Another January 25 marked the third year of continued protests in the hopes of finding our way to a successful revolution. On Friday, I joined the Shubra march to Tahrir Square where I saw many the familiar faces along with many other protesters once again.
This was not like last year’s march. This year there was certainly less energy and even less cohesiveness in the very long march that extended along Shubra’s streets. The street was laden with pockets of protesters. The pockets could be identified from a distance along the road by the endless density of flags. They were flags of 6 April Movement, Revolutionary Socialists, and the big white flags with the iconic faces of the martyrs of the ongoing revolution, including Emad Effat, Mina Danial, Jika, and now added to that list was Al Husseiny Abo Deif, the al-Fagr reporter who died in the Ittihadeya clashes last December.
The sentiment across Cairo, and perhaps across all of Egypt, is that protesting is no longer enough. Two years into the revolution, the prospects of bring about meaningful change through peaceful protests are slowly diminishing. With virtually every promise made by President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) to the public or to opposition broken, it seems that dialogue is not yielding satisfactory results. The leaders of the National Salvation Front (NSF) set up by Mohamed ElBaradei, Amr Moussa and Hamdeen Sabbahi seem aware of this reality, but are unable or unwilling to take a more confrontational stance against the current regime, thus falling far behind a more radicalized street movement.
The list of broken promises is too long to review. One notable promise that the MB betrayed pertains to producing a constitution through consensus and an inclusive constituent assembly that represents all factions of Egyptian society. Broken promises and lies have been so widespread and flagrant that a popular campaign Kazeboon (Liars) was re-launched to expose the MB’s lies through street screenings organized by citizens, movements and parties.
[Leader of Federation of Independent Trade Unions Kamal Abu-Eita speaks to crowds participating in Shubra-Tahrir Square march on 25 January 2013. Photo by Wael Eskandar]
Disenchantment with the ruling party and the formal opposition is reminiscent of the Hosni Mubarak era. Yet this time around, independent actors are more willing to take matters into their own hands and do something about it. That perhaps explains why the protesters were not as energetic as they used to be in their chants against Morsi, the MB’s rule and the constitution. The hopes are no longer riding on chants and marches. Instead, hope seems to be riding on groups willing to escalate and adopt more adventurous tactics, such as the Ultras who blocked the metro for a few hours last Wednesday, and later on the same day, the vital sixth of October bridge.
The Shubra march featured one group that has been the subject of interest for many protesters in Egypt in the past two days, namely the Black Bloc. The group is comprised of young protestors who cover their faces in ski masks or scarves. The Black Bloc released a statement identifying their purpose as standing up to the “fascist oppressors” the Muslim Brotherhood. They have also warned the Ministry of Interior not to get involved in the fight between the people and the Brotherhood. The group has no official presence on social media networks It is unclear whether they had a role to play in skirmishes between marchers and what appeared to be Muslim Brotherhood personnel near the Ikhwan Online offices in Tawfikeya. Rock throwing was exchanged between the two sides, but eventually the march proceeded normally.
[Black Bloc protesters in the march from Shubra to Tahrir on 25 January 2012. Photo by Wael Eskandar]
Absent from the protests was any presence by the Muslim Brotherhood, which remained largely silent about the protests. Similar to their predecessors among the Mubarakists, they seem to have left their political problems for the police to handle on the streets. When clashes ensued the police used more potent teargas this time, as if, as popular allegations go, ineffective teargas was the reason Mubarak was toppled. While in Tahrir Square the night of 24 January, the effects of the gas seemed more extreme than previous times I had experienced it, even though the canisters were often a long way off.
At some point in the afternoon, protesters made their way up the sixth of October bridge and blocked all traffic. Tahrir Square exhibited the usual duality in these types of situations, wherein the vast majority of the people stood in one area, leaving a select few at the front lines of confrontations with the police.
[Protesters set fire to tires near State TV building in Maspero on 25 January 2013. Photo by Wael Eskandar]
As we headed to the protests near the State TV building in Maspero, security forces fired at us excessive amounts of teargas, even though provocation was not apparent. The more they fired, the louder and more energetic the chants became.
Protesters’ tactics seems to have shifted towards direct action such as blocking vital means of transportation and occupying government buildings. There have also been talks of picking up arms, or at least investing in equipment that could serve to protect protesters from the brutal attacks of security forces. With the policing establishment inherited from the Mubarak era left unreformed, the vast majority of Egyptians believe that the police sole purpose is to serve the interests of the rulers rather than protect the innocent and uphold the law.
From the perspective of the regime, Tahrir Square seems to be the safest place for protests as it is not in the immediate vicinity of any of the vital buildings such as the Giza or Cairo governorate buildings, State TV, or parliament. More importantly, is far away from the main MB headquarters in Moqattam. The protesters’ fixation on Tahrir square in Cairo seems to be more of a setback than an advantage. Many protesters in other governorates, such as Mahalla, Ismailia and Suez, have already stormed government buildings and police stations. Cairo’s protesters are unable to follow suit due to heavy security presence and the location of Tahrir Square.
As the clashes continue, the Brotherhood and its supporters will continue to label their challengers hired thugs. For anyone on the ground, however, it is clear that these are not thugs, but revolutionary youth enraged by the feeling of being cheated out of the revolution they deserve.