Forward Thinking

The Palace Intrigue Behind the Assault on Israel's Cairo Embassy

By J.J. Goldberg

  • Print
  • Share Share

The Christian Science Monitor’s Dan Murphy in Cairo has an interesting take on the storming of the Israeli embassy last Friday. It’s not exactly optimistic — he thinks that the Egyptian military was slow to restore order at least partly because it wants to be more attentive to public opinion than the Mubarak regime was, and “with a growing number of Egyptians finding their voice in the public sphere, business as usual with Israel seems highly unlikely, at least in the medium term.”

The implication here is that the Egyptian people really don’t like Israel, and that the more democratic the country becomes, the more hostile it will be toward Israel. But Murphy doesn’t follow that train of thought. In fact, he says the attackers weren’t really motivated by anti-Israel rage. They weren’t a brigade of Muslim fundamentalists or other anti-Israel radicals. They were overheated soccer fans venting their anger at the police, and the police were letting them vent.

… The breach was spearheaded by a group of protesters that seemed largely drawn from Cairo’s “ultras,” the organized and often thuggish supporters of local soccer teams like Ahli and Zamalek.

He was there, and his read on the crowd is absolutely something to be taken seriously. His take on the role of the security forces is also worth noting:

There were at least 20 armored personnel carriers filled with soldiers on scene and witnesses there said while the crowd was large and unruly that they should have been able to contain the crowd.

Simple incompetence? Possible. Reluctance to use force at a time when Egypt’s military rulers are fighting public perceptions that they’re Egypt’s new oppressors? That would be understandable. The ultras said one of their own was killed by a policemen after a football match last week, and their presence at the Israeli embassy was a way of channeling their fury at Egypt’s security forces. …

But Murphy thinks there was a subtler, more Machiavellian purpose behind the security forces’ permissiveness:

In a prescient post on Saturday, Marc Lynch wrote at Foreign Policy that “the incident could easily become an excuse for the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF) to postpone elections, expand rather than surrender its Emergency Law powers, and avoid the transfer of power to a legitimate civilian government. What’s more, these moves might now win applause rather than condemnation among key constituencies: revolutionaries who were already skeptical of elections, liberals worried that Islamists will win, and Americans and others abroad worried about the implications of Egyptian democracy for Israel.”

I should interject here that Lynch thinks such an outcome — a delay of elections, consolidation of power by the military, giving the liberals more time to organize and compete with the Islamists — would be a bad thing. That’s reflected in the headline of his Foreign Policy post: ”Don’t Let the Israeli Embassy Disaster Kill Egyptian Democracy.”

CSM’s Murphy seems to feel the same way. Here’s how he views the Islamists’ role in the current maneuvering:

… Interestingly, Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood (which spawned Hamas) were nowhere to be found at the Israeli embassy on Friday and early Saturday. They’ve gone on record as saying that while they’d like elements of the Camp David accords to be redrawn, they don’t want the deal scrapped, and have for now made an uneasy peace with the military, pushing for elections soon in which they’re betting superior grass roots organization will deliver them their largest share of power in history.

If I were a cynic, I might suggest that the Islamists are just as Machiavellian as the army, and that once they have a foothold in the halls of power they’ll behave rather differently. But who am I to question another country’s democratic processes?


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Muslim Brotherhood, Israeli Embassy in Cairo, Egyptian Military, Egypt, Egyptian Democracy, Christian Science Monitor, Soccer Fans

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.