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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

U.S. Embassy in Cairo Scrubs Twitter Feed of Link to ‘Daily Show’ Commentary on Egypt

In a belated attempt at damage control, the United States Embassy in Cairo edited its official Twitter feed on Wednesday to remove an update that drew attention to video of the American comedian Jon Stewart’s withering criticism of Egypt’s government.

A screenshot of the official Twitter feed of United States Embassy in Cairo on Wednesday. A screenshot of the official Twitter feed of United States Embassy in Cairo on Wednesday.

As The Lede reported on Tuesday, the embassy’s apparent promotion of the “Daily Show” segment, which mocked President Mohamed Morsi for the interrogation of an Egyptian comedian accused of making criminal use of satire, prompted furious Twitter replies from the official accounts of both the president’s office and the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement that got him elected.

At one stage on Wednesday, the American embassy’s feed disappeared entirely from the social network. Before it was restored, without the offending tweet, Foreign Policy reported that the decision to take the account down was made by the American ambassador in Cairo, Anne Patterson, without consulting her superiors in Washington. According to an unnamed official who spoke to FP, the State Department then pressed the ambassador to reverse course, “lest it appear that the United States is caving to the online pressure.”

During the brief time that the feed was missing from the social network, Issandr El Amrani, a Cairo-based journalist who blogs as The Arabist, made exactly that point.

The sudden disappearance of the official feed also led, inevitably, to a parody account with an almost identical handle being set up to fill the void. One tweet from the fake account was even directed at the Islamist bloggers who run the Brotherhood’s official @Ikhwanweb account.

Even after the embassy feed was restored, Rick Sanchez, a Fox News contributor, criticized the American government for editing it in response to pressure from the Egyptian presidency and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mr. Sanchez, who was fired by CNN in 2010 when he suggested that Jon Stewart’s mockery of him was motivated by the Jewish-American’s inability to understand a Latino, also took issue with the Brotherhood for trying to drag him into its dispute with the comedian. Late Tuesday, the bloggers who manage the Brotherhood’s @Ikhwanweb account advised followers to watch an Al Jazeera report on Mr. Sanchez, which illustrated, they said, that the U.S. has “double standards regarding freedom of speech, or lack of, and anti-Semitism.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Sanchez pushed back at the Brotherhood and endorsed the “Daily Show” critique of the Islamists the embassy had backed away from.

Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokeswoman in Washington, told reporters at a briefing on Wednesday, “Embassy Cairo’s Twitter feed is back up now. We’ve had some glitches with the way the Twitter feed has been managed. This is regrettably not the first time.” Ms. Nuland’s comment about previous “glitches” appeared to be a reference to comments posted on the embassy’s Twitter feed on Sept. 11 last year, which condemned the makers of a film mocking the Prophet Muhammad just before Islamist protesters stormed the diplomatic compound in Cairo.

Although those comments, condemning “efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims,” were posted on Twitter before the protesters in Cairo climbed the walls of the embassy and pulled down the American flag, as the tweets continued to circulate on the social network following the attack that day, they were inaccurately characterized by some opponents of the Obama administration in the U.S. and Egypt as an apology to the protesters issued after the breach of the embassy.

That night, before reports of a subsequent attack on the American consulate in Benghazi emerged, the Cairo embassy’s official Twitter feed condemned both the provocative film and the storming of the compound by protesters.

As The Lede reported last year, the embassy’s Twitter feed has been used to engage critics of American policy in the region in dialogue and to aggressively rebut rumors on the social network â€" including the conspiracy theory that the Obama administration had helped to install the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate in the presidential palace. In July, for instance, days before anti-Islamist protesters hurled insults at Hillary Clinton during the secretary of state’s visit to Egypt, the embassy’s Twitter feed refuted claims that the U.S. was behind the Brotherhood’s victory in the presidential election.

As The Lede noted on Tuesday, the embassy’s Twitter account was still being used yesterday to point out that comments attributed to the ambassador by a disreputable Egyptian newspaper â€" in which she supposedly said that “The land of Egypt belongs to the Jews” who “were expelled from Egypt after they built the pyramids” â€" were a complete fabrication.

Perhaps by coincidence, just about the only part of “The Daily Show” take-down of Egypt’s Islamist president that was not well-received by Egyptian critics of the government was Mr. Stewart’s apparent reference to the legend that the pyramids were built by Jewish slaves as if it were a fact.