September 9th was to be a day of protests in Tahrir Square not seen since prior to the month of Ramadan. Known as “correcting the path” amongst organizers, it was to express frustration at the military’s handling of the Mubarak trials and such. Here is a translation of the demands from a website (http://www.elshaheeed.co.uk/):
Egyptians will protest on Friday, September 9th to ensure their revolution is on the right path.
– Permanent end of military trials of civilians.
– A clear timeline with exact dates of when the military council will hand over power to an ELECTED CIVIL authority (The initially promised 6 months have now finished).
– Canceling the new law issued by military council that prohibits sit-ins and strikes.
– Change the new elections law that helps the same old corrupt businessmen win the elections.
– Ensure the Egyptian police focus on ending crime and criminality rather than attacking law abiding citizens.
– Implement the minimum pay for public sector workers and maximum salaries for senior officials.
– Implement Egyptian laws that will ensure the corrupt heads and symbols of Mubarak’s ruling national party, and who have been proved to have rigged Egyptian elections for years, can no longer stand elections again.
Over thousands showed up to the protests, but attention was cut short when the Israeli embassy in Giza became the target of Egyptian demonstrators frusturation. Taking sledgehammers and whatever they could find, they hacked at the recently erected 3-meter cement walls and climbed over it, heading into the first floor of the Nile-side high-rise housing the embassy. Protesters made it far enough to grab embassy pamphlets and/or documents from the foyer and scatter them around. Someone even tore down the Israeli flag. While on the outside, cars were set ablaze and tear gas engulfed the area, as protesters clashed with police and then the military. Over 450 people are reported injured with several dead, 17 protesters have been arrested (Numbers are coming in and fluctuating).
A source residing by the Israeli embassy told me that the Saudi Arabian embassy was also being attacked, there is no confirmation about that yet.
Two aircrafts were sent to Cairo to evacuate members of the Embassy, the first for Ambassador Yitzhak Levanon and his 80 staff and families, the second was for the 6 guards who fended off protesters at the Embassy. They arrived “safe and sound” to Israel, according to a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.
American President Barack Obama expressed “great concern” over what happened on Friday and called on Egypt “to honor its international obligations to safeguard the security of the Israeli Embassy.”
A similar incident happened back on August 21st, after five Egyptian security officers were killed during an IDF mission which attempted to target militants in Egypt’s Sinai in retaliation of a bus attack in Eilat, Israel. This sparked protests in front of the embassy as well. The hightlight of it being when someone climbed to the 21st floor and tore down the Israeli flag, replacing it with an Egyptian one. The individual, an Egyptian carpenter, was instantly regarded as a hero and nicknamed “Flagman”. As a result of the incident, a 3-meter cement wall was put up as an effort to ward off future attacks on the embassy.
Egyptian-Israel relations for the past thirty years were never quite warm, given their history of wars, but it was ousted US-backed President Husni Mubarak who often kept things cool. As a consquence of last month’s incident in the Sinai, Egyptians have called to expel the Israel Ambassador after not apologizing in addition to a revision of the 1979 Camp David Accords. Sympathy to the Palestinian cause has also played a major role into the demonstrations.
The incident is a blow to Egyptian-Israeli relations, but not an entire loss, as the embassy still has Ambassador Levanon’s deputy as representative in Cairo. Israel has stayed calm throughout the incident, and it comes as no surprise given the recent deterioration of Israel and Turkey’s relations over the Gaza flotilla incident last year.
In all, the embassy incident was a setback for the “correcting the path” protesters, as it distracted the people from it and made the Israeli Embassy the focus instead. This was actually to the Military’s benefit, and there is no telling what role they played in all of this. There was no point in raiding the Israeli embassy, as it only proved to many that Egypt may not only be ready for elections, but for democracy as well.
Israel is in a complex position it has not faced in decades and it will be interesting to see how it reacts to all of this. With it’s two allies Turkey and Egypt turning away from them, Israel is going to have to keep a low profile and make some compromises. This is especially fascinating given the UN bid for a Palestinian state happening on Monday. Could it be this was a stunt to back Israel into a corner? We may never know.