Friday Prayers for Egypt: IMF, Sinai, China, Iran


Much of Egypt’s attention turned outside its borders this week, and though Sinai is not foreign, it is almost a separate land. Military operations against Islamic extremists have been underway for some time, but lately there have been religious delegations sent, even from the president. These have involved former jihadists who wish to turn those in Sinai from the error of their ways. Or, at least, to halt operations.

Meanwhile the president has been in personal deliberations with the IMF over a nearly five billion dollar loan to support the economy. Beyond the financial implications lie religious controversies, if Islam permits such interest based credit. Now in power, Islamist seem to be finding it more difficult to forbid, while others – supporters and opponents – accuse them of hypocrisy.

A useful escape and popularity boosting effort was provided by the president’s travels to China and Iran. In the former he reinforced and increased economic ties, while in the latter he stood on the world stage of the Non-Aligned Movement and condemned Syria without wholly offending Tehran. Egypt and Iran have been without ties since 1979. In both nations he demonstrated a desire to move beyond uni-polar dependence on the United States.

These are the matters of governance, God, and bless Egypt in them. Give peace to the Sinai, and convict criminals who use violence in the name of religion. If there is any duplicity involved, as some liken to the political use of the US War on Terror, then expose manipulations, God. And anticipating evolution of the region to touch the Camp David Accords with Israel, may these two nations speak to each other and find ways toward mutually agreeable and just peace. Amid it all, bless the people of Sinai; may they find full citizenship and freedom of opportunity in the new Egypt.

As for the IMF, God, give the president good and honest advisors. May those who know economics well sort through the competing propaganda on the liberating / enslaving nature of IMF monies. Whatever the outcome, may the economy stabilize with sovereignty secured for the Egyptian people. As for the relationship between Islam and interest, preserve the integrity of the religious scholar. May he not bend to political pressure, nor pander for political influence. May he fear you alone as he guides the people.

As for foreign policy, give wisdom among competing interests. May the president serve only that which serves his people. May Chinese investment create jobs and aid infrastructure. May Syrian criticism lead to the cessation of violence and bloodshed and a just solution to popular grievances. May Iranian contact promote dialogue between former enemies and possibly current adversaries.

May the region avoid more war.

God, rebuild Egypt and help her to turn to all the practical matters of governance. Yet while these international issues are of deep importance, provide solutions soon to the domestic problems which plague Egypt. Restore security; lift the economy; help the poor. Build an open, free, and democratic structure to include all. Resist any attempts to close ranks, settle scores, or marginalize.

Give respect among Egypt’s political forces, one to the other. Give respect between poor and rich, and narrow the gap between. Heal wounds; issue justice; promote reconciliation.

God, the solutions to these conundrums are in your hands. Enlighten Egyptians that they may find them as well.



Muslim Brotherhood Ties Israel Peace to US Aid amidst NGO Crisis

Essam el-Erian, a senior leader in the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, called into question the Brotherhood’s commitment to the peace treaty with Israel.

Essam el-Erian

He commented on the ongoing NGO crisis embroiling the United States and Egypt. American and local NGO personnel in Egypt stand accused of fermenting chaos under the guise of democracy promotion.

The US has warned $1.3 billion in annual aid is in jeopardy if the charges, denied as frivolous, are not dismissed.

Erian told Lapido Media, ‘If the US withdraws its aid it gives us the right to review our side of the agreement as well. Aid is a part of the Camp David Accords, or why else would the US be giving this money to Egypt?’

There is only one problem. Former US president Jimmy Carter, who orchestrated the accords in 1978, stated, ‘There was no commitment of any finances going to Egypt as the result of the Camp David Accords.’

Is Erian ignorant of the text of these accords, or is something else in play? According to Raymond Ibrahim of Jihad Watch, Erian’s words fit into a larger context of Islamic behavior based on ‘circumstance’.

