Israeli embassy gets breached

My thoughts on the “storming” (more properly, the reception room-trashing) of the Israeli embassy last night on Arabist.net, along with more analysis by Issandr and an excellent glimpse at Egyptian soccer fandom by Ursula. (The Ahli Ultras had a big role in Fridays’ demos, and presumably also in the attack on the embassy).

As a matter of general principle, I don’t think much of crowd action targeting embassies. If Egyptians really want to reshape its relationship with Israel, there should be a proper debate that encompasses Egypt’s treaty obligations, security concerns, its economic interests, and exactly how people think a scale-down of relations will benefit the Palestinians and/or Egypt’s national interest.

That being said, I do not think that this is an international crisis. No non-totalitarian state on the planet can prevent a few thousand soccer ultras from gathering and having a go at the politically sensitive building of their choice. That’s why it makes sense to put said embassies in sites where it’s fairly easy to do crowd control. A high-rise apartment in the middle of Giza, whose location is so ridiculous that it became the title of an Adel Imam vehicle, is not that kind of place. Soldiers did not look like they were trying too hard to stop the protesters from gaining access to the building, but this could have been because of poor prior planning (the only place to guard the embassy, once the wall was breached, would have been extremely exposed to rocks thrown from the bride) as well as a general lack of enthusiasm by the military lower ranks about protecting the interests of what many Egyptians consider a semi-hostile state.

Meanwhile, this whole fracas is obscuring Egypt’s ongoing wave of activism demanding action on issues much close to home. I am deeply gratified to see that somewhere in the country, at least a handful of Egyptians were out on the streets (or more properly, the Hurghada airport highway) demonstrating for road safety standards. Teachers came out today in downtown Cairo to push for higher wages.

Yesterday was a throwback to the 1990s, where any protest centered around domestic issues inevitably got sidetracked to Arab-Israeli stuff. If protesters have a realistic plan to use Egypt’s leverage in a way that actually is likely to affect Israeli policy, that would be one thing — but I have yet to see such a plan laid out. In the meantime, attacking an embassy is just lashing out at a convenient symbol.

Some interesting observations and details here in Egyptian Chronicles. I doubt that Israel deliberately intended to kill Egyptian soldiers. However, it’s certainly true that a similar number of IDF deaths would result in a lot more scrutiny into exactly what happened.

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