'Egyptian Spiderman' thrills protesters at Israeli embassy

Protester scales the Israeli embassy in Cairo, swaps the Israeli flag for the Egyptian one and becomes a hit on Twitter.
An Egyptian flag flutters over the Israeli embassy in Cairo Sunday. A protester became a hero to the Egyptians outside the embassy and many more online by hauling down the Israeli flag replacing it with an Egyptian one.
An Egyptian flag flutters over the Israeli embassy in Cairo Sunday. A protester became a hero to the Egyptians outside the embassy and many more online by hauling down the Israeli flag replacing it with an Egyptian one.

CAIRO // Hundreds of protesters outside the Israeli embassy broke into a frenzy yesterday when a man bypassed a security perimeter, scaled a nearly 20-storey building and replaced an Israeli flag outside the embassy with an Egyptian one.

The feat by Ahmed El Shehata, a veteran of the uprising in Tahrir Square, quickly fired across the internet. The term flagman became one of Twitter's most popular topics in the region.

Mohamed Abdelfattah, an Egyptian video journalist, wrote on the site: "The impact of the #flagman is stronger than 10 ministries of foreign affairs put together".

Activist Gigi Ibrahim compared the moment to the day when Hosni Mubarak stepped down and when protesters spray painted the face of a police-brutality victim on the Ministry of Interior gate.

The act appeared to be cathartic for Egyptians who have had to contend with government policies towards Israel that were out of step with popular sentiment. Mr Mubarak allowed Israel to open an embassy in Egypt in 1980, becoming the first Arab leader to allow one on its land. He also signed a deal to supply Israel with 45 per cent of its gas and gave security assurances that allowed Israel to cut its defence spending.

Mr Shehata's gesture came amid escalating tensions between the two countries after Israeli military expressed its "deep regret" on Saturday about what it described as the accidental killing of five Egyptian officers on the border in Sinai. Israeli defence forces had been in pursuit of suspected militants who killed eight Israelis in terror attacks.

In an interview with Egyptian television, Mr Shehata, who has been called the "Egyptian Spiderman", said he managed to bypass Egyptian security as officers were changing shifts. His decision was rooted in his anti-semitic beliefs, he said.

"We want to expel people who are killing us," he said. "Those Jews and Zionists are part of the old regime, and we want to cut all our ties with the old regime".

Amr Bargisi, a member of the Egyptian Union for Liberal Youth who opposed the Mubarak uprising, said that "flagman" became popular because opposition to Israel is the one unifying factor across the country.

"The Islamists, the secularists, the socialists, the liberals all have one issue that they do not disagree about: Israel," he said. "I'm in deep consternation about my own country. What should really be the issue is that five Egyptians died and nobody seems to care about them. To me, the whole thing is a farce."

Mr Bargisi said that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces - the military body that has been in charge since Mr Mubarak stepped down - was in a difficult position.

"They would rather keep the commitments that they had under the Mubarak regime, such as the peace treaty with Israel," he said. "Now they are in trouble with the Israelis and the Egyptian people because of what's happening in Sinai."

There was still uncertainty yesterday over whether Egypt's ambassador would be called back from Israel. The cabinet initially posted a statement online on Saturday saying that he was being told to return to Cairo "for consultation" but the statement was later taken down. The Israeli government said it had no official notification that the ambassador was being recalled and the Egyptian government did not respond to questions yesterday.

 

bhope@thenational.ae

Published: August 22, 2011 04:00 AM

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