Keeping the lid on Egypt’s anti-Israel protest
Egypt’s minister of information: Emergency law revived after yesterday’s clashes
Egypt’s information minister announced in a harshly worded message that strong action will be taken against “rioters” involved in Friday’s clashes around the Israeli Embassy
Nada Hussein Rashwan, Ahram Online
Egyptian Minister of Information Ossama Heikal made a televised statement summing up the outcome of a meeting that took place earlier in the day between Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and the crisis-management group in of his cabinet with members of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
The meeting was to discuss a response to fierce clashes that took place yesterday in the area of the Israeli Embassy in Cairo and the Giza Security Directorate premises nearby, resulting in the injury of over 1000 people, and the death of three.
In a strong-worded statement, Heikal began by saying that “deterrent actions” will be taken to face the “crisis” that Egypt is currently undergoing. One of the main actions will be applying the provisions of emergency law, which were relaxed after the January 25 Revolution, though the state of emergency was not lifted.
Heikal affirmed Egypt’s “international commitments” to relevant treaties and agreements, alluding to the 1979 Peace Treaty with Israel, as well as Egypt’s commitment to protecting foreign envoys within its territories. Heikal called on Egypt’s political forces and media to “take responsibility for their role in the current laxity in security and morals.”
Regarding the clashes that took place last night between protesters and security forces in the area between the Israeli Embassy and the Giza Security Directorate building around Nahda Square in Giza, Heikal began by stating “some have taken advantage of the restraint adopted by security forces and attempted to provoke them”.
He added: “Those who have made such attempts can never be regarded as honourable.” Heikal also announced that the “rioters” arrested during yesterday’s clashes would be referred to trial before the Higher State Security Court, in accordance with Emergency Law.
Egyptian protesters pull down Israel embassy wall
By Sami Aboudi and Yasmine Saleh, Reuters
CAIRO- Egyptian activists destroyed a wall around the Israeli embassy and set police cars on fire in Cairo on Friday after thousands demonstrated at Tahrir Square to push for a timetable for reforms and an end to military trials for civilians.
Activists who spearheaded an uprising that ousted President Hosni Mubarak on February 11 have been piling pressure on the ruling military council to fix a date for parliamentary and presidential elections and to get rid of senior officials who served under Mubarak.
Thousands converged on Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the pro-democracy protests that toppled Mubarak, after Friday prayers for what was billed as “Correcting the Path” protests.
Some later marched to the opposite bank of the Nile in Giza. Demonstrators used hammers, large iron bars and police barricades to tear down the wall, erected this month by Egyptian authorities after daily protests over the killing of five Egyptian border guards in Sinai.
Protesters scaled the embassy building, removed the Israeli flag for the second time in less than a month and burned it.
Giza’s police chief said that two police vehicles were set alight near the Israeli embassy building during the protests. State television said four police vehicles were set on fire.
“This action shows the state of anger and frustration the young Egyptian revolutionaries feel against Israel especially after the recent Israeli attacks on the Egyptian borders that led to the killing of Egyptian soldiers,” Egyptian political analyst Nabil Abdel Fattah told Reuters.
Egyptian police stood aside as activists tore down the concrete wall to the cheers of hundreds of demonstrators.
“It is great that Egyptians say they will do something and actually do it,” Egyptian film director and activist Khaled Youssef said, standing among the protesters outside the embassy.
“They said they will demolish the wall and they did … the military council has to abide by the demands of the Egyptian people,” he said.
Israel Radio cut into its Sabbath programing with bulletins about the Cairo demonstrations. Citing Foreign Ministry sources, it said the ambassador was safely at his official residence and that Israel was in contact with Egypt, the United States and European powers about the incident.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in a statement late on Friday that he had gone to the ministry’s situation room in Jerusalem to monitor events at the embassy.
“Police will … be left unharmed to continue demolishing the wall,” one security source said. State television reported that 88 people were hurt during the pushing and shoving or from falling debris.
Tensions between the two countries sparked a series of angry protests that reached a climax last month when a demonstrator scaled the building and removed the Israeli flag.
The five security men died during an Israeli operation against gunmen who had killed eight Israelis. Egypt threatened to withdraw its ambassador from Tel Aviv. Israel has stopped short of apologizing, saying it is still investigating how the Egyptian troops were killed.
Protesters also demonstrated outside the Interior Ministry, near Tahrir Square, pelted the building with stones and scrawled graffiti denouncing the head of the ruling military council, Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.
State television said a fire broke out at a building used to store forensic evidence. Firefighters managed to put it out.
Fridays demonstrations were organized mostly by secular groups which had been pushing for reforms, a new constitution and an end to the trial of civilians before military courts.
