In Cairo, there were clashes Thursday between protesters and police blocking access to the US Embassy.
The Egyptian government has vowed to protect the embassy, following the killing of the US ambassador in Libya.
Egyptian journalist Shahira Amin is a former deputy head and senior anchor at Egypt’s state-owned Nile TV.
She resigned from the position in February last year because she disapproved of the channel’s coverage of the revolution.
She tells anchor Marco Werman she sees reactions in Middle East as a bigger insult to Islam than the actual film, and anti-American attacks as a strike against the Arab Spring and the revolution.
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Marco Werman: I’m Marco Werman, and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH Boston. Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi today vowed to protect the US embassy in Cairo. His promise was immediately put to the test; demonstrators clashed with police as they tried to throw stones at the embassy. On Tuesday, the protestors stormed the building and tore down the flag. That was the first in a wave of anti-American protests in the Middle-East this week, supposedly over a film that has offended many Muslims. Shahira Amin is a former deputy head and senior anchor at Egypt’s state-owned Nile TV. She resigned from the position in February last year, because she disapproved of the channel’s coverage of the revolution. She says the protests today in Cairo started in front of the American embassy, but were then pushed by police to nearby Tahrir Square.
Shahira Amin: A lot of the protestors are presumed to be ultra-conservative Salafis, because they beards, the women are all covered up with Nikahs; the face veil, but also the Ultras, which is the football fans…
Werman: Soccer fans-
Amin: Yes. They support the Al-Ahlawy National Team. They have had a big role in protests in the transitional period against the military. I think it’s these young people that are behind all the vandalism, throwing rocks at the security forces, so, some people are stirring up things here.
Werman: Tahrir Square obviously has so many other associations. I’m wondering, is the tone of the demonstrations now shifting? Are the concerns now different from what they were 48 hours ago?
Amin: Since the appointment of the new Islamist president, things have been relatively quiet, but as you know, the economy isn’t doing to well. But the strikes have been ongoing regardless; people demanding higher wages, better work conditions. So a lot of people have been on the street, they found their voices, they are now able to express themselves more freely. There are inflamed sentiments, but I’ve asked a lot of the protestors, have they actually seen the film, and they haven’t, because we have a 40% poverty rate in Egypt, these are uneducated people, a lot of them are illiterate, they don’t use the internet, and the trailer of the film has been on Youtube, so a lot of them have not actually seen the film. It’s spread through word of mouth.
Amin: We saw this happen before with the Danish cartoons some years ago. People just get very angry here when it comes to religion, when there are insults of their faith, or their revered prophet Mohammed.
Werman: Yeah, we heard that same thing about the protestors in Yemen, that they are just angry, but very few of them if any had seen this trailer. So is this demonstration now morphing into anger about other issues, not just this film? About the economy, about unemployment?
Amin: Possibly. Lots of reasons to be angry here, but the government has called for restraint, they have asked the people to express themselves peacefully, and I personally find that the reactions are a bigger insult to Islam than the actual film. Killing innocent people; this cannot be condoned by any peace-loving Muslim. I see it as an attack at the Arab Spring, at the revolution, because I can see some people trying to incite or foment sedition. I can’t tell who it is, but as we’ve seen in Libya, you don’t go to a peaceful protest with RPGs-
Werman: Rocket-Propelled Grenades-
Amin: Yes. And you don’t kill innocent people. So I think that something bigger is behind all of this. We heard Ayman Zawahiri, of Al-Quaeda, in his September 11′th address. He called on Libyans to avenge the killing of the number-two Al-Quaeda, Abu Yahya al Libi, he was Libyan. So this could be Al-Quaeda elements, terrorism, with state’s intelligence, former regime loyalists, who just don’t want things to stabilize in this part of the world. I saw a lot of people, Mubarak supporters, post on Facebook today, “See, this is what happens when you have an Islamist president.”
Werman: And Shahira, what has been Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s reaction to the embassy protests, but also to the film that sparked the protests? What’s he saying?
Amin: He has condemned the film, but the Muslim Brotherhood, on its website, said that the protests must be peaceful, and called on Egyptians to control their anger. But I know that he needs, badly, the support of the international community and of the United States, so hopefully this won’t cause a rift between the two countries. Ambassador Chris Stevens was a friend of the Arabs, he was a peace loving man, and he didn’t deserve that at all. So I see this as a strike against the revolution.
Werman: Egyptian journalist Shahira Amin, good to speak with you again, thank you very much.
Amin: Thank you, Marco.
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