In revolution, much like in war, everyone is positive how it began, and particularly why it began. But nobody one knows where it will end up.
Egypt, the symbol of national revolution, was reminiscent on Friday of a different revolution, one that took place in Iran in 1979, when thousands of students took over the American Embassy and held American diplomats hostage for 444 days.
But the difference between the two events is huge. In Iran, the new regime supported the takeover, and saw it as part of a revolutionary move aimed at uprooting the American presence, the same one that supported the Shah, from the country.
In Egypt, the new regime, the same one that is privy to relative support from the public, has been upended by the people. The red lines General Hussein Tantawi had hoped to put in place between what's permitted and forbidden, even to the protesters, and between the role of the country and what is the right for the public, fell apart on Friday.
Tahrir Square decided to take Egypt’s foreign policy in its own hands, expelling the Israeli Ambassador and breaking into the embassy, leaving the Egyptian regime humiliated.
Egypt’s ruling military council has been trapped in a dilemma for the past two weeks. In light of the ongoing protests by a critical public, which at one time forcefully removed the Israeli flag from atop the embassy to protest Egypt’s “weakness” vis-à-vis Turkey (who did not hesitate to expel its Israeli ambassador), the Egyptian government has had to walk a tightrope, balancing the desires of its citizens with its responsibility to protect the embassy and avoid a political crisis.
The government was quick to build a security barrier in an attempt to prevent the protesters from reaching the building, although it became quite clear that the mere presence of the barrier is as infuriating to the Egyptian public as is the presence of the embassy itself.
The first days after the barrier was erected Egyptians sprayed nationalist slogans on it, until it was destroyed completely on Friday. Thus, the military and the police force had to decide whether to forcefully intervene, to disperse the crowd, potentially using live ammunition, or to take preventative measures that would inevitably end in violent confrontations.
The military council, whom thousands of Tahrir Square protestors have demanded step down over its failure to fulfill the goals of the revolution, cannot destroy its support-base that is increasingly dwindling, and therefore it has decided to avoid direct confrontation.
The council agreed to evacuate the Israeli diplomats immediately, making it clear to Israel that it intends to arrest those who took part in the break-in in the near future.
The army decreed that it is on the highest level of alert, police vacations were cancelled and the government held an emergency meeting Saturday morning to discuss how to handle the issue of the Israeli Embassy.
The police, clearly inadequately staffed, clashed with protesters and nearly a thousand people were hurt, many of them police. The clashes continued this morning, with traumatic outcomes for both Israel and the Egyptian leadership.
Is this the end of Egyptian-Israeli ties? Both Israel and Egypt have stressed that the peace treaty between the two countries is still in place, and Egypt is not only obligated to uphold it, but it will take the necessary steps to create the conditions needed to allow the Israeli Embassy’s staff to operate fully and safely.
One suggestion was to move the embassy to a safer location, away from the main populations centers to allow for better security around the complex. The response of some of the protest movement groups is of integral importance as well, and in fact the April 6th movement said on Friday that it had nothing to do with the demonstrations in front of the embassy. Other groups have expressed similar responses, including the Muslim Brotherhood and other Muslim groups.
Egyptian commentators that have given televised interviews showed the utmost contempt for what happened, and some of Egypt’s newspapers attributed the attack to “hot-tempered gangs who are fans of the Al-Ahly soccer sports club.”
Right now, the top priority must be containing the crisis and refraining from making hot-headed declarations that could lead to further incitement. The government must make the distinction between the Egyptian government - that is yet to make a statement about the situation – and the protesters.
We must bear in mind that the attack of embassies, and even breaking into them, is not a rare occurrence. American Embassies were recently attacked in Damascus and Yemen, as was the Turkish Embassy in Damascus.
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