Islamists, including the political party set up by the Muslim Brotherhood — Egypt’s best organized political force after the dissolution of Mubarak’s National democratic Party — have distanced themselves from the planned protests.
The country’s military rulers have promised to hand back power to a civilian government after elections, which they said would be held before the end of 2011. The council has also facilitated the trial of Mubarak and several of his aides, including former Interior Minister Habib al-Adli, on charges of corruption or conspiring to kill some 850 demonstrators.
But many Egyptians remain sceptical.
“Since January 25 until today, we don’t feel there has been any change,” said Kamel Ebrahim, a 37-year-old civil servant who was among the thousands in Tahrir Square.
“Thugs and thieves have multiplied and the Field Marshal has done nothing to improve things,” he said, referring to Tantawi.
The protests also put pressure on Tantawi, who is due to testify in Mubarak’s trial in a closed session on Sunday. The judge has banned all media coverage of the proceedings during the week also. Other senior figures, including former officials under Mubarak, will also testify.
“This is your last chance, either you say the people are in my heart or you leave,” a man who identified himself only as a driver said. “Will you be able to say that Mubarak did not give orders to shoot?” he said, standing beneath a large poster on which Tantawi’s face was spliced together with Mubarak’s.
Activists said they have no plans to camp in the square.
Protests were also organized in Alexandria, Egypt’s second largest city, and in Suez. Witnesses said military police detained three activists during a demonstration in the city.
In Alexandria, thousands of protesters chanted “The trial, the trial or the gang will stay in power.”
One of the protesters, Hazem Ahmed, 26, a member of Egypt’s Democratic Front party said, “I joined the protest because of the slow pace of the trials and it being not serious.”
(Reporting by Dina Zayed, Shaimaa Fayed and Seham Eloraby, Abdel Rahman Youssef in Alexandria and Yusri Mohamed in Suez; Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Louise Ireland)
Netanyahu says Israel will maintain peace with Egypt after embassy attack, but says it must also safeguard its security
Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, says Israel will continue to keep the peace with Egypt but must act to safeguard its security, hours after a mob attacked Israel’s embassy in Cairo.
The Israeli ambassador and scores of embassy staff were evacuated from Egypt following Friday night’s attack, that also threatened to unravel the peace treaty signed by the two countries 32 years ago.
Netanyahu called Friday night’s attack a “serious incident”, but said Israel would send its ambassador back to Egypt “as soon as possible”.
“Israel will continue to adhere to the peace treaty with Egypt,” Netanyahu told a news conference on Saturday. “We will continue to keep the peace with Egypt. This is in the common interest of both countries.”
Netanyahu said the Middle East was undergoing a “political earthquake of historic proportions”.
“More than anything else, we must in these times act to safeguard our security. This is the anchor of our existence, especially in these turbulent times. We must work towards advancing our national interests in the area at the appropriate time.”
Netanyahu also thanked US President Barack Obama and Egyptian security forces for their help in defusing the embassy crisis.
He said Israeli officials had maintained direct channels of communication with the Egyptian government and said the intervention of Egyptian commandos had prevented a tragedy.
Egyptian officials had said three people were killed and more than 1,000 people injured in clashes late on Friday between protesters and security forces near the embassy, following earlier peaceful demonstrations in Tahrir Square.
Protesters tore down a cement barrier around the high-rise building and dumped Hebrew-language
documents out of the embassy’s windows.
At least 20 suspects had been arrested following the attack, the Egyptian interior ministry said.
Egypt’s information minister Osama Hassan Heikal said those who took part in the violence would be sent to an emergency state security court.
Heikal said Egyptian authorities would apply “all articles of the emergency law to ensure safety” following the embassy attack, and respect international conventions regarding the protection of diplomatic missions.
Police and military forces remained stationed in front of the Israeli embassy, the Saudi embassy and the Giza security headquarters, which was also attacked late on Friday night.
“Things have calmed down considerably since this morning,” said Al Jazeera’s Sherine Tadros, reporting from Cairo.
“There are about 100 people [in front of the Israeli embassy] just surveying the damage and talking to soldiers,” she said.
The protesters were rallying in the heart of Cairo against the slow pace of reforms by the current military council since the toppling of Hosni Mubarak, the former president.
They had also been angered by Israel’s killing of six Egyptian border guards last month, during an operation targeting gunmen suspected of deadly attacks in southern Israel.
The protesters were demanding the closure of the Israeli embassy, an end to gas exports to Israel and nullification of the 1978 Camp David peace agreement between the two countries.
A plane carrying Yitzhak Levanon, the Israeli ambassador, and around 80 others landed in Israel on Saturday.
Six Israeli embassy security officers who were still in the building early on Saturday morning were later rescued by Egyptian commandos, and then sent back to Tel Aviv on a second plane from Cairo.
