News / Middle East

Egypt Announces Emergency Measures Following Embassy Attack

Egyptians cover their faces to avoid tear gas vapor as they walk at the site of clashes between protesters and anti-riot policemen near the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, Sept. 10, 2011.
Egyptians cover their faces to avoid tear gas vapor as they walk at the site of clashes between protesters and anti-riot policemen near the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, Sept. 10, 2011.

Egypt has announced emergency measures to restore order following a mob attack on the Israeli Embassy in the Cairo suburb of Giza Friday night. Protesters had spent much of the day tearing down a protective wall, before finally breaking through Egyptian Army lines.

Information Minister Osama Hassan Heikal said Saturday that legal measures were being taken to transfer suspects detained for Friday's violence to an emergency state security court.  Earlier, the state-run MENA news agency said military police had arrested 19 people for their alleged roles in the attack.

Tensions had been mounting throughout the day Friday after a rowdy crowd of mostly young people began hammering away at a wall in front of the building, tearing most of it down. Security forces tried to push back the crowd by firing teargas, but were slowly overwhelmed allowing protesters to enter the mostly residential building that houses the Israeli Embassy on the 17th and 18th floors.

The Egyptian government says at least three people were killed in the melee and more than 1,000 were wounded. Several people were arrested. Security forces are on high alert.

One middle-aged Egyptian man complained to al-Hurra television that the security forces in front of the embassy should not have intervened to protect it, because it is the people's will to tear down the wall in front of the building.

He says it was a supreme display of the will of the Egyptian people, who demanded that the wall protecting the embassy come down, and they brought it down.  He says Egypt's ruling military council must respect the demands of the people, because they are governing in the name of the people.

Veteran Egyptian editor and publisher Hisham Kassem says an overwhelming majority of Egyptians were horrified by the violence at the Israeli Embassy.

"About 95 percent of the Egyptians are disgusted at the attack on the embassy and any other violence that took place," he said. "Even commentators who appeared on channels like Jazeera ... who normally have a very anti-Israeli position, were saying, 'This is wrong. We can't attack an embassy.'"

Kassem worries, however, that Egypt's ruling military council may use the attack on the embassy as a pretext to use force in the coming months to deal with other protests and other incidents of violence.

"Once the United States says that you can't use force against demonstrators, the answer could be, 'Excuse me, do you mean we can use force to defend the Israeli Embassy, but not the rest of the country?'" he said.

U.S. President Barack Obama had urged Egypt on Friday to intervene to protect the Israeli Embassy. Egyptian sources say the army commandos stormed the embassy building to rescue Israeli diplomats, who were flown to Israel.

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