Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Brothers Trapping Their Brothers: The Untold Story of What Happened When Salafis Took Over Tahrir.

It was 3 am in Tahrir. I could see a black flag bearing the slogan “there is no God but Allah” approaching me from afar. The number of people descending on the square was mounting, so was the anxiety the sit-in protesters felt towards their visitors.

“Islamic state, Islamic state…the people want sharia law,” chanted the Salafi march that passed by me.  That was the first time I hear such slogans in Tahrir, the epicenter of Egypt’s revolution and the melting point of Egyptians from all walks of life. My eyes saw very few Egypt flags and my ears could barely hear the word “Egypt” in the slogans that shook the entire square when it, later in the day, became full to the brim.

“Tahrir will not be Tahrir,” I tweeted. Then I hoped for something which would have never crossed my mind before these slogans invaded my ears. “I wish the Muslims Brotherhood (Ikhwan) will build their stage faster and start balancing things up. They are more politically educated than the Salafis,” I thought. Now, for me to look forward to listening to Ikhwan slogans is an indication of how those hardcore radicals who came from cities as far as Qena have desecrated the crown jewel of our revolution.

As the day was passing I noticed something very interesting. The square was totally dominated by Salafis. Where was the Muslim Brotherhood? They did build a huge stage, but their numbers in the square was not as evident as the Salafis. When the Ikhwan stage chanted “Muslims and Christians are one hand,” they were drowned by roars of “Islamic, Islamic” coming from the Salafis.

I believe the Brotherhood, being the most organized and experienced political movement in Egypt, have set a trap for their fellow Islamists. The Ikhwan wanted the Salafis to fill the square and do their crap so the Ikhwan appears as the “moderate alternative” to the radical Salafis.  In addition, the Ikhwan respected the agreement with the other political forces and refrained from raising other demands besides what was agreed upon before the Friday of July 29. Essam Arian, an Ikhwan leader, even went further by admitting that the Salafis have violated the agreement “because they were oppressed for long by the Mubarak regime.”

And who were the target audience of Ikhwan’s undercover message? Egyptians scared of an Islamist-run Egypt and the outside world, namely the US who according to Secretary Clinton is currently talking with leaders from the organization. Aware they will fare well in the upcoming elections, the Ikhwan did not want to appear as threatening as their Islamist counterparts. As mentioned above, their stage was keen to adhere to the agreed demands. They did chant for the other beneficiary of the Salafis’ recklessness though: the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

The Salafis terrorizing takeover of Tahrir was the perfect gift for SCAF. Everyone scared from the bearded guys in white robes, from Christians to the occupant of the White House, will now run to SCAF perceiving they are the last standing bulwark against an Iranian-style rule in the cradle of civilization, Egypt.

  Posted by BP at 10:50 pm Comments (20)
Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What Could Happen on July 29th?

Next Fiday, July 29, the self-declared Islamist parties will come to Tahrir. There are only 3 scenarios as to what might happen.

Before we talk about these scenarios, we have to answer this question: why are the Islamists coming to Tahrir and other squares this Friday?

If you have been following their rhetoric since they announced the demonstration, you will find that there was only one main demand for July 29: their refusal of the elements guarding the upcoming constitution. They are basically refusing to agree on a pre-elections Egyptian bill of rights that will govern how the upcoming constitution committee draft the constitution. They want everything to be after the elections which they believe they’ll fare well in.

Now, is refusing the elements guarding the constitution really the reason why they want to go to Tahrir this Friday? I do not think so. I know for sure that Islamists do not give a hoot about what Tahrir is demanding now. The Islamists know their future, or they think they know their future, and they are licking as many army boots as possible in an attempt not to disrupt that future.  They do not care much about ending military trials because we haven’t seen any concrete objection to these trials from their behalf. Funny because those who suffered the most from military trials during Mubarak’s era were the Muslim Brotherhood.

Is police force purification, another important revolution demand, high on their agenda? Another no. On the same moment we were getting beaten up at Abasiyah, the Brotherhood were hosting the minister of interior at a lavish reception in a 5 stars hotel. This minister has done absolutely nothing in cleansing the police force. Do they care about martyr’s families and about bringing justice to them? No. Martyr families are sleeping in Tahrir today and not in the headquarters of the religious parties.

But weren’t the above demands including in the communiques that they distributed? These demands were only included and stressed upon this week so they won’t appear as if they’re alienated from the revolution’s demands. Go back to their rhetoric 2 and 3 weeks ago, the “super constitutional elements” recommended by certain non-Islamists figures and organizations and the country’s “Islamic identity” were the sole stated reasons why they decided to show up on Jul 29. And as I have stated above, I don’t even believe this is why they want to decend on Tahrir this Friday.

The religious parties were startled by the Tahrir sit-in that followed the mass demonstration of July 8. A bunch of young activists from all walks of life and all political affiliations occupying Tahrir and creating nightmares for SCAF. Nightmares that made SCAF behave exactly like Mubarak’s police force and resort to thugs and inciting residents to attack our peaceful march in Abasiyah. The Islamist parties basically want a show of power so Tahrianians won’t be the only people calling the shots.

So back to our 3 scenarios. This is how I see the day might develop.

Scenario 1: clash between the religious parties (the most radical among them) with the current sit-in protesters in the square. The clash could be triggered by radical elements of whomever will come Tahrir on July 29 or even by some misbehaving Tahrir protesters.

Scenario 2:  SCAF does it again a la Abasiyah. Send in a few thugs, create a huge fight and later claim that Tahrir protesters clashed with their visitors.

Scenario 3: The day ends peacefully.

Let us all hope for scenario 3. There are attempts from both sides to make scenario 3 a reality. Tahririans are talking among themselves that they must not clash with whomever will come on Jul 29. In a last minute attempt to cool things down, the Salafi Noor Party spokesperson said that Tahririans are the reason why we’re currently living in freedom.  All these attempts are welcomed to prevent yet another bloody confrontation.

