Egyptian protesters haul down flag at U.S. Embassy in Cairo
CAIRO -- More than a dozen Egyptian protesters, angry over what they called an anti-Muslim video, scaled the outer wall of the fortress-like U.S. Embassy in Cairo on Tuesday and took down an American flag.
In its place, they raised a black flag that read: "There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet" before Egyptian security forces sought to tame the crowd.
As night fell, protesters continued to gather outside the embassy in one of the biggest demonstrations there since the fall of Hosni Mubarak's regime early last year. Security forces surrounded the compound to prevent protesters from again storming the facility, though some demonstrators remained on the wall, waving the black flag.
As many as 2,000 demonstrators had rallied outside the embassy earlier in the day to protest video footage posted on YouTube that demonstrators said had been made by Egyptian Coptic immigrants in the United States.
A segment of the low-budget video refers to Muhammad and his followers as "child lovers." In one part of the preview, the actor portraying the Islamic prophet tells his followers to take children through their battles for their pleasure. It also shows the prophet speaking to a Muslim donkey, asking him if he loves women.
The protest brought together the ultraconservative Islamic Salafist movement and many young people. Nader Bakkar, spokesman of Al Nour party, the political arm of the Salafist movement, which had called for the protest the day before, denied any involvement in the uproar.
"We were there for a couple of hours in a peaceful protest. The U.S. Embassy got our message," Bakkar said. "We are against this movie being made to defame the prophet. The U.S. Embassy understood this and they issued a statement condemning hateful rhetoric."
He called the protesters who took down the flag “soccer ultras” and said the Salafists had tried to stop them.
On Monday, Bakkar vowed that he would personally see to it that any Egyptian who participated in the making of the anti-Muslim film would be stripped of their citizenship. "We are asking the international community to denounce this movie just as they denounced the violence of the Holocaust," Bakkar said.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday that the breach of the embassy wall “came up pretty quickly" and involved a "relatively modest group of people, but caught probably us and the Egyptian security outside by some surprise.” She said she was not aware of any injuries.
She said that while “protest is possible in the new Egypt,” the action didn’t signal a new anti-Americanism by the public or government of Egypt.
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--Reem Abdellatif and Ned Parker. Paul Richter in Washington contributed.