A crowd of Salafi Islamists swarmed over the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo today, tore down the American flag and replaced it with black banners proclaiming the Muslim declaration of faith: “There is no god but God and Muhammad is his prophet.”

This hostile action, coming on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, is a deliberate affront to the United States, an effort to poison bilateral Egyptian-American relations and a harbinger of darker things to come in Egypt as rival Islamist groups compete to heap abuse on the United States and put Egypt on an even more radical Islamist trajectory. The crowd demanded that the embassy be closed and chanted: “Obama, Obama, there are still a billion Osamas” – a reference to the al-Qaeda leader killed in May 2011.

The crowd, which reportedly contained many supporters of the ultra-radical Al Nour and Al Asala parties, ostensibly was protesting against anti-Islamic attitudes in the United States and an alleged film that insulted the Prophet Muhammad. But the attack undoubtedly was orchestrated to drive a deep wedge between Egypt and the United States and to benefit Salafist political parties by outflanking the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government in the domestic competition to exploit the anti-American soapbox.

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