The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, Article 27, 1a.: “the receiving State shall, even in case of armed conflict, respect and protect the consular premises, together with the property of the consular post and the consular archives.”
Article 31, 1: “Consular premises shall be inviolable to the extent provided in this article.” [And no, mobs of thugs don’t come up as an exception.]
Article 33: “The consular archives and documents shall be inviolable at all times and wherever they may be.”
Article 40: “The receiving State shall treat consular officers with due respect and shall take all appropriate steps to prevent any attack on their person, freedom or dignity.”
Said one diplomat: “It has led to a complete loss of credibility in the [Egyptian] government internationally from all directions.” This is indeed a crucial moment for the “new” Egypt to prove it can act like a governable country. It is already scrambling to appear in control of the Sinai, and the same may yet become true for Cairo.
If they fail, the security vacuum will be filled by Islamic parties. “Israelis Flee Cairo Embassy as Protesters Invade Offices,” by David Kirkpatrick and Ethan Bronner for the New York Times, September 10:
CAIRO “” Israel sent a pair of military jets into Cairo at dawn on Saturday to evacuate its embassy staff after six members had been trapped in the embassy overnight by thousands of protesters who invaded the building and tossed documents from the windows. […]
The violence also raised concerns about whether Egypt’s military-led transitional government would be able to maintain law and order and meet its international obligations, and to what extent popular rage unleashed by the Arab Spring would send a chill over the region.
Not only the police on the scene, but the entire Egyptian security apparatus was apparently dragging its feet:
Throughout the night, desperate Israeli officials had placed several calls to their American counterparts seeking help to pressure the Egyptians to take more action to protect the embassy. Defense Minister Ehud Barak called Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called President Obama, Israeli and American officials said.
In Washington, the White House said in a statement that Mr. Obama had “expressed his great concern” about the embassy situation in his conversation with Mr. Netanyahu. The statement said Mr. Obama called on the government of Egypt “to honor its international obligations to safeguard the security of the Israeli Embassy.”
Israeli officials said the six trapped embassy staff members were rescued by Egyptian commandos early Saturday morning, after hours when Egyptian military and security forces had appeared to stand idle on the sidelines for fear of confronting the mob.
Fear, or sympathy? Not that fear is an excuse by any stretch of the imagination. If the military and security forces are afraid of a mob, Egypt has an even bigger problem.
“This went on for 13 hours and there was real concern for the safety and lives of our people,” an Israeli official said. “The mob penetrated the embassy and at the end there was only one wall separating it from six of our people.”
Israel flew out its ambassador and about 85 other diplomats and family members, leaving behind only one diplomat, the deputy ambassador, who took refuge in the American Embassy, diplomats familiar with the arrangements said. […]
For Egypt’s interim military rulers, allowing the invasion of a foreign embassy is an extraordinary breach of Egypt’s international commitments that is raising security concerns at other embassies as well.
The U.S. has denied reports by Al-Ahram of an attack on its embassy in Cairo.
“It has led to a complete loss of credibility in the government internationally from all directions,” a Western diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the situation. And it poses a new dilemma for the military council, which has sought to avoid confrontations with protesters and, often, to accede to the popular will to guard its own tenuous legitimacy….
Here, “steam control” became a loss of control.