But Israel, a key American partner in the region, argues that this upsurge of free expression is anything but democratic. It has been vocal in its criticism of Washington as naive about democratic development – and the challenge posed by rising Islamist powers, especially hard-line factions.
"The radicals are a minority, but that's also the case with the terrorists…. You cannot ignore them," says Eli Shaked, former Israeli ambassador to Egypt. "Washington should stop expecting the Arabs to become democratic tomorrow or the day after tomorrow or in the near future. It's impossible. Democracy should come after a long process of democratization that should start in schools, in textbooks." Children should grow up learning the values" that are second nature in Western societies, he says.
Libya was the scene of the worst violence, but it was also the Arab country that arguably moved fastest to condemn it. Three days after the Sept. 11 attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which killed US Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three colleagues, as Muslims elsewhere launched fresh attacks, Libyans had already begun marching in rejection of the violence, telling Americans that – in the words of one placard – "We are sorry." On Sept. 21, thousands protested once again and attacked the compound of Ansar al-Sharia, a militant Islamist group that some have accused of killing Ambassador Stevens.
Libya's fledgling government has vowed to hunt down the perpetrators of the Benghazi attack, which some officials said was preplanned by a militant group, not simply a protest that escalated. But the lack of a strong, unified national security force raises questions about how easy that will be.