Egyptian journalist reluctantly wrote film review that ignited Anti-US rage

Review of offensive video set in motion the events leading to deadly riots in some countries

PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 September, 2012, 4:55am


A crude video about the Prophet Mohammed that triggered an unprecedented outbreak of anti-American protest last week moved from being a YouTube obscurity in the US to a touchstone for anger across the world through a phone call from a controversial US-based anti-Islam activist to a reporter for an Egyptian newspaper.

Morris Sadek, a Coptic Christian who lives in Washington, 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 in Cairo, Egypt. Sadek had a movie clip he wanted Girgis to see; he e-mailed him a link.

Girgis said he watched the movie and found it insulting. He did not 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, on September 6, Girgis published a three-paragraph story calling the movie "shocking" and warning it could fuel strife between Egyptian Christians and Muslims.

Five days later, thousands of Egyptians stormed the US Embassy in Cairo and burned the US flag while as many as 125 armed men overwhelmed the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, killing the US 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.

An Islamic web forum picked up Girgis' story the day after it was published but the story remained off the front pages. It was still considered a local piece about an Egyptian in America fuelling a sectarian crisis, not about how the West treats Islam.

That was the case until September 9, when Khalid Abdullah, the premier commentator for al Nas, a popular Salafist television station, aired the clip on his show.

On the same day, the mufti of Al Azhar University, the chief source of Sunni Islamic thought in the Arab world, condemned the clip for "insulting the prophet", noting it was made by "Copts living abroad".

Facebook pages started urging Islamists and youths to protest on Tuesday, the 11th anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

As the embassy learned about the planned protests and the video's content, officials there said, they immediately saw the problem and posted a statement on their webpage condemning the video. But it was too late.