The United States Embassy in Cairo is dealing with a second round of backlash for tweeting a link to a Daily Show segment criticizing the Egyptian government. After deleting the tweet in an attempt to cover up the mistake, the diplomats must now field a volley of messages accusing them of backing down in the face of a foreign power and generally trying to cover up its mistakes. Diplomacy is hard.
There's no exact science to diplomacy, but even a lay person could have recognized that it was unwise for the Embassy to tweet this Daily Show link. "Criticizing" is actually a gentle word for Stewart's routine. "Ridiculing" is probably more appropriate, and recent history has shown that many folks in the Middle East don't like to see their leaders, religious or otherwise ridiculed. Remember the time somebody posted a YouTube video ridiculing the prophet Mohammed? It almost started a war!
The segment itself is hardly comparable to The Innocence of Muslims. Among other things, Stewart goes after Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi for detaining and questioning an Egyptian comedian. He also makes the claim that the Jews built the pyramids — even Morsi's fiercest opponents took issue with this claim. For an American audience, the jokes were hardly noticed. For the Egyptians, though, this was a major insult. It even stirred Morsi's official Twitter feed: "It's inappropriate for a diplomatic mission to engage in such negative political propaganda," tweeted the office of the president on Tuesday.
Again, the US diplomats in Egypt should've seen this coming. They at least should've read the YouTube comments on the dang thing! But the really bad decision was yanking down the embassy's entire Twitter feed, calling it a "glitch" and then restoring it without the insulting tweets. The Egyptian people aren't stupid. Neither are the Americans who pay attention to these feeds. So it wasn't exactly helpful when State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said that "had some glitches with the way the twitter feed has been managed." She acknowledged that the tweet was a mistake. The New York Times has collected a nice sampling of all the disapproving tweets that flowed towards the embassy as a result of the takedown.
A lot of people have their own opinions about tweeting dumb things and deleting them afterwards. In the world of journalism, it's a no-no. In the world of diplomacy, it also doesn't seem like the smartest way to handle things. But hey, Twitter's new, and so is the Egyptian government. Can't we just call this growing pains and move on? And never tweet another Jon Stewart clip ever again?