‘All Islamists understand that the treaty with Israel is a matter of necessity (i.e., Egypt cannot at the moment defeat Israel, therefore it is in its own interest to agree to peace). Might as well get money out of it.’

Ibrahim recently highlighted a video of Yasser al-Burhami, a prominent sheikh with the Salafi Call, an ultraconservative Muslim association. Burhami comments on how Mohamed at times made peace with the Jews, and at other times, subdued them through force and imposed jizia, a payment by non-Muslims in return for protection within the Muslim community.

Burhami then generalizes, ‘The prophet’s methods of dealing with infidels are available for Muslims to replicate depending on their situation and their capabilities.’

Speaking to Lapido Media, Ibrahim gave application. ‘Islamist politics and worldview are quite clear that once capability allows, Islam must go on the offensive.’

Gamal Nassar, a leader in the Muslim Brotherhood from Giza, Cairo, reinforces the notion of circumstance while commenting on Erian’s statement. ‘Things have changed since the revolution, and the US must realize it is not the same as before.’

Sheikh Osama al-Qusi is an independent Salafi scholar often criticized in his community for distinguishing between the affairs of religion and the affairs of the world.

Osama al-Qusi

Qusi notes that Burhami is correct in terms of Mohamed adapting to his circumstances, but notes many Islamists take this as license to be Machiavellian. Even so, ‘Just because Mohamed did something politically does not mean it applies to us. No, we must leave politics to the politicians.’

Furthermore, circumstance does not change the Islamic attitude toward other communities. ‘We are peaceful with those who are peaceful with us, and we fight against those who fight against us.’

Yet for many Islamists, ‘us’ applies to all Muslims. Essam al-Sharif is a leader for the Salafi-based Authenticity Party in Warraq, a district of Cairo. ‘According to sharia law, I have the obligation to defend Muslims.

Essam al-Sharif

‘If the Camp David Accords do not allow us to help the Palestinians in Gaza it is invalid and we must fight Israel. In sharia we respect the borders of this world administratively to honor our agreements, but they do not override our duty to support Muslims.’

Sharif believes Muslims must treat non-Muslims well whether they are strong or weak regardless of their circumstances. Yet this does not preclude jizia, and Muslims must be honest about it.

‘If we say we will not collect jizia, this is hypocrisy. No, non-Muslims must pay it, even if we are too weak to collect it now.’

Sheikh Abdel Muti Bayyoumi is a member of the Azhar’s Islamic Research Academy, a pillar of the Islamic establishment in Egypt. He dismisses Burhami completely, saying he is not specialized in jurisprudence, and is not fit to issue religious rulings.

Bayyoumi agrees the Quran allows Muslims only to fight those who fight against them. Where there is a pact of peace, however, Muslims must work with non-Muslims for justice.

As this concerns Israel and the opinion of Erian, ‘There is no relation between US aid and the Camp David accords. Thus, we are still bound to the treaty so long as Israel also keeps to it and does not review it first.’

Interestingly, Carter suggests issues of justice have been neglected in the treaty.

‘There is one element of the Camp David accords that has been abandoned in the past, even in Egypt, and that is the protection of the Palestinian rights.’

Interpretations of Islam are part and parcel of post-revolutionary Egyptian attitudes toward peace with Israel. Some reflect Burhami’s attitude about ‘circumstance’, and others Bayyoumi’s attitude about justice.

With whom does Erian’s interpretation lie?


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Published on Aslan Media: An American Perspective on the Culture of Conspiracy through the Lens of Sinai

The Sinai peninsula and the present day Israel...
The Sinai Peninsula

In the last day or two I had my first text published by a source outside of Arab West Report. Aslan Media is a new media project from Reza Aslan, an author of several books on Islam such as ‘No God but God’ (read and enjoyed) and ‘How to Win a Cosmic War’ (hope to read soon). The following text was featured on the front page, but has now moved to the sidebar. Click here for the direct link.


