Comment: A shameful day for Egypt

The lesson won't be forgotten, nor will pictures of the mob attacking the building, entering the embassy, defacing the walls, destroying property.

September 11, 2011 04:02
3 minute read.
anti Israel protest in Egypt

anti Israel protest in Egypt 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The tall building at No. 6 Ibn Malek Street on the West Bank of the Nile River is well known to the people of Cairo. The Israeli flag has flown from its 19th floor since it was first raised 30 years ago in a moving ceremony. It was hoped the move would herald a new era of peace with Egypt and with our other neighbors. It did not quite happen like that.

A cold peace and ongoing media incitement threw a pall over the building. Though it has provided a haven for the succeeding teams of Israeli diplomats; though Egyptians and Palestinians came daily to arrange consular matters or receive visas; though foreign ambassadors came to exchange views with their Israeli counterpart, there was a feeling that “something was bound to happen.”

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Something did happen on August 20. The flag was violently taken down by an Egyptian “hero,” thrown to the ground and set on fire while the mob exulted.

The following day the “hero” had become the darling of the press and even received an award from the governor of Giza.

The great country so proud of its magnificent past has now found its modern hero. Not a philosopher or a scientist, not the founder of a start-up company making a successful exit via an initial public offering; not a chess player, not even an athlete. Just a hooligan climbing up the walls to defile the flag of a neighboring country spurred by the shouts of a hanging mob. The attack on the embassy itself a few weeks later shows the mob had understood it had the blessings of the media and of the authorities.

The whole world saw Egypt could not protect the safety and integrity of a foreign embassy and could not abide by the most elementary rules of international law and respect the treaties to which it is a signatory.

The lesson will not be forgotten, nor will the pictures of the mob attacking the building, getting access to the embassy, defacing the walls, destroying property. Not something to inspire confidence or to encourage tourists to visit at a time when Egypt needs more than ever the understanding and support of the international community for its failing economy.

Egypt finds itself at a crossroads.

Mass demonstrations and the toppling of Hosni Mubarak have brought no breakthrough for the country’s social and economic problems.

The Supreme Military Council ruling the country has been exposed in all its weakness; it has been unable to show the people a road map leading to the drafting of a new constitution, the election of new parliamentary institutions and much needed social and economic reforms.

The situation is going from bad to worse. There were no liberal parties ready to guide the revolution and work for the establishment of a democratic regime able to enforce the respect of human rights and the rights of women, as well as those of the Coptic minority.

Instead, the Muslim Brothers and the ultra-nationalist movements, long repressed by the previous regime, are controlling the street and dictating their will to the army – while each fighting to shape the country their way.

The naïve and fearless youngsters who took to the street on January 25 to demand change and better conditions have lost.

Hatred towards Israel is the only common ground for the deeply divided forces battling for control in Egypt.

Yet today Egypt urgently needs to take care of its economy, to provide work and hope to its hungry masses. To do so it needs stability of the kind that the peace treaty with Israel provides. The two neighboring countries need to cooperate to fight terror groups menacing their lengthy border.

The ongoing dialogue at the higher level has never stopped, and the US is doing its share to help.

Cool heads are needed on both sides of the border to defuse the situation. It may not be easy, but there is no other way.

The writer is a former ambassador to Egypt.

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