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Tue 23 Aug 2011 11:48 AM

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Egypt Spiderman is new hero for the Arab street

Ahmad Ash-Shahat scaled Israel's embassy in Cairo in protest over killing of Egyptian policemen

Egypt Spiderman is new hero for the Arab street
Young Ahmad Ash-Shahat scaled Israels embassy in Cairo and replaced its flag with Egypts (Getty Images - for illustrative purposes only)

The Arab Street has a new hero. Dubbed Flagman or the Egyptian Spiderman on
Facebook and Twitter, young Ahmad Ash-Shahat scaled Israel's embassy in Cairo
and replaced its flag with Egypt's.

This was in response to the death of three Egyptian policemen last week
during clashes that followed a series of attacks by gunmen who killed eight
Israelis near the Israeli resort city of Eilat. Egypt blames the Israeli
military for killing the policemen in its pursuit of the gunmen, who fled into
Egypt's Sinai peninsula. Israel says the gunmen infiltrated Israel from the
Sinai. Israel has expressed regret for the death of the policemen and has said
it is investigating whether its forces may have been inadvertently to blame.

For most of the commentators who took up the matter in the Arabic media,
Israel's culpability is a given, the issue of whether the deaths were
accidental an irrelevance. For them, Ahmad Ash-Shahat's mounting of the Israeli
embassy, during mass protests after the death of the Egyptian policemen, was an
expression of triumph over a country that is a source of resentment. Wrote
Abdel-Beri Atwan, the editor in chief of the Palestinian owned, London-based
Al-Quds al-Arabi:

“This young Egyptian man embodies the strong patriotic feelings of the
Egyptians. This young man represents more than 80 million Egyptians, the
Egyptian revolution at its best and even one and a half billion Arabs and
Muslims spread throughout the five continents, since he conveyed the anger felt
toward this violating state.”

Under the rule of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, a close ally of
the US, popular criticism of Israel was muted in Egypt. But those days are
over, as Makram Mohammad Ahmad noted in his column in the semi-official
Egyptian daily Al-Ahram. Israelis, he wrote, have “failed to understand that
Egypt has changed and that, in spite of its current keenness on preserving the
peace in the region, it is now even keener on preserving the dignity of the

Regular Egyptians have “grown impatient” with the Israel-Egypt peace treaty,
which, Ahmad argued, does not enable Egypt to properly secure the Sinai area,
given treaty limits on Egyptian troop deployments. Since Mubarak's fall,
operations of a pipeline that sends Egyptian natural gas to Israel and Jordan
have been disrupted after four attacks on the line in the Sinai.

Wrote Ahmad:

“It would have been better for the Israeli prime minister, instead of
carrying out this foolishness of his that provoked the feelings of the entire
Egyptian population, to take his anger out on his security and armed forces
since they were unable to halt the Palestinians’ infiltration of the borders of
the Eilat region and to abort the operation of the resistance before it

In an editorial, the Egyptian daily Al-Gumhouriyya wrote:

“The words of regret that we are hearing from Israeli officials and their
concern for the relations of peace with Egypt do not erase even for a moment
the rage that has swept the hearts of millions of Egyptians who feel that the
Israeli bullets that hit the Egyptian officers were targeting their glorious

Needless to say, key voices from the militant Palestinian movement Hamas
joined in. The group’s top political advisor, Dr. Yusuf Rizqah, wrote in the
Gaza-based paper Filastin that “New Egypt” is shaking off “the dust of its
humiliation and dependency on Israel after the ousting of Mubarak’s regime,
which legitimised dependency and submission to Tel Aviv."

The lambasting of Israel in the regional media went so far that justifications
for the original attack on Israelis, the deadliest since 2008, were pervasive.

Although commentators in dailies that support Palestinian President Mahmoud
Abbas generally expressed their disdain for the methods used in the Eilat
attack - especially since it targeted mainly civilians -- some argued that
Israel provoked the extremism with intransigence over the peace process and
expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

The operation shows what can happen on Israel’s borders with the Arab
countries, wrote Hafez Al-Barghouti, editor-in-chief of the daily Al-Hayat
Al-Jadidah, which is owned by the Palestinian Authority.

“The regimes that used to guard these borders are collapsing one by one, and
Israel will not have any new guards unless it submits to peace and gives up its
racist settlement enterprise.”

Columnist Adel Abd Al-Rahman wrote in the same paper that even more deadly
operations would be carried out in the future due to Israel's “criminal”
handling of negotiations with the Palestinians:

“What happened in Eilat is the first sign of what will happen in response to
the Israeli policy, which is scornful and hostile to a political settlement and
which is coordinated with the US Future events are likely to be worse because
the people of the region, first and foremost the Palestinian people, will never
accept the criminal Israeli policy that has brought the people to a dead end.”

Still, some commentators, especially in Saudi-owned media, noted that
pouring scorn on Israel is an old habit, born of the need to deflect attention
from internal Arab problems.

Columnist Husam Itani of the London-based, Saudi owned Al-Hayat wrote that
relations between Israel and Egypt truly were tense and added, "One cannot
deny the existence of other sides with the capability and need to shift
attention away from their own fronts and their current predicaments.”

He explained further that the Palestinian “armed struggle” is still used, as
it was in the 1970s, as “a valid mailbox through which the Arab regimes can send
regional, international and internal messages."

Itani suggested that Syria may have played a role in the attacks in Israel
in an effort to divert attention from its violent crackdown against domestic
protesters. He concluded that there is “no eluding the fact that this type of
action now needs thorough reconsideration, to say the least.” The
transformations seen in the region over the past year, he wrote, herald “the
beginning of a new historical stage, and blind are those who do not see it.”

His was a quiet voice, however, amid the praise for the Egyptian Spiderman.

(Nicholas Noe and Walid Raad are the Beirut correspondents for the World
View blog. The opinions expressed are their own.


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