As an American, I am used to politics being partisan and even at times vitriolic, but all agree on the rules of the game and the validity of the constitutional system. Moreover, though political opponents criticize their adversaries as being servants of particular agendas, these cries generally do not descend into the realm of conspiracy. Yes, some on the Left believe there is a theocratic effort to take over government, and some on the Right find liberal secular humanism on the prowl to destroy traditional values. Yet on the whole the mantra proves true: Politics is the art of compromise. Following their vitriol, most American politicians do just that, and Americans appreciate it.

In contrast, the American resident in Egypt – if he or she pays attention to local politics – finds the culture awash in conspiracies. Worse, many of them are directed at his or her home shores. The tendency is to be dismissive; it is the response of a paralyzed people seeking to blame others for their problems, and a government actively encouraging the paranoia. Yet as a respected Egyptian journalist friend has said, with experience on both sides of the Mediterranean, foreign hands have been playing in Egypt for centuries. A palpable paranoia is fueled by reality.

The odd thing as an American is that the longer you live here with an open heart to the people, the more the culture of conspiracy can take hold. There are a thousand applications to choose from, but of particular recent concern is the development of threats in the Sinai. Here is found a regional Holy Grail of conspiracy, at the intersection of Israel, Camp David, the ruling Egyptian military council, and Islamic terrorism.

The story in brief is that Palestinian terrorists crossed into southern Israel from Gaza through the demilitarized Sinai, and killed a number of Israeli citizens during an attack on the port city of Eliat. Israel quickly targeted those it accused of responsibility with military retribution, for which Hamas unleashed heretofore largely suspended rocket fire into Israel, until a ceasefire was brokered. Meanwhile Israel also pursued fleeing Palestinians into Sinai, and several Egyptian officers were killed in the process.

Prior to this tragedy Islamist forces in Egypt conducted a massive rally in Tahrir Square and elsewhere to demand an Islamic government. In the Sinai city of Arish that evening armed bandits purporting to be Islamists attacked the local police stations, engaging in a several hour long firefight with authorities. They allegedly identified themselves as al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula, seeking the establishment of an Islamic emirate in the territory. The presence of al-Qaeda in Egypt had been long denied by the government, and was rejected once more. Yet the armed forces in the days to come cooperated with Israel to allow the movement of military personnel into the peninsula – as required by the Camp David Accords – in an effort to clamp down on armed groups. This mission was pursued more urgently following the terrorist attack on Eliat.

During the Egyptian revolution it is said that several prisons were opened, and jailbreaks took place in others. A large number of these escapees remain at large, and it is reasonable to assume many have sought refuge in Sinai. With Camp David regulations limiting military presence, as well as a restive Bedouin population long frustrated with government neglect and resistant to government authority, Sinai has a reputation as a lawless frontier. Furthermore, when police stations were attacked during the revolution the weapons cache was opened. Unrest in Libya has also reportedly contributed to a dramatic increase in arms availability in Egypt. Many neighborhoods have witnessed violence in family feuds, gang activity, or attacks on police. While still small in scale, these incidents forebode what may be an emerging crisis in the Sinai, especially as the doctor of Osama bin Laden, also an explosives expert, has been allegedly identified in the territory.

Or, it is a crisis at all? This is where the power of conspiracy threatens to take over. From the Israeli side the benefits of a crisis are many. Israel has suffered widespread social protests over housing costs this summer. Israel faces a dramatic challenge to its Palestinian policy as the issue of statehood is prepared for submission to the United Nations. One can wonder also if Israel was not averse to testing the nascent Egyptian military authority, to see which way its domestic winds might influence commitment to its international agreements. More wildly, might preparations be underway to retake the Sinai to establish security, or dump responsibility for Gaza onto Egypt, or expand Gaza at Sinai’s expense, or else craft Sinai anew as an independent buffer state?

