Attack on Israeli embassy unites Egypt in surprising ways
On Saturday Cairo reiterated, to both Israel and the Egyptian public, that it is committed to all agreements with Israel and will not permit anyone to hurt them.
"We demand to know how this break-in of the Israeli embassy was even permitted, how the security forces suddenly disappeared before the break-in and returned with reinforcements afterward in order to disperse the demonstrators. How did the security forces let this group break in, when in the past a fly couldn't get near the embassy due to the [Egyptian] security? This government cannot accept responsibility and should resign."
These questions and criticism came not from Israel but from Mostafa Shaki, a member of the executive bureau of the protest movement's primary umbrella organization, the Coalition of the January 25 Revolution Youth. The April 6 movement also stressed that its members were not party to Saturday's events. Most of the country's protest organizations, including the Muslim Brotherhood, did not take part in the incident that has placed the government and the Supreme Military Council in a domestic and international crisis.
The provisional government and the military council announced that it would enforce emergency orders and that the dozens of people arrested in the break-in will face trial in state security court - a symbol of the old regime that protesters seek to bring down.
Information Minister Osama Heikal called the incident an "attack on Egypt's image" that cannot go unchallenged. The impression is that the regime, which announced a high state of alert, is genuinely in trouble. Ironically, the "Israeli issue" could rend the bond between the protest movements and the army, precisely when the killing by Israel of Egyptian soldiers near the border last month scored Cairo points against Jerusalem.
The provision government and the military council are increasingly under public attack, including calls for the resignation of leader Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and the restoration of civilian rule.
As long as the tug-of-war was between domestic forces and the security forces, the military council performed its duties adequately. That ended Friday when protesters crossed the line, entangling Egypt in an international crisis and putting the authorities in the humiliating position of being incapable of protecting a foreign embassy.
Foreign relations are a matter for the government, not the street, a principle that Cairo stressed after the terror attack near Eilat last month. On Friday the government failed. It may now be forced to use violence against demonstrators in order to prove its authority. The protest movements fear just such a move, which is why they began to spread the rumor on Saturday that supporters of the ousted President Hosni Mubarak and his regime had engineered the provocation in order to damage the revolution's image and to prove that the new government is incapable of maintaining public order. As a result, the security of the Israeli embassy in Cairo has, paradoxically, become a test for the relationship between the revolution and the regime.
On Saturday Cairo reiterated, to both Israel and the Egyptian public, that it is committed to all agreements with Israel and will not permit anyone to hurt them. This commitment is important, and it should have been voiced directly by Tantawi, who has so far made no public statements about the events at the embassy.