Western diplomats and journalists fell for Stalin’s show trials but eventually learned not to accept developments in the Soviet Union at face value. In the Soviet Union’s later years, a crowd assaulting a foreign embassy would have been assumed to have state approval.
Other autocrats engage in similar tricks and illusions. Indeed, it’s often best to bring the U.S.S.R. to mind while trying to understand tyrannies. Specifically, that was the case concerning the Sep. 9 mob attack against the Israeli embassy in Cairo.
Appearance: The attackers had participated in a demonstration by liberals/seculars in Tahrir Square, so the liberals were behind the assault. Or perhaps Islamists were. In any case, after some dithering, the military regime headed by Mohamed Tantawi protected embassy personnel and saved the day without any casualties, though the embassy itself was trashed. Conclusion: just as the West needed Mubarak, it needs Tantawi to fend off the Islamists.