I eagerly await my TAC colleague Daniel Larison’s thoughts on the Egyptian mob’s overrunning of the Israeli embassy in Cairo this weekend. In my comboxes, some readers seem to have taken the line that Israel more or less deserves it. I don’t agree, and would invite those who think this to consider what it means for a sovereign government to allow a violent street mob to take over the embassy of another government. Whatever you think of the nation so violated, for this to happen is a stunning failure of a nation’s basic responsibilities to the international community. It is a sign that barbarism has eclipsed civilization, and we have to hope that it’s only a one-off thing in post-revolutionary Egypt.
This weekend, I read part of a lengthy dialogue published in the NYTimes Magazine among liberal foreign policy intellectuals, who were asked to rethink their own and the nation’s response to 9/11. My friend David Rieff writes that “if we are talking about the Arab Spring, I advise caution. It may well be that the Muslim Brotherhood is the principal beneficiary of Tahrir Square, not the democrats.”
True. The sacking of the Israeli Embassy is a terrible sign for Egypt, for the Arab Spring, and for the world, given that it is a signal that Egypt is headed toward a future driven by Islamist passions. It is especially worrying for Egypt’s Christian population, which has long been at the mercy of Islamist attacks. It is not necessary to approve of the government of Israel’s policies to recognize this development for what it is. We certainly ought to understand by now that not every democratic revolution is a good one.
UPDATE: A report in the Telegraph says the head of Egypt’s military kept Washington, Egypt’$ most generous ally, at bay while the mob did its dirty work on the Israeli embassy. Excerpt:
With six Israeli security guards fending off an angry mob rampaging through the mission, Leon Panetta, the US defence secretary, tried for two hours to get hold of Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, Egypt’s de facto head of state, to demand an immediate rescue operation.
Aides told Mr Panetta that the general could not be found, Israeli officials were quoted as saying. The response prompted fury in Washington, and threats of US retribution. Field Marshal Tantawi’s mysterious disappearance intensified speculation that Egypt’s generals had deliberately failed to protect the embassy for political gain.
The armed forces, which are running Egypt until a civilian government is elected at the end of the year, are thought to be desperate to retain the political influence and financial privileges they enjoyed under President Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled by protests in February.
Officials in Israel, as well as a number of political activists in Cairo, have claimed that Field Marshal Tantawi turned down an opportunity to rein in the violence at the embassy in order to prove that, without a strong army, Egypt would descend into violence and anarchy.
UPDATE.2: I haven’t turned the comments on this post off, at least not on purpose. I’m surprised to see that they have been. I’m still trying to figure out the software; am trying to figure out how to free up the comments. No conspiracy theorizing, please!
UPDATE.3: OK, we figured out how to turn the comments back on. It’s true that I won’t post anything that I find to be anti-Semitic, or that trafficks in anti-Semitic tropes. I don’t, of course, find criticizing the government of Israel and its policies anti-Semitic. But I’m going to be careful about the kind of thing I allow to be posted. Please be responsible.
UPDATE.4: Daniel has a post up about the issue. He believes that the attack was outrageous, and that the Egyptian military probably allowed it to happen to play to popular Jew hatred for the sake of cementing its own power.