The Mideast and Abroad
- Published on Wednesday, 12 September 2012 08:59
To mark September 11, Muslims in Egypt stormed the US Embassy.
Actually, it is not that simple. Certain Copts who reside in the United States produced an amateur film purporting to expose the frails and falsities of Muhammad, and advertised its release for September 11. Word got back to Egypt, of course, prompting protest from religious institutions, Muslim and Christian alike. Salafi Muslims in particular called for a protest at the US Embassy, and they were joined by hardcore soccer fans in denouncing the film as well as the US government for allowing it to be made. The US Embassy, for its part, issued an official condemnation, calling the effort an abuse of freedom of expression.
Several thousand Egyptians gathered at the entrance of the embassy, falling into roughly two categories. While it was clear all participated, bearded Salafi Muslims largely stood peacefully, while the soccer youth led vociferous, and playful, chants. It was the latter which scaled the walls of the embassy, pulled down the US flag, and burned it.
Later, they also draped a black Islamic flag over the signage of the embassy, above its entrance. These flags were in abundance and resemble the standard used by al-Qaeda. It is al-Qaeda, however, which appropriated the black flag from earlier in Islamic history, which was used in Muhammad’s campaigns. It bears the Islamic creed: There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his apostle. Its use at this rally does not imply the presence of al-Qaeda.
I did not witness the US flag being desecrated, but Egyptian security was present in abundance and permitted the action. I was told that the Islamic contingent of the protest calmed the youth and did not permit a more serious storming of embassy grounds, if this was even intended. Security seemed to rely on these Islamists to make certain things did not get out of hand.
The atmosphere was charged, but calm and peaceful. Even so, offensive chants were issued and questionable signs displayed. Foreign Copts were called “pigs,” and the Jews were warned about the soon return of Muhammad’s army. One sign declared, “We are all bin Laden, you (Coptic) dogs of the diaspora,” another celebrated the heroes of September 11, asking God’s mercy upon them. In Libya, sadly, protests over the film caused outrage as well. The US Ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stephens, was killed in a rocket attack.
I would not say this demonstration was representative of Egyptian society; several thousand people are a small scale protest. Yet dangerous ideas are afloat and society is yet in an unstable transition. I felt somewhat uncomfortable in their midst and kept a low profile, yet spoke with some and suffered no ill reception. Afterwards I spoke at length with some Islamists there I know well, and hope to convey their thoughts in a separate post, perhaps tomorrow.
Such is Egypt these days, for better or for worse. May God bless them.