- By David KennerDavid Kenner is the Middle East editor at Foreign Policy. He is based in Beirut, Lebanon, and has been with FP since 2009 (a long time, he knows). He worked for FP previously in Cairo, where he covered the early days of the Arab Spring, and before that in Washington. He has attended Georgetown University and the American University of Beirut and has reported from Libya, Egypt, Gaza, Turkey, Lebanon, and Iraq.
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.