The U.S. Embassy in Cairo shut down its Twitter feed Wednesday following a public fight with the Egyptian Presidency and the Muslim Brotherhood over the arrest of an Egyptian television star.
"Sorry, that page doesn't exist!" reads the banner atop the site where the @USEmbassyCairo Twitter feed sat until this morning. A cached version of the page shows that the last tweet was a link to the Daily Show's Jon Stewart talking about the Egyptian government's arrest of Stewart's Egyptian doppelganger Bassem Youssef, who was detained and fined by the Egyptian police on the charge of insulting Islam and President Mohamed Morsy.
"It's inappropriate for a diplomatic mission to engage in such negative political propaganda," the official Twitter feed for the Egyptian presidency said on their own feed Tuesday. The Egyptian presidency tweet was directed at the Cairo Embassy, the Daily Show, and Youssef himself.
The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political wing of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, has been lashing out at Embassy Cairo repeatedly on its own Twitter feed.
"Another undiplomatic & unwise move by @USEmbassyCairo, taking sides in an ongoing investigation & disregarding Egyptian law & culture," the FJP tweeted Tuesday.
A State Department official told The Cable Wednesday that the decision to take down Embassy Cairo's Twitter page was made by U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson without the consultation of the State Department in Washington. Foggy Bottom is urging Embassy Cairo to put the page back up, lest it appear that the United States is caving to the online pressure.
"This not a permanent shutdown. Embassy Cairo considers this to be temporary. They want to put new procedures in place," the official said.
This is not the first time Embassy Cairo has courted controversy via its Twitter account. On the fateful day of Sept. 11, 2012, Embassy Cairo put out a series of tweets seeking to calm the protests outside their walls. The campaign of Mitt Romney, the Republican challenger, seized upon those tweets to accuse President Barack Obama of apologizing for American values because the tweets referenced an anti-Islam video that contributed to the unrest.
The main Embassy Cairo tweeter at that time, Larry Schwartz, was blamed for the Sept. 11 tweets and subsequently recalled to Washington. But the combative character of the embassy's Twitter account continued.
The FJP also took issue with State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland's criticism of Youssef's treatment during an April 1 press briefing. Referring directly to Nuland's remarks about Youssef, the FJP said they are outraged at her "unreserved audacity" and her "blatant interference in the internal affairs of Egypt on an issue that is still under investigation" and is being dealt with through the Egyptian legal system.
UPDATE 12:20 : The Embassy Cairo Twitter feed is back up and running, although the controversial tweet in question has been deleted.
UPDATE: 1:00 : Nuland said at Wednesday's briefing that the Embassy viewed the tweet as a mistake but she defended the State Department's criticism of the Egyptian government on the issue.
"We've had some glitches with the way the twitter feed has been managed. This is regrettably not the first time. Embassy Cairo is looking at how to manage these glitches," she said. "They came to the conclusion that the decision to tweet it in the first place didn't accord with post management of the site."