Egyptian Protesters Attack Israeli Embassy
What started out as a protest in Tahrir Square against the military government morphed by the end of the day into a riot that ended in Egyptians breaking into the Israeli Embassy:
A demonstration that brought tens of thousands to the city’s central Tahrir Square to reiterate the demands of the Egyptian revolution turned violent on Friday, when thousands of people tore down a protective wall around the Israeli embassy and assaulted the grounds while others defaced the headquarters of the Egyptian Interior Ministry.
The scale of the protests and the damage inflicted represented a departure from the previously peaceful character of the demonstrations staged periodically in Tahrir Square since the Egyptian revolution in January and February. Organizers of Friday’s demonstrations had said they would call for a list of familiar liberal goals, like retribution against former President Hosni Mubarak and an end to military trials of civilians. But thousands of people marched off from the square to express their anger over disparate recent events, including a recent border incident with Israel and a brawl between soccer fans and the police at a recent match.
Thousands of hardcore soccer fans — known here as ultras — were for the first time a conspicuous if not dominant force in the protests. They led the attacks on the Interior Ministry and the security building near the Israeli embassy. At the Interior Ministry, groups of political activists were seen attempting to form human barriers to protect the building, urging protesters to retreat to the square and chanting, “peacefully, peacefully.”
The Israeli embassy, which has been the site of several previous demonstrations after Israeli armed forces accidentally killed five Egyptian officers while chasing Palestinian militants near the border last month, was an early target on Friday. In response to almost daily protests since the border episode, the Egyptian authorities had built a concrete wall surrounding the embassy, and by early afternoon thousands of protesters — some equipped with hammers — were marching toward the building to try to tear down the wall.
After using the hammers and broken poles to break through sections of the wall, protesters began using ropes attached to cars to pull away sections. By the end of the night the wall was virtually demolished. Two protesters then climbed up the building and took down the Israeli flag, which had been replaced after a protester removed it three weeks ago.
Egyptian military and security police officers largely stood by without interfering with the demolition, though they clustered at the entrance to the embassy to keep protesters out. The security forces had pulled back from Tahrir Square and other areas before the start of the day to avoid clashes with the protesters, although the military had issued a stern warning on its Facebook page against the destruction of property.
Israeli radio interrupted its programming to report on the attack at the embassy, Reuters reported. Citing Foreign Ministry officials, the broadcast said that the Israeli ambassador was safely at his residence and that Israel was in contact with the Egyptian government and others about the episode.
Subsequent reports said that he Ambassador, along with his family and staff, were at the airport in Cairo preparing to leave the country. This doesn’t bode well for the future course of events in Egypt, where the military government seems to be dragging its feet on the reforms promised in the wake of Hosni Mubarak’s departure in February, or for Egyptian/Israeli relations, which have been strained since the revolution.