I don’t usually like to expound on events I haven’t witnessed first hand (I was stuck at home with flu) but can’t shut up about what happened at the Israeli Embassy last night, or more specifically the response to what happened at the Israeli Embassy last night.
What happened (according to media reports) is that after protesters dismantled the hideous wall erected by the army last week outside the Israeli Embassy a group entered the building housing the Embassy. They were able to gain access to one floor of the two-level Embassy where they threw documents out of the window. There were apparently some diplomatic staff on the building’s upper floor, and one member of staff was accosted by the group and the Military Police had to rescue him. The Israeli flag was removed, again.
The Ambassador and almost all diplomatic staff were evacuated by an Israeli military jet.
Later on riot police finished whatever it was they had been doing for the past eight hours and using their typically light-handed approach and, having lost control, used armoured vehicles to drive at protesters.
Much of the criticism (on Twitter and Facebook) centers around Egypt’s obligation to protect diplomatic missions under international law. The Vienna Convention applies to states not citizens. The criticism levelled against protesters in this regard is thus confusing; why didn’t the army and the police protect the building?
Because this is a trap set by SCAF for protesters, has largely been the response. Commenting on my Facebook friend Per Bjorklund says this:
Some people might not see this as the SCAF losing control but an example of what some elements in society will do when left to their own devices. Trying to spread confusion and fear by creating a sense of chaos and disorder isn’t exactly an unusual tactic for regimes facing popular uprisings. Riots and violence will always push a lot of people to support any force for stability, whether the military or the ikhwan, even if a majority support the cause – in this case chasing the ambassador out of the country. Even within “the movement” some people will think things have gone to far, which will create divisions. It seems like this has been the strategy of the SCAF for seven months now because it’s basically their only option – but that doesn’t mean they will succeed or that the Egyptian street won’t see through it, or that the revolutionaries should back down from future confrontations.
On the basis of what I saw on Al Jazeera Mubasher and on Twitter it does seem that the army allowed the Embassy to be breached rather than being overpowered. As we saw when protesters attempted to march to the Ministry of Defence on July 23 2011 when the army doesn’t want something to happen, it doesn’t happen.
The suggestion is that since general publics everywhere love draconian measures (as long as they don’t directly fall victim to them) SCAF engineered a situation whereby a mob of braying barbarians broke into and ransacked the Embassy, attacked the nearby Giza Security Directorate before engaging in a violent street battle with the fuzz.
The theory goes that this allows SCAF to impose draconian measures as part of a noble attempt to stop the barbarian hoards from dragging Egypt into a cycle of chaotic violence that will culminate in war with Israel, activists using amateur DIY hammers to knock down the billion dollar wall built by the US and Israel on Egypt’s border with Gaza, Khaled El-Meshal being elected President of Egypt and the closure of Carrefour and City Stars.
My only problem with this is that 1. SCAF have been imposing draconian measures for the past 8 months, seemingly oblivious to criticism 2. They don’t need to engineer situations to do what the fuck they want and 3. the draconian measures (12,000 people tried in military courts) have done nothing to discourage felons nor encourage the police to do their job of maintaining law and order.
The argument that protesters have given SCAF the perfect excuse to clamp down on them thus strikes me as odd. What exactly were SCAF doing in the past 8 months if not clamping-down on dissent? Yes of course they could escalate, but allowing the risk of a SCAF escalation to dictate protest strategy amounts to giving up.
SCAF have criminalised protests, used violence – sometimes fatal violence – against protesters and orchestrated a dangerous media campaign aimed at discrediting its opposition, all while failing to carry out the promises it has made. It has repeatedly demonstrated that it doesn’t require a reason for an escalation.
Public sentiment is different however, and matters. As mentioned above, there continue to exist security problems in parts of Egypt post-revolution. SCAF and others have exploited the general public’s legitimate fears about their safety by somehow linking the absence of security and stability to peaceful protests.
As far as I’m aware, all the protest violence Egypt has witnessed since the revolution has been between protesters and security forces and the result of heavy-handed policing tactics. The telling exception to this is the clashes between anti and pro-Mubarak protesters outside his trial. The point is that violent protests are frightening and unwelcome but they are 1. Avoidable if policed properly and, 2. Nothing to do with the general disorder caused by the security vacuum.
Alas however the army’s media machine speaks loudest and also The Army Is Always Right.
The public is more or less generally always fed up with protests, but seems particularly so when the cause is Palestine. While there is of course a strong pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli current in Egyptian society, there are also numerous others who think that Egypt has done enough for Palestine and are happy with the status quo. Some people think the timing isn’t right, because Egypt has a priority to get its domestic affairs in order before thinking about foreign policy issues.
I would argue that Egypt’s relationship with Israel is part of domestic affairs, because it is a legacy of the Mubarak era, and cleansing Egypt of traces of Mubarak is what the revolution was about. It’s one thing to make concessions as part of a peace deal with a neighbouring state, quite another to put the priorities of that neighbouring state and its patron above everything else, even to the extent that when six Egyptian officers (never mind the thousands killed in Gaza, whose border Egypt semi-controls) were killed by the Israeli army Egypt barely made a sound.
The final, and most irritating, criticism of last night’s action are the suggestions that breaking into the Embassy is somehow “uncivilized”, and tarnishes the image of the revolution.
While largely peaceful, police stations and other symbols of the state were targeted and attacked during the revolution on Friday 28 January. In February, activists entered Nasr City’s State Security Investigations building and turned it over. I don’t remember anyone condemning the protesters for that.
Protesters did not go on a rampage randomly targeting embassies. They stormed the diplomatic mission of an apartheid, occupying, murderous state. Israel protested. You’d of thought Israel would be the first to understand what drives people to trespass on, and occupy, what is not theirs.