CAIRO -- A crude video about the Prophet Muhammad that triggered an unprecedented outbreak of anti-American protest last week moved from being a YouTube obscurity in the United States to a touchstone for anger across the world through a phone call less than two weeks ago from a controversial U.S.-based anti-Islam activist to a reporter for an Egyptian newspaper. Morris Sadek, a Coptic Christian who lives in suburban Washington,
D.C., whose anti-Islam campaigning led to the revocation of his Egyptian citizenship earlier this year, had an exclusive story for Gamel Girgis, who covers Christian emigrants for al Youm al Sabaa, the Seventh Day, a daily newspaper here. Sadek had a movie clip he wanted Girgis to see; he e-mailed him a link. “He told me he produced a movie last year and wanted to screen it on Sept. 11th to reveal what was behind the terrorists’ actions that day, Islam,” Girgis said, recalling the first call, which came on Sept. 4. Sadek, a longtime source, “considers me the boldest journalist, the only one that would publish such stories.” Girgis said he watched the movie and found it insulting. He didn’t want to write about it. But Sadek called Girgis back and urged him to, telling him he could not deny that the movie existed.
Two days later, Sept. 6, Girgis published a three-paragraph article, calling the movie “shocking” and warning it could fuel sectarian tensions between Egyptian Christians and Muslims. Girgis concluded that the video “is just a passing crisis that doesn’t affect the bond between Muslims and Copts.”
In hindsight, that sentiment seems wildly optimistic. Five days later, thousands of Egyptians stormed the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and burned the American flag while as many as 125 armed men overwhelmed the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. Three days after that, protests in 23 countries included the sacking of the German embassy in Sudan and the burning of the American School in Tunisia.
Whether the Benghazi attack was linked to anger over the video remains uncertain — witnesses have said there was no protest preceding the attack — but the trauma of those deaths will likely scar U.S. perceptions for years, and while Saturday seemed calm across the region, the U.S. State Department made clear it fears the violence has not ended. In a statement, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the Obama administration remained concerned about developments in Sudan. “We have requested additional security precautions as a result of yesterday’s damage to our embassy.,” she said. “We are continuing to monitor the situation closely to ensure we have what we need to protect our people and facility.”
Sadek did not respond Saturday to requests for comment. How Grigis’ short item spread is a reminder of how interconnected the world has become. An Islamic web forum picked up Girgis’ story the day after it was published. Girgis’ newspaper also ran an interview that day with Wisam Abdel Warith, the head of a television station, the Wisdom, that’s affiliated with the ultra conservative Salafist strain of Islam.
When asked about the movie, Warith urged the leaders of Egypt’s Coptic community to condemn the movie, though he gave no indication he had seen it.