What’s Behind the US Embassy Protests in Egypt

My latest piece is up at The Nation looking at the buildup to the US Embassy protests in Egypt and how they unfolded:

Cairo: The main street leading to the United States embassy in downtown Cairo has been sealed by a twelve foot-high wall of concrete blocks. The acrid scent of tear gas lingers in the air as hundreds of black-clad riot police roam the area in and around nearby Tahrir Square.

It was here that the first protests began on September 11 in response to an anti-Islam video that touched off demonstrations in some twenty countries across the Middle East and beyond. The protests in Egypt came to an end four days after they began with a decisive police crackdown. When the dust settled, at least one person was dead, more than 220 injured and over 430 arrested.

The distasteful and amateurish 14-minute video clip that ignited the unrest was first posted on YouTube in July, but it received scant attention until earlier this month, when Maurice Sadek, a Coptic Christian living in Washington D.C. whose incendiary anti-Muslim campaigning led to the revocation of his Egyptian citizenship earlier this year, linked to a translated version of the film on an Arabic-language blog and highlighted it in an e-mail newsletter.

The independent daily, Al Youm al Sabaa, picked up the story and published a three-paragraph article on September 6 calling the film “shocking” and warning it could fuel sectarian tensions between Coptic Christians and Muslims in Egypt. An Islamic web forum soon picked up the story, as did other newspapers, yet it remained off the front pages.

It wasn’t until September 9 that the story began to gain traction, when TV host Khaled Abdullah—known for his inflammatory rants against Christians, liberals and secularists—played a clip of the video on his show on El-Nas, a private religious satellite channel. Abdullah and his co-host railed against the film and accused expatriate Copts of wanting to “inflame Egypt.” The Coptic Church issued a statement disavowing the video as did a number of expatriate Coptic groups.

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