A new hero for the Arab Street

Nicholas Noe and Walid Raad write:

The Arab Street has a new hero. Dubbed Flagman or the Egyptian Spiderman on Facebook and Twitter, young Ahmad Ash-Shahat scaled Israel‘s embassy in Cairo and replaced its flag with Egypt‘s.

This was in response to the death of three Egyptian policemen last week during clashes that followed a series of attacks by gunmen who killed eight Israelis near the Israeli resort city of Eilat. Egypt blames the Israeli military for killing the policemen in its pursuit of the gunmen, who fled into Egypt’s Sinai peninsula. Israel says the gunmen infiltrated Israel from the Sinai. Israel has expressed regret for the death of the policemen and has said it is investigating whether its forces may have been inadvertently to blame.

For most of the commentators who took up the matter in the Arabic media, Israel’s culpability is a given, the issue of whether the deaths were accidental an irrelevance. For them, Ahmad Ash-Shahat’s mounting of the Israeli embassy, during mass protests after the death of the Egyptian policemen, was an expression of triumph over a country that is a source of resentment. Wrote Abdel-Beri Atwan, the editor in chief of the Palestinian owned, London-based Al-Quds al-Arabi:

This young Egyptian man embodies the strong patriotic feelings of the Egyptians. This young man represents more than 80 million Egyptians, the Egyptian revolution at its best and even one and a half billion Arabs and Muslims spread throughout the five continents, since he conveyed the anger felt toward this violating state.

Under the rule of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, a close ally of the U.S., popular criticism of Israel was muted in Egypt. But those days are over, as Makram Mohammad Ahmad noted in his column in the semi-official Egyptian daily Al-Ahram. Israelis, he wrote, have “failed to understand that Egypt has changed and that, in spite of its current keenness on preserving the peace in the region, it is now even keener on preserving the dignity of the nation.”

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