Conspiracy can take aim at the ruling military council as well. While still overwhelmingly popular with average Egyptians, it has come under severe criticism by revolutionary forces for its handling of the transition to democracy. Reuniting the people against the common enemy of Israel could diffuse attention to these complaints. Moreover, could the specter of terrorism in the Sinai lead to restoration of full Egyptian sovereignty over the territory, through amending the Camp David Accords with Israel? More wildly, might greater Egyptian control of the Sinai pave the way for the threatened million man marches from Cairo to Jerusalem, in support of Palestinian independence, or even eventual Islamist government hostility against Israel?

This is the nature of conspiracy, to delve further and further into the extreme. Conspiracy is built on explanation without information, striving to make sense of confusing events in an absence of transparency. Yet who can deny that the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and others exercise influence over Egypt’s affairs? Do recent events represent an attempt to escape from this influence, or a confirmation thereof?

Whether or not Israel intended this as a test for the military council, it has quickly become one. Popular protests quickly surrounded the Israeli Embassy, and were allowed to continue several days. Mixed messages have been sent about recalling the Egyptian ambassador to Tel Aviv. Calls for a joint investigation into the incident have been issued, may have been rebuffed, but are still open. Meanwhile the government is erecting a wall around the building housing the Israeli Embassy, to provide further protection in case of need. Many Egyptian parties and politicians are calling for a harsher response, especially following the example of Turkey. Is the military council treading nimbly between the niceties of diplomatic language and the fury of popular demands? It is too early to tell. After all, it was a full year between the Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara flotilla to Gaza, and the now enacted diplomatic rift between Israel and Turkey. The test is still underway, and its results may be long in coming.

For the American living here such conspiracy musings may be entertaining, but they can summon great passion from involved Egyptians. To make clear, the label of ‘conspiracy’ is dismissive and degrading, reflecting a subtle superiority of ethnocentric origin. Of greater concern, to both Americans resident and Egyptians permanent, is the direction of the story toward greater instability. Al-Qaeda or not, weapons are proliferating, and extremist movements are (likely) in the Sinai. Increased tension between Israel and Egypt can as easily lead to war as to greater mutual respect and sovereignty. Conspiracies of invention and play acting for the benefit of domestic distraction are possible, but could also become self-fulfilling prophecies. Egypt is a peaceful nation; it is likely to remain so. These trends, however, are worrisome.

As to the culture of conspiracy, orientalist bias or not, the world is not the same as it was at America’s independence. George Washington warned of foreign entanglements, and succeeding presidencies set the nation on a path of isolation from European politics keeping the colonial powers from interfering in the Americas. It is questionable if this is even a possibility for Egypt today. To hint back at conspiracy, is it even possible in America?

If hope can be found, it is in the establishment of transparent institutions of democratic governance. People must rule, and be able to hold their elected representation accountable. The military council has promised to hand over authority to a civilian government, and this process is still underway. Though a million conspiracies posit why this will not happen, it is yet within the power of Egyptians to see the process through. As one American who still believes in the reality of our independence, I wish the same for Egypt. May she win for her people such an honorable right.


Egyptian Religious Groups Denounce Attack on Israeli Embassy

On September 9 three thousand Egyptians gathered at the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, cheering the destruction of a recently erected wall around the complex, after which nearly one hundred protestors stormed the embassy and threw official paperwork to the crowd below. The incident was a continuation of rising tensions between Egypt and Israel, following the accidental killing of six Egyptian officers during an Israeli cross-border raid pursuing Palestinian militants in Sinai.

Minister of Information Osama al-Heikal issued strong condemnation. “The incident was an insult to Egypt – it is not fair to link it to the January revolution (which) had been a genuine, peaceful revolt that sought to bring down and replace the old regime.”

Religious spokesmen echoed his sentiment, including Christian voices from the protest itself. Earlier in the day tens of thousands of mostly youthful and liberal protestors gathered in Tahrir Square, pressuring the government on several demands, including an immediate end to the use of military trials for civilians. Among the groups represented was the Maspero Youth Union, a mostly Coptic Christian organization supporting religious and political equality.

