Egyptian protesters scaled the walls of the U.S. embassy on Tuesday, tore down the American flag and burned it during a protest over what they said was a film being produced in the United States that insulted Prophet Mohammad.
In place of the U.S. flag, the protesters tried to raise a black flag with the words “There is no God but God, and Mohammad is his messenger”, a Reuters witness said.
Once the U.S. flag was hauled down, some protesters tore it up and showed off pieces to television cameras. Others burned the remains outside the fortress-like embassy building in central Cairo.
Islam generally prohibits any depiction of the Prophet Mohammed, whom Muslims revere for receiving the revelation of the Quran and as a model of the virtuous life.
One slogan scrawled on the walls of the embassy, which is near Tahrir Square where Egyptians revolted against Mubarak, said: “If your freedom of speech has no limits, may you accept our freedom of action.”
Washington has a big mission in Egypt, partly because of a huge aid program that followed Egypt’s signing of a peace treaty with Israel in 1979. The United States gives $1.3 billion to Egypt’s military each year and offers the nation other aid.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland in Washington said the wall was breached and the flag removed.
“We are obviously working with Egyptian security to try to restore order at the embassy and to work with them to try to get the situation under control,” she said.
Following the protest, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said it was committed to giving all embassies the necessary protection.
Protests have become a common feature in Egypt since the uprising that ousted long-time U.S.-ally Mubarak. When U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited in July, after Mohammed Mursi was sworn in, her motorcade was pelted with tomatoes.
The government of President Mursi condemned the violence but called on Washington to take action against the film’s makers.
“What happened at the US embassy in Cairo is regrettable and rejected by all Egyptian people and cannot be justified, especially if we consider that the people who produced this low film have no relation to the (US) government,” Prime Minister Hisham Kandil said, reading out a statement.
“We ask the American government to take a firm position toward this film’s producers within the framework of international charters that criminalize acts that stir strife on the basis of race, colour or religion.” President Mursi, an Islamist from the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood, became Egypt’s first elected leader this year after last year’s overthrow of US ally Hosni Mubarak.
He is trying to reassure Western countries that Egypt will remain an ally and is seeking debt forgiveness from Washington.
In Mubarak’s era, protests were usually swiftly halted by an often brutally efficient police force.