A number of old political traumas are colliding in Cairo tonight. On the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Salafist protesters broke into the U.S. Embassy in Egypt and tore down the American flag outside, replacing it with the black flag similar to the one used by al Qaeda groups. Video of the protesters tearing the American flag to shreds swiftly spread across the Internet.
It’s hard to watch that video, today of all days, without thinking of the deep-rooted anti-Americanism that proved fertile soil for the terror attacks 11 years ago. It also evokes memories of the 1979 storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran — the last great popular revolt in the Middle East, which also crescendoed in a spasm of anti-U.S. demagoguery.
The Salafist protesters appear to be spurred on by a television program condemning an American film that reportedly insulted the Prophet Muhammad. A clip of the film played on the program opens with a man pointing to a goat and saying, "This is the first Muslim animal!"
According to an article in the Egyptian daily Youm7 (which is not always accurate, so caveat emptor), the film is called "Muhammad, Prophet of the Muslims" and was produced by infamous Quran-burning preacher Terry Jones, in collaboration with a group of Egyptian Copts.
Here in Egypt, the question is why security was so light as to allow the demonstrators to storm the embassy so easily — and what the Muslim Brotherhood will do next. While Egypt’s most powerful party did not instigate the protest, Cairo is waiting with bated breath to see whether it will disavow the efforts of its fellow Islamists. If not, America’s old traumas may soon be coming back with a vengeance.
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C.| The Cable |