Yesterday, as Americans and the free world commemorated 9-11, Egyptian protesters partied their own way.
Egyptian protesters on Tuesday took down the American flag from the walls of the US embassy in Cairo during a thousands-strong demonstration held to protest a short film produced by US based Coptic-Christians that critics say demeans Islam and the Prophet Mohammed.
A number of protesters managed to climb atop the walls surrounding the embassy, while others were able to breach the embassy’s garden, where they removed an American flag and replaced it with another one bearing the Islamic declaration of faith: “There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is the Prophet of Allah.”
The Ultras White Knights – hardcore football bans – claimed that members of their group had brought down the US flag. While group members have since retreated from the scene, they say they are planning additional rallies to protest the film.
Many of the more Islamist-leaning protesters had answered calls by Salafist leader Wesam Abdel-Wareth – who is also the president of Egypt’s ultra-conservative Al-Hekma television channel – to protest the film ‘Mohammed’s trial’ at 5pm outside the US embassy in Cairo’s Garden City district.
Abdel-Wareth, for his part, denied that protesters had managed to breach embassy premises, claiming that the American flag had been torched in front – rather than inside – embassy grounds.
The Al-Hekma channel’s official Facebook page, meanwhile, has posted a photo of a group of young men removing the flag outside the embassy with a comment that reads: “Ultras Zamalek tear the American flag in front of the embassy.”
US embassy spokesman David Linfield, for his part, confirmed that protesters had been able to enter the embassy and remove the flag. He went on to deny rumours, however, that shots had been fired at demonstrators or that anyone had been injured or killed.
According to one Ahram Online reporter at the scene, no one had been injured in the ongoing demonstration. Despite the tense atmosphere, security forces deployed at the scene appeared relatively relaxed, with many of them sitting on the sidewalk.
Protesters carried signs condemning the alleged insults to Prophet Mohammed, while others vowed vengeance. Some protesters demanded the embassy’s closure.
“Obama, Obama there are still a billion Osamas,” they chanted in reference to slain Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.
Other protesters wrote “There is no God but Allah and Mohamed is the Prophet of Allah” on the embassy’s main gate, obscuring the sign reading “Embassy of the United States.”
“Everyone is here for the Prophet,” said protester Osama Abdel-Halim. “Why is it that, in politics, everyone takes to the streets over things like the constitution, but not when the prophet is insulted?”
Speaking to Ahram Online, engineer Ahmed Hussein said: “I don’t want the embassy to be closed down, since this would adversely affect Egyptians living in the US. But I agree that the makers of this film should be prosecuted.”
He added: “I don’t care if anyone insults Islamist politicians, but insulting the religion itself is a red line.”
Protester Mostafa Khalaf called on Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood, to “take the necessary steps to prevent the broadcast of this offensive film.”
“Morsi, Morsi why are you silent? Isn’t this your prophet?” protesters chanted.
The protest began to deviate from its peaceful nature when some demonstrators began setting off fireworks, the sound of which resembled gunfire. Other demonstrators at the scene chanted “Peaceful, Peaceful,” urging their fellow protesters to refrain from acts of violence.
At one point, the Egyptian Army intervened, surrounding the embassy grounds in an effort to pacify the situation.
As of 8pm, roughly 20 people were standing atop the embassy’s outer wall, while some 2,000 protesters amassed outside the building.
Brotherhood, Salafist reactions
Meanwhile, Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan said on Tuesday that the group planned to call for a million-man rally on Friday to register their opposition to the anti-Islam film.
Ghozlan also said that the US administration should issue a formal apology for the film to the Muslim world, adding that the US government should prosecute the “madmen” whose activities were harming Washington’s relations with Arab and Muslim countries.
Ahmed Khalil, for his part, a senior leader of Egypt’s Salafist Nour Party (which played a leading role in Tuesday’s protest), said the party would not call for an open-ended sit-in in front of the embassy. Rather, he said, it had submitted a request to the US embassy demanding that the US government ban broadcast of the film and issue an official apology for its offensive content.
Khalil added that the actions of “certain US citizens” who produced the film served to jeopardize Washington’s relations with the entire Muslim world.
In an attempt to contain the situation, members of Egypt’s Salafist parties are reportedly cooperating with Egypt’s Central Security Forces to persuade protesters to come down from atop the embassy’s walls.
And how did the US Embassy respond? By
cowering issuing this press release:
The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.
Meanwhile, in Libya:
A State Department officer was killed after armed protesters stormed the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, furious about an amateur video that has been viewed as insulting to the Prophet Muhammad.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed the American’s death in a statement on Tuesday evening.
“Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet,” Clinton said in the statement. “The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.”
The attack left much of the consulate burned, witnesses said, and came hours after demonstrators in Egypt climbed the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo to protest the video.
I am just awaiting the press release from the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, which I imagine would be something like this:
The Embassy of the United States in benghazi condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.
We are also sorry that one of our State Department officers got in the way of the aggrieved protesters, who accidentally killed him, which no doubt pained them further since it is against their religion.
Update: Romney’s right.
Mitt Romney attacked the Obama administration late Tuesday over the attacks on the U.S. diplomatic missions in Egypt and Libya, claiming its first response was “to sympathize” with the attackers.
An Obama campaign spokesman responded by saying they were “shocked” that Romney would “choose to launch a political attack” shortly after the death of a U.S. official. A State Department officer was killed in Benghazi, Libya, after armed protesters stormed the consulate.
As the controversy built on Tuesday over an amateur video allegedly produced in the U.S. – that shows the Prophet Muhammad having sex and calling for massacres – the U.S. Embassy in Cairo issued a statement saying it condemned “efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims – as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions.
“Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others,” it added.
Romney said he was “outraged” by the attacks and the killing of the officer in Benghazi.
“It’s disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks,” he added.
Update: Here is a graphic photo of the murdered ambassador, J. Christoper Stevens.
(Sorry, but I want the barbarity to hit home).
The movie (a trailer of which can be seen here) was clearly ill conceived (not to mention badly acted). However, this does not justify the barbaric reaction. If us Jews went on a killing spree after each time we felt aggrieved or maligned, the world population would be halved. At least.
Update: Obama statement on the attack, which is not cowering like the Egyptian embassy statement.
I strongly condemn the outrageous attack on our diplomatic facility in Benghazi, which took the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Right now, the American people have the families of those we lost in our thoughts and prayers. They exemplified America’s commitment to freedom, justice, and partnership with nations and people around the globe, and stand in stark contrast to those who callously took their lives.
I have directed my Administration to provide all necessary resources to support the security of our personnel in Libya, and to increase security at our diplomatic posts around the globe. While the United States rejects efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others, we must all unequivocally oppose the kind of senseless violence that took the lives of these public servants.
On a personal note, Chris was a courageous and exemplary representative of the United States. Throughout the Libyan revolution, he selflessly served our country and the Libyan people at our mission in Benghazi. As Ambassador in Tripoli, he has supported Libya’s transition to democracy. His legacy will endure wherever human beings reach for liberty and justice. I am profoundly grateful for his service to my Administration, and deeply saddened by this loss.
The brave Americans we lost represent the extraordinary service and sacrifices that our civilians make every day around the globe. As we stand united with their families, let us now redouble our own efforts to carry their work forward.