Egyptians have denounced President Obama and U.S. Ambassador Anne W. Patterson for supporting the now-ousted Muslim Brotherhood-led government, but now they are turning their fury against a diplomat who last served at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo 22 years ago.
Calling him the "ambassador of evil," an "assassin" and a "deadly killer," thousands of Egyptians are waging a Twitter campaign against Robert S. Ford, most recently U.S. ambassador to Syria.
Mr. Ford is being considered to replace Mrs. Patterson, whom Mr. Obama has nominated to serve as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. The White House has made no official announcement, and press reports say only that Secretary of State John F. Kerry has urged Mr. Obama to nominate him.
But Twitter users in Egypt have voiced outrage since an Egyptian newspaper last week published an article from a conspiracy website in Canada that accused Mr. Ford of running death squads when he served as a political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Iraq from 2004 to 2006.
The website run by the Montreal-based Center for Research and Globalization offered little evidence to back its accusation — much as it has failed to do in other feverish reports, such as "America's plan to annex and invade Canada."
It also has insisted that the airliners hijacked by al Qaeda terrorists did not cause the collapse of the World Trade Center in 2001. Something else was afoot, it said.
Nevertheless, its claims that Mr. Ford ran death squads was enough to create a massive reaction in Egypt.
"Egyptians rage against likely U.S. ambassador," many tweets said.
Egyptian Adnan Hobalah may have expressed it best: "I think Ambassador Robert Ford will go [down] in history as the first ambassador declared persona non grata on Twitter."
A NIGHT IN MALTA
The worldwide terrorism concern that closed 22 U.S. diplomatic missions was even felt in the Mediterranean island nation of Malta.
U.S. Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley this week called off an embassy Iftar dinner, a traditional evening meal Muslims eat after daytime fasting during their holy month of Ramadan.
"Out of an abundance of caution, the U.S. Embassy in Malta canceled the scheduled Iftar dinner," an embassy spokesman told the Malta Today newspaper.
Although the embassy was unaffected by the closure of other U.S. diplomatic missions, the ambassador ordered an increase in security.
Ms. Abercrombie-Winstanley, a career diplomat who speaks Arabic, is aware of the dangers of the Middle East, having served at embassies in Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq and Israel. At the State Department, she most recently served as a deputy coordinator for counterterrorism.
However, Malta is no restive Arab nation with terrorists lurking in the shadows of markets and mosques.
Malta has about 400,000 residents living in an area about twice the size of Washington, D.C. Ninety-six percent of Maltese are Roman Catholic.
About 3,000 Muslims live on Malta, but only about a quarter are Maltese citizens.
The last time Malta had a brush with Islamic terrorism was in 1985 when Palestinian hijackers landed an EgyptAir jetliner at the island's airport. But Malta was not their intended destination.
The Adu Nidal terrorists commandeered the plane on a flight from Athens to Cairo. A shortage of fuel forced them to land on Malta, where authorities in a standoff with the hijackers eventually called on Egyptian commandos who stormed the plane. Most of the 87 passengers and crew died in the ensuing gunbattle.
Malta is aware that its strategic location off the coast of Sicily makes it a tempting transit point for terrorists from North Africa trying to sneak into Europe.
• Embassy Row is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. James Morrison can be reached at email@example.com or @EmbassyRow.
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