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What Happened in Cairo

3:00 PM, Sep 12, 2012 • By LEE SMITH
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The movie, though, is ultimately beside the point, as is Jones’s putative involvement. The importance they’ve been given in press reports is a telltale sign that the American media are more eager to find fault with fringe American provocateurs than Islamist extremists and killers. The reality is that violent demonstrations in the Muslim world against Western insensitivity to Muslim feelings are rarely held for the reasons publicly stated. More often than not, they’re about political leverage, not civilizational conflict.

For instance, the 2006 protests against the Mohamed cartoons served a number of political interests around the region. In Damascus, it was simply an act of terror as Syrian president Bashar al-Assad used the massive demonstrations, in which protestors set fire to the Danish and Swedish embassies, to warn the Europeans not to take sides with the Bush administration against his regime. In Beirut, Sunni leaders organized protest marches on Scandinavian embassies as a counteroffensive against their Shia rival Hezbollah, to show who really represented Muslim interests and power.

So what’s happening in Cairo? It’s important to keep in mind that Egypt, in spite of the country’s freest elections ever that brought Morsi to power, is still a hard security state. When a mob takes to the streets it is because someone has sent it there or is allowing it to be there. Many mistook this basic principle about who owns the streets when the Egyptian revolution started in January 2011 and it seemed that the Egyptian people were taking possession of their own lives as well as the street—but then again, at the time many also thought that the future of Egyptian politics looked like a government brokered by Facebook.

Instead, it was the Muslim Brotherhood who won Egypt and therefore control of its streets. The most obvious explanation then is that Morsi and the Brotherhood sent those hordes to the embassy for a very simple purpose—to get more money from the Americans to keep their economy from capsizing. In effect, it’s a protection racket, or a straight hostage deal—pay up and no one gets hurt, we’ll protect you.

However, as Thomas Joscelyn writes, Ayman al-Zawahiri’s brother Mohamed has made a splash at the protests, which suggests something much more dangerous is going on. To wit—that Morsi has little control over the protestors because they were sent by the Brotherhood’s Islamist rivals, the Salafi movement.

As Raymond Ibrahim first reported on Monday, an Egyptian newspaper published a story last week claiming that “Jihadi groups in Egypt…have issued a statement threatening to burn the U.S. Embassy in Cairo to the ground” unless fighters imprisoned and detained in the United States, including Guantanamo Bay, are released. According to the Egyptian media source, the group consists of many al Qaeda members and made a special point in calling for the quick release of Omar Abdul Rahman, aka the "Blind Sheikh,” sentenced for his involvement in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The “mujahid sheikh,” the statement said, “was ignored by the Mubarak regime, and [President] Morsi is refusing to intervene on his behalf and release him, despite promising that he would.”

The Salafis, that is, may be looking to embarrass Morsi. The demonstration in that case is also aimed at Egyptians, a signal that the Salafis are now in open conflict with the Brotherhood—a conflict in which the U.S. embassy and its employees, from diplomats to Marines, are being used as markers.

This would be a cunning move by the Salafis insofar as they recognize that Morsi’s options are limited. Sure, the new Egyptian president doesn’t want to anger the White House, but his hands are tied. If the security services fire on protestors demonstrating on behalf of what has been sold as a Muslim cause—the release of jihadi fighters as well as the movie—then he and the Brotherhood will be seen as U.S. stooges, as bad as the last Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak.

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