published Sunday, September 16, 2012 7:10AM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, September 16, 2012 8:35PM EDT
Canada will re-open two of its embassies in the Middle East on Monday after closing three for the day Sunday amid a wave of protests and violence against embassies in the region.
A spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said the missions in Egypt and Libya will re-open, while the embassy in Sudan will remain closed to ensure the safety of staff.
The move to temporarily shutter the missions in Cairo, Tripoli and Khartoum was born out of concern for the safety of Canada’s diplomatic staff, according to Baird’s representative.
Anger over a film made in the U.S. titled the “Innocence of Muslim” has spread across the Middle East and other Muslim countries in recent days. The obscure movie denigrates Islam by depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a fraud and womanizer.
The often-violent demonstrations set off by the film prompted U.S. officials Saturday to order all family members and non-essential personnel from embassies in Sudan and Tunisia. The nation’s state department cited security concerns in the capitals of Tunis and Khartoum.
Speaking with CTV’s Question Period Sunday, former Canadian ambassador Michael Bell said the ongoing regional protests against U.S. embassies stem from the difficulties the newly formed democracies experience while transitioning from autocracy to democracy.
In Bell’s view, relatively young democratic governments in the Mideast are struggling to find a way to balance competing interests such as showing sympathy for insults to Islam, controlling rioters and protesters and stopping the terror attacks.
“That’s the price you pay when you change from these autocracies of the (Hosni) Mubarak and (Moammar) Gadhafi era where things were really repressed,” said Bell.
“That in many ways is the dilemma that those governments face,” he said.
The Canadian mission in Cairo was shut down last Thursday following attacks on the neighbouring U.S. embassy.
Bell said he believed those rioting and attacking the embassies were reacting in part to the conditions of their day-to-day life.
“There’s obviously a venting of anger, whether it be terrorist groups as obviously in Libya or street concern -- people that are frustrated with their own lives and they’re trying to let go of that anger,” he said.
Former Foreign Affairs Minister Barbara McDougall added that while the rioters are a cause for concern, she believes they can be contained.
“My understanding is that in many of the demonstrations there's only a very small participation, that those who are actually out protesting are the thugs, the have-nots, the drifters, the unemployed and that it is not a large crowd,” she said.
“It's not like the crowds that brought democracy to Tahrir Square, to Egypt, which were very large. And so they are containable, which doesn't mean they aren't dangerous and doesn't mean it can't spread.”
Earlier this month the federal government closed its embassy located in Iran and severed all diplomatic ties with the country. The government cited safety concerns of Canadian diplomats as the reason.
While the government’s speedy actions against Iran prompted criticism from some, McDougall said in some instances it is appropriate for the government to take a stand.
“I think governments in some part are elected to take a stand, as we did when we were there on some of the issues that faced us. Being neutral is not always added value,” she said.
With files from The Canadian Press