General Coordinator Rami Kamel stated, “The incident breaks all diplomatic protocols and will result in trouble for Egypt. It is our role to pressure the government in both domestic and foreign policy, but we reject the breaking of the wall and the storming of the embassy.”

Official Muslim representation also denounced the attack. Abdel Muti al-Bayoumi is a member of the Islamic Research Academy of al-Azhar University, widely respected throughout the Islamic world as its most venerable institution. Speaking from sharia law he defended the sanctity of all foreign delegates. “The Israel ambassador resides legally in Egypt on the basis of a diplomatic visa, which was granted by the Egyptian government. In sharia law this represents ‘aqd al-aman, or a compact of security, which guarantees safety to the beneficiary.”

Even the conservative Salafi Muslim groups derided the attack as “not thought out”, and implicitly accepted the peace treaty with Israel, though with a wholly different perspective. The Salafi Call Organization stated the attack “will work in favor of Israel and will transform them from perpetrators to victims. The focus will shift from our demands to amend the Camp David agreement to Israel’s calls for help to protect their embassy in Egypt. Egyptians are united in their hate for Israel, thank God. We must fight cultural normalization [with Israel] and we should push for the international isolation of Israel.”

Bishop Marcos, chairman of the Coptic Orthodox Church Public Relations Committee, concurred that the Egyptian government should take a suitable response to Israeli violations on the Egyptian border, though he declined recommending specific steps as it was not the place of the church. Nevertheless, he condemned the attack on the embassy and stated all the wise men of Egypt do likewise.

“This event is not good for our relations with other countries; we must respect all nations and even our enemies.” Though he did not know who the perpetrators were, he refused to see the incident as evidence of sectarian problems or increasing Islamic identity.

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Storming the Israeli Embassy in Cairo: The Greater Context

Breaking down the barrier outside the embassy

Seven months since the beginning of the Egyptian revolution, the nation is still in the process of democratic transition, and the focus of the world has greatly receded. Yesterday, September 9, could threaten to draw back the world’s eye, and possibly serve to confirm many misgivings held about the readiness of Egypt for democracy. It would be a mistake to judge so simply; hopefully this context will fill in the gaps over recent events.

On a superficial level the actions of Egyptian protestors to storm the Israeli Embassy has parallels to the Iranian Revolution of 1979. One narrative current is that just as the Iranian protests began as a liberal movement only to be overwhelmed by extremist religious forces, the Egyptian revolution may bear a similar fate. While this is still an open possibility, feared by many both within Egypt and abroad, yesterday’s events do not reinforce this narrative.

The Israeli Embassy is located at the top of an Egyptian highrise apartment surrounding by like buildings in the Cairo neighborhood of Giza, along a major thoroughfare. Protests at the embassy have been frequent since the departure of Mubarak, but have always remained peaceful, though vitriolic. On an earlier occasion several months ago protests were dismissed forcefully by security personnel.

The most recent surge in anger against Israel, however, began three weeks ago following the death of five Egyptian border guards in Sinai, at the hands of the Israeli military. That day Israel suffered a horrible terrorist attack, believed conducted by militants from Gaza who crossed into Israel through the demilitarized Sinai border. In pursuit of these criminals Israel crossed the Egyptian border in violation of the Camp David Accords, and killed the Egyptian officers accidentally in the process. Israel issued a statement of ‘great regret’ at their deaths, but stopped short of issuing an official apology. They have also resisted Egyptian calls to conduct a joint investigation.

For several days afterwards protestors gathered at the Embassy, chanting for the expulsion of the ambassador. One protestor even scaled the building to its roof and replaced the Israeli flag with an Egyptian one. This breach of diplomatic protocol was celebrated widely, with ‘Flagman’ (punning off Spiderman) receiving the gift of an apartment from the Giza governor. It was clear that on this occasion the people were allowed to vent their anger. On the diplomatic front, however, the government issued equivocal statements, drawing the frustration of the people. After a few days the protests subsided, and security forces cleared the area of the few remaining protestors.

