In Cairo, ultraconservative Islamists known as Salafis initially helped drum up outrage against the video and rally their supporters to protest outside the embassy, but by the time darkness fell and a handful of young men climbed the embassy wall, the Salafis were nowhere to be found, and they stayed away the rest of the week.
Egyptian officials said that some non-Salafis involved in the embassy attacks confessed to receiving payments, although no payer had been identified. However, after the first afternoon, the next three days of protests were dominated by a relatively small number of teenagers and young men — including die-hard soccer fans known as ultras. They appeared to have been motivated mainly by the opportunity to attack the police, whom they revile.
Some commentators said they regretted that the violence around the region had overshadowed the underlying argument against the offensive video.
“Our performance came out like that of a failed lawyer in a no-lose case,” Wael Kandil, an editor of the newspaper Sharouq, wrote in a column on Sunday. “We served our opponents something that made them drop the main issue and take us to the margins — this is what we accomplished with our bad performance.”
Mohammed Sabry, 29, a sculptor and art teacher at a downtown cafe, said he saw a darker picture. “To see the Islamic world in this condition of underdevelopment,” he said, “this is a bigger insult to the prophet.”
Additional reporting By Mai Ayyad