Israel’s consul for state affairs was left behind to maintain its embassy, as Israel prepared its formal response to the attack by dozens of protesters on the building that houses its diplomatic mission.
Pulling its diplomats even temporarily out of Egypt would represent another regional setback for Israel, which has already seen relations with Turkey – another erstwhile regional ally – turn sour amid anger over last year’s deadly raid by Israeli commandos on a Gaza-bound flotilla.
Speaking on Saturday, Netanyahu also said Israel would “work toward preventing a further deterioration in our relationship with Turkey”.
Israel imports about 40 per cent of its natural gas from Egypt.
Some Egyptians say Israel pays too little for the gas, and the pipeline that connects the two countries has been attacked at least five times since February.
Israel has clearly not grasped that Turkey and Egypt in 2011 are nothing like they were a decade or even a year ago.
Marwan Bishara, Al Jazeera
Protests at Israel’s embassy in Cairo on Friday escalated into an attack on the facility that brought down the Israeli flag and forced the ambassador and his staff to flee in the middle of the night.
These dramatic events should come as a wake-up call: the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, can no longer take Egypt for granted.
Egypt’s empowered and vocal public opinion since the revolution that threw out the government of Hosni Mubarak, the former president, has changed the way Cairo does business with its presumed “peace partner”.
The window of opportunity to halt the deterioration of relations is closing fast. Do not expect relations to recover any time soon.
Israel’s killing of four Egyptian security officers on the border three weeks ago has angered Egyptians and humiliated the country’s ruling military council.
It was no coincidence that Egyptian revolutionaries who called for a day of protest under the slogan “Correct the path” would make their way for a second time to the Israeli embassy.
Indeed, members of the public are either unaware or have forgotten that Egypt’s movement for change started 10 years ago as a solidarity movement with the Palestinian Intifada and against Israeli occupation.
Activists at the time viewed Mubarak’s failures in domestic affairs as an extension of his defeatist foreign policies.
Despite Mubarak’s attempts to cover up Israel’s 2008 war against the Gaza Strip, and to pressure the Palestinian leadership to accept Israeli dictates, the Netanyahu administration paid lip service to its “peace partner”.
Last year, the Israeli navy embarrassed another friendly regional power, Turkey, when it attacked its flotilla in the Mediterranean’s international waters, killing nine Turkish activists.
The Netanyahu government has refused to apologise for the attack, and instead warned Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, about the consequences of making escalatory statements.
An angered Erdogan government severed relations with Turkey’s former strategic ally and put Israel on notice.
Israel has clearly paid little attention to the fact that Turkey and Egypt in 2011 are nothing like they were a year or a decade ago.
Netanyahu’s administration seems to have ignored the facts that the region has been transformed by the democratic change that brought Erdogan’s AK Party to the fore in Ankara, and has empowered the Egyptian public like nothing before.
Israel cannot seem to accept the idea that it might no longer get away with humiliating its friends or foes under the pretext of guarding Israeli security.
As it stands, Netanyahu’s Israel has lost the only two significant allies it had in the region.
Its attempts to pressure Washington into cleaning up its mess and tame its adversaries does not seem to be helping either.
Washington has also lost much of its political leverage in Turkey and Egypt because of the public pressure in both countries.
Any more pressure by Washington would only embarrass the generals in Turkey and the ruling military council in Egypt which are already under tremendous pressure from their respective publics.
Even though Washington remains an important strategic ally to both countries and commands strong military-to-military relations, it can no longer protect Israel from popular anger.
As the godfather of normalised relations between Israel and Egypt, Washington has reacted swiftly and angrily to the attack on the Israeli embassy in Cairo.
But its mild reactions to the Israeli attacks on the Egyptian border and the Turkish flotilla have invoked accusations of diplomatic double standards. In the process, the outcry has weakened Washington’s leverage in the region.
The same applies to the failure this week of Barack Obama, the US president, to prevent the Palestinians from pursuing United Nations recognition.
His threat to veto any such resolution presented to the UN Security Council has also raised eyebrows in the Arab world, considering Obama’s failure to pressure Israel’s settlement freeze in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Israel’s intransigence will ultimately lead not only to its isolation, but also to a weakened US posture in the region.
For Israel, if it truly wants to change all that, a round of apologies may be in order. As one Western commentator put it this week: “Yes, Israel, increasingly isolated, should do just that. An apology is the right course and the smart course. What’s good for Egypt — an apology over lost lives — is good for Turkey, too.”
Marwan Bishara is Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst.
He was previously a professor of International Relations at the American University of Paris. An author who writes extensively on global politics, he is widely regarded as a leading authority on the Middle East and international affairs.