A few days later the Egyptian government contracted to build a wall in front of the Israeli Embassy, stating it was meant to protect residents of the area from any future demonstrations. ‘Egypt above all’ was written prominently across its face, but it is difficult to imagine the wall being received as anything other than a provocation – resembling the security fence/apartheid wall in Israel/the West Bank, depending on perspective. Yet a scheduled protest at the wall a few days ago fell flat, drawing only tens of demonstrators.

In the final days of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting in which protests largely subsided, a call was issued for a major demonstration on September 9, labeled ‘The Friday of Correcting the Path’. Its main demand was to put an end to the military trial of civilians, but also included a call for a clear timetable to transfer power to civilian rule, judicial independence, and further purging state institutions of former regime figures. Though Islamist political forces had earlier spoken out forcefully against the military trial of civilians, their largest representatives boycotted this protest, opting instead to not put additional pressure on the ruling military council. The day of the protest between 10-35,000 demonstrators descended on Tahrir Square. These were mostly liberal groups and youthful revolutionaries, whose numbers, though impressive, did not measure up to the numerical strength of earlier protests. Instead of concentrating solely at Tahrir Square, however, bands dispersed for separate protests at the Interior Ministry, the People’s Assembly, the Radio and Television Building – and the Israeli Embassy.

Ever since forcibly dismissing a sit-in protest at Tahrir Square on August 1, which had lasted three weeks and prevented all traffic from accessing this major hub, the security forces had occupied the central garden area of Tahrir and prevented all protests from accessing the area. The government relented, however, to allow the September 9 protest, but warned they would be responsible for their own security, and the police withdrew from the area, as well as from other major government institutions. At the Interior Ministry, for example, protestors were able to draw graffiti on the walls and remove the official insignia, while security restrained itself behind the walls.

In addition to the liberal and youth demonstrators, however, there was a surprise participant in the protests – soccer hooligans. The three largest teams in the Egyptian division each have their own groups of rowdy followers, who often clash with each other as well as the police. These groups had contributed greatly to the Egyptian revolution, providing discipline and organization – along with the Muslim Brotherhood – when their demonstrations came under attack. Since then, however, they have returned to soccer.

A few days before September 9 there was a relatively minor soccer match involving one of these squads, at the end of which the hooligans began chanting slogans against the police and the now incarcerated former minister of the interior. It is not clear if the provocation was also physical, but the police thereafter rushed into the crowd and began beating the hooligans. Nearly a hundred people on both sides suffered injuries, and the hooligans vowed revenge after several of their group were arrested.

This event rallied the three different groups of hooligans together, who descended united to Tahrir Square. This swelled the numbers and vibrancy of the protest, but also de-dignified it, as they spent the day chanting curses against the police. Yet for the most part, however, they and the other protestors exercised restraint, with one group even issuing a public declaration it withdrew from the protest at the end of the day, to shield itself should violence occur later from unknown ‘thugs’. This hooligan group had split off from the main demonstration in Tahrir to protest directly at the Ministry of Interior.

A second group, however, went to the Israeli Embassy. They and many others carried hammers, seeking to destroy the recently erected wall. Numbers swelled as Egyptians, frustrated by the response of the government to the border killings, compared the sharp rise in condemnation issued to Israel by Turkey, in response to the death of its citizens on board last year’s Freedom Flotilla. It took several hours to demolish the wall, as protestors cheered and encouraged joyously. Some even repeated the action of Flagman, and lowered the Israeli flag once again.

Around this time a group of unknown protestors, numbering about 100, rushed into the building housing the embassy and ascended the floors, breaking into at least part of the upper complex. They then proceeded to hurl documents to the crowd below, seemingly seeking a Wikileaks-type moment. About an hour later, security arrived en masse and bombarded the area with tear gas. Street fighting erupted thereafter throughout the night, injuring around 1000 and killing three.

