On Monday, a day before the scheduled protest, newspapers reported on the upcoming protest, saying it was called because Americans must pay for allowing such a movie to be produced. Major newspapers wrote about the Coptic church disavowing the movie. Islamic groups called for those who produced the movie to be punished. Bakker told another the newspaper, al Masry al Youm, there should be a law that forbids insulting the prophet. “This is the least” that needs to happen, he said. By mid afternoon Tuesday, protesters started gathering in front of the embassy, chanting against the United States. By 5 p.m. some scaled the 12-foot wall protecting the compound, set a ladder against the flagpole and brought down the American flag. They replaced it with an Islamic one. A protester handed the American flag to those sitting on top of the wall, and they began tearing at it. Whatever remained of the flag was eventually burned.
Five hours later, in neighboring Libya, attackers launched an assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, killing Ambassador Christopher Stevens, tech officer Sean Smith and former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.
The violence made the movie an international story, and Muslims across the world planned to gather Friday, after prayer, in response to a film most had never seen. At least seven people were killed and thousands of police officers were deployed around the world to protect U.S. sites.
Zaid Akl, a political analyst at Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said the protests were about far more than the United States and its views on Islam. It was a means for frustrated Egyptians to rehash longstanding problems here — police abuse, unemployment, as well as defending the faith. “These are same issues people protested in 2005 and 2010 and last year. Nothing has changed,” Akl said. “What is happening now is not conducive to any society-based dialogue.”
Girgis, for his part, never thought the story would go beyond Egypt.
“I regret publishing the story because of the events that took place in the Islamic world but I am a journalist, and it is news,” Girgis. “If it wasn’t me publishing it, it would have been someone else.”
Ismail is a McClatchy special correspondent.
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