Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Subverting the Uprising

I'm just returning from Tahrir, where there were lots of people, but of course not as many as the last night (Tuesday was a major demonstration, while today was the continuation of the sit-in in expectation of a next big demonstration on Friday). We got a good dose of tear gas at the corner of Tahrir Street, two or three blocks away from the area where the fighting takes place. The police fired tear gas to the street, people were running away from it, and the first help station was rapidly filled by people unable to breath due to the effects of the gas. Otherwise, we spent a calm evening, meeting some friends, including a group of writer friends from Alexandria and Cairo who are camping in Tahrir ever since Saturday. The medical services are getting better organised. The entire event is better and better organised, including the medical services, food, blankets, and unlike in the past, speakers’ stages and party presences are strictly prohibited. The protesters have named a number of politicians whom they suggest as capable figures to lead a civilian presidial council to replace the Military Council - the key demand of the protests.

But while the protesters are getting more strategic, the Military Council is resorting to new tactics. But there has been a strange turn in the square tonight, a rather clever move by the government. Late in the evening, a group of young men gathered at the corner of Talaat Harb street, a little far a way from the main concentration of the demonstration, and started calling for the establishment of popular committees to protect the street. A young man standing on the fence told that they want to keep the peace, and “if anybody throws a stone, we catch him”. Somebody else fiercely opposed him, and a debate evolved. Later, just before leaving Daniela and I took a look again at the beginning of Tahrir Street where the medical service was expanding to the street and treating a continuing stream of people suffering from the effects of gas. There, we ran into a young man whom I had met the previous night while buying cigarettes in the district of Kitkat on the other side of the Nile. Back then, he had expressed his strong disapproval of the revolution and argued that under former minister of interior Habib al-‘Adli there were no thugs on the street like now. I wondered what he was doing now in Tahrir, and he explained that he was upset about Egyptians fighting Egyptians, and had come here for the sake of the peacefulness of the event. In his view (congruent with the view spread by state television), all violence was caused by radical protesters attacking the police that was only acting in self-defence. People with such views were not the majority in the square, but there were quite a few, like there also were others who did see the police as responsible for the violence but still trusted that the army would not attack the protesters. A man standing at the corner of Tahrir Street was lecturing to them: “Of course it is the army that is attacking us! Who else has the power in this country? It’s the army that is sending them.”

The ongoing clashes go back to the excessive brutality of the police force (the pile of bodies on Tahrir Square on Sunday should be a good enough reminded). But the determination of protesters to face the police all the same is employed by state media to quite some effect to depict the protesters as rioters and wreckers, glossing over the fact that tens of protesters have been killed by the security forces and the military police since Saturday, mainly through live ammunition and effects of tear gas. There have been several fires, and the state media has accounted this to the protesters. To my knowledge, based on accounts from the streets where the fighting takes place (I have not been there myself), the fires that have broken out hear and there yesterday and today have been caused by the gas grenades fired by the police. A friend showed me a mobile phone image showing protesters putting out a fire in the second floor of a building at the corner of Falaki and Muhammad Mahmoud Streets. At the same time, many of the protesters are determined to fight and do search confrontation.

Tonight, the Military Goverment appears to be making tactical use of the riot imagery in a way to subvert the protests. While a member of the Military Council offered his excuses for the violence on television, the Ministry of Interior has warned called “the youth on the square” to protect the buildings around the square from “counter-revolutionary elements” may be trying to enter the buildings to attack the protesters from above. Coming from Egypt’s most important counter-revolutionary element itself, the executive organ of a massacre against the protesters in the last days, such warning sounds questionable to say the least. But quite a few people seem to have followed this call, believing that they need to protect the square from what they believe wreckers rather than from the police - despite a flood of contrary evidence. Their presence in Tahrir tonight to is creating a complicated and potentially dangerous situation.

I have no predictions to offer. I did not expect the January 25 Revolution, and I did not expect this uprising either. When D. three weeks ago told me that he puts his hopes into a new revolutionary uprising, possibly on 25 January 2012, I told that there is not enough anger in the country for that. I was wrong, he was right. But where the paths is leading to now, neither of us can tell.

Greetings from the Egyptian revolution!

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