Israel’s response was swift. The recently returned ambassador – not at the embassy – evacuated Cairo with his family and staff. Israel issued a statement asking for the United States to help secure the embassy – clearly a slap in the face to the Egyptian government. It denied that protestors had entered the embassy and had only apprehended pamphlets. Israeli sources also state the Egyptian government conducted an emergency raid to free six people inside the embassy. I have not seen confirmation of this from the Egyptian side, but neighboring residents interviewed stated the embassy was empty, and had been for the last three weeks. A friend connected with the US Embassy in Cairo stated, however, that it was fully conceivable personnel could be in the embassy at such an odd time over the weekend.

In the days to come more facts will emerge. For now it is hoped this greater context will demonstrate the dissimilarity to the American hostage crisis in Iran in 1979. First and foremost, this was the action of either liberal activists, soccer hooligans, or, as many revolutionaries have accused in like incidents over the past several months, ‘thugs’ working on behalf of the former regime to stir up trouble and ruin the reputation of the Egyptian revolution. It was not done by Islamic extremists, who were wholly absent from the day’s protest. Most Egyptians find the politics of the Israeli government reprehensible in their treatment of the Palestinian issue. Large numbers oppose the peace treaty, and not a few would apply their approbation on the Jews as a whole. The storming of the embassy, however, had more to do with the work of a small minority, and the aftermath was a battle with security, reminding many of its severity under the Mubarak regime.

At the same time, it should be recognized that many Egyptians hold no ill will toward Jews, and have no desire to enter into war with Israel. Almost none would defend the policies of Israel, and most would have the treaty adjusted. The masses were enthused following the revolution that Egyptian foreign policy might more closely follow the popular will. Yet harboring conviction that ‘peace with Israel’ was largely imposed on Egypt from abroad through the grip of Mubarak, six months since his departure Egyptians find they still have no voice on this issue. It is not that Egyptians wish a rush to war; they desire instead a reflection of sovereignty.

Yet some do call for a semblance of war in terms of a peaceful march on Jerusalem, ready to die as martyrs by the millions. While this tends toward being an extreme Islamic position, ratcheting up rhetoric against Israel is an easy populist political play. The storming of the embassy was a shameful act. While most Egyptians condemned the action, many were eager to compare its lack of real damage with the blockade of Gaza, expanding settlements, and other breaches of international law issuing real suffering on Palestinians, for which there is less world outrage.

By all accounts Egyptians should act from respect for diplomatic laws and agreements. There is far too much dismissive anti-Israeli sentiment on the street, reflective of abject rejection of this enemy. September 9, however, was not the first step toward the anti-Western takeover of the revolution. It was either a reaction driven by frustration of impotence on the Israeli issue, or a counterrevolutionary measure to contrast with the ‘stability’ of the previous regime. More than likely both factors are in play, besides others.

It is a worrisome sign, by all accounts. If the Israeli Embassy can be violated, then what about other embassies, institutions, or places of worship? Many people note that the term ‘revolution’ is a misnomer for the experience of Egypt. Revolutions are violent, conducted by people with insatiable ambition, frustration, or hunger. Such ambition may exist among Islamists, but their conduct has been generally wise and prudent. Such frustration exists among liberals and the youth, and their frustration has amplified in the transitional period. Such hunger exists among much of the lower and working classes.

Too much should not be made of these possibilities. Storming the Israeli Embassy, though incredibly foolish and illegal, was not particularly violent. Egyptians are not a violent people by nature, as has been confirmed a hundred times over during the last half year. The outcome of the ‘revolution’ is still an open matter, and progress is needed toward the promised democracy. What is needed now on the part of the West is not a knee-jerk reaction to events, but continued support for a democratic transition. This may well produce anti-Western or anti-Israeli policies. Yet it will also produce sovereignty; that its government might be of, by, and for the people. This is what the Egyptian people desire. They do not desire Iran.

For a sample prayer about these matters, click here. Please note it was written before the embassy was actually stormed.