A Global Integrity reporter in Cairo, Mervat Diab, shares the views of the protestors about the Obama administration’s handling of the crisis.
By Mervat Diab
Egyptian lawyer Issam Sultan has formally asked the prosecutor’s office to investigate the use of three US embassy vans in the crackdown that took place late last month against Egyptian protesters.
One of the vans allegedly ran over 20 protesters on January 28th, the day government thugs, supported by the security apparatus, attacked demonstrators in and around Tarir Square.
Editor: A graphically violent video of an incident which appears to support this account has been viewed nearly 2 million times on YouTube. The video is embedded below.
The van was later found close to the area where the Ministry of Interior Affairs is located with its wheels covered with blood. Sultan alleges there were two more vans with diplomatic license plates parked in the same area.
A statement from the US embassy in Cairo came a couple of days after the event explaining that the three vans were stolen. But the case has sparked suspicion amongst many Egyptians who question how could anyone could steal three vehicles from the heavily fortified US embassy in Cairo. That suspicion reflects broader disappointment on the part of many Egyptians with US policy during the three weeks of protest against the Mubarak regime.
The US embassy is located in the heart of the capital (Garden City) and is always heavily guarded because of fears of terrorist attacks. The surrounding streets are usually closed off by security personnel; both residents of the area and visa seekers are only permitted access to the area after having their identities verified at a single check point that is heavily secured by police.
The alleged use of US diplomatic vans in an assault against the protestors, whether true or not, reinforces a common belief amongst many protestors: that Mubarak’s regime was holding tightly to power because of US support, an impression reinforced by the confusing policy shifts on the part of the Obama administration throughout the crisis.
The ad hoc US envoy to Cairo during the crisis, former ambassador Frank Wisner, shocked Egyptian protesters when he said on Feb 5th in a conference in Germany that “President Mubarak’s role remains utterly critical in the days ahead while we sort our way toward a future in which Egypt is peaceful and moderate, and committed to its international obligations, including its peace treaty with Israel.”
The statement decimated what was left of Obama’s image amongst the protestors in the streets and confirmed what many of them previously considered simple rumor mongering: that the US protected the regime to maintain Israel’s security.
Although the US administration later distanced itself from Wisner’s statements, the news was a tipping point. Comments on several blogs and online forums now show an increasing discontent and even hatred towards what Egyptians perceive as a US double standard when it comes to democracy promotion in countries where the US has competing security interests.
The case of the stolen vans may go down as one of the final arrows to pierce the armor of American policy in Egypt.