Lastly, I believe we should all pray scenario 2 won’t happen though! That’s the only scenario no one has any control upon.

  Posted by BP at 4:52 pm Comments (13)
Sunday, July 24, 2011

My Account of What Happened – Camel Battle 2

I arrived in Tahrir at around 3:30 pm. The sun was blazing and the square looked a bit empty. “If this number will go on the march to the MOD, the square will be very vulnerable to attackers,” I told my friend who accompanied me to the square.

An hour later the numbers started getting bigger and we were ready to embark on the long march to the MOD.

The numbers leaving Tahrir were very good and I was quiet confident that with such numbers, the army would think twice before attacking us. Besides, we just wanted to reach the MOD, deliver our message and then head back to the square. Our march was peaceful, just like all our marches.

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The throng walked along Ramsis street. I often stopped to take pictures and marvel at the multitudes in front and behind me. I have to admit I never expected that the march would swell to such a number.

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Another thing I didn’t expect: the reaction of the bystanders and the people peering at us from the balconies. Even though a number of bystanders picked up a fight with us, the majority of the people on the street were not antagonistic at all. We got several waves from well wishers from their balconies and a shop owner ran with 2 olas (clay water pots) to give us a cherished drink of cold water.

As soon as we reached Abasiyah we started chanting: people of Abasiyah, this march is peaceful. Yesterday, July 22, Abasiyah residents clashed with an unplanned march that went from Tahrir to the MOD.  So we wanted to assure the residents that our march was peaceful.

We reached El Noor mosque and that was literally our dead end. The army blocked the road with barbed wire and several armored vehicles. A large number of military police were behind the wires. Some Abasiyah youth formed a popular committee to prevent anyone from entering the alley leading to their homes.  They started chanting “the people and the army one hand.” We responded with “the people and the people one hand.” It seems our chant surprised them because they stopped chanting!

Suddenly I saw these youth running after a man and trying to grab him. Tahrir protesters protected him and whisked him away. I later learned that this man was a foreigner.  Affected by SCAF’s fanning of xenophobia, it seems they thought he was a spy or something.

I looked back and was startled to see our numbers had shrunk considerably. Where did the thousands marching with us go? Did they get scared after seeing the military police and their armored vehicles and decided to leave? I didn’t know.Then I saw the people running towards the gates of El Noor mosque. The army sent soldiers to block it and prevent anyone from entering. Why were they doing so? Well, the answer came shortly after.

Hell broke loose. Rocks and glass bottles started to rain on us. From the alleys, from the rooftops. We were entrapped. We started fighting back. First by throwing the same stones that got volleyed at us, then by breaking the pavement tiles and making our own weapons.

People started running back in order to gain more space. Then the unthinkable happened. Attackers emerged from another alley and blocked the only way we have out. We became encircled. We became really entrapped.

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The call of prayer came out of the mosques microphones. Some people lined up to pray and there was a lull in the battlefield. As Muslims started bowing in prayer, Christians formed a protective circle around them as they did in Tahrir during the heydays of the revolution.

As soon as the prayer ended, the rocks and bottles came raining down again. People took shelter in the nearby medical university. Others went to the mosque which was eventually opened by the army. We later learned that the army closed the mosque and arrested those inside. I cannot confirm this piece of info though.

Map Abbasiyah 2

The battle went to another level: Molotov was introduced. The attackers threw rounds after rounds of Molotov bottles. One car went up in flames and smokes covered the entire scene. The cars in the area were badly hit by the flying rocks.

CSF soldiers appeared. They stood behind the attackers!  What did the army do in the midst of all this? They fired rounds of blank and sound gunshots. Other than that, they stood there and watched Egyptians eat each other alive.

We got news that we need to head back to Tahrir in case thugs might seize the opportunity and attack it.  I left through the university towards the back street. Afraid I might get caught with my camera, Lilian Wagdy was kind enough to stuff it in her bag. As we were on our way to the metro, tweets informed us that the CSF soldiers had started firing tear gas.

Now, the golden question: who attacked us? I truly believe that we were attacked by both thugs and Abasiyah residents. I think the army stirred the residents against us by telling them we might hold a sit-in in their area and disrupt their normal life. And thugs were brought to add a “professional” twist to the entrapment. Regardless of who attacked us, I am positive the army and the police knew all about it. SCAF’s statements and what General Reweny  said this morning indicated that the old grandpa generals had plans for us.

  Posted by BP at 12:07 pm Comments (57)
Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Vocal Minority – The May 27 Camp

Amid the optimism created by the January revolution, the vast majority of Egyptians are also quiet concerned with what the future holds for Egypt. Many of them are afraid an unfavorable power might jump over the throne of this country, long occupied by a single Pharaoh (me excluded!)

Many are scared the army would find post-Mubarak Egypt juicy lucy and remain in power. Others, especially many liberals, leftists and almost the entire Christian community, are terrified of a Muslim Brotherhood run Egypt.

These concerns are valid. But if you are too obsessed with the above fears, I have an antidote for you. It is called the May 27 camp.

On that day, revolutionaries decided that they will fill Tahrir and other squares across the country one more time because the ruling military junta was lacking behind in fulfilling the revolution’s demands. They called that day “The Friday of Rage 2″. It was quiet apparent the rage will not be directed to the ex-president rotting in Sharm, but to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces itself.

Not used to criticism, SCAF embarked on a fear-mongering campaign one week before that day. They announced they won’t be securing the square and thus won’t be held responsible for anything that might happen inside Tahrir. The media they control also played a role in scaring people away from the square.  Even football commentators joined the show. A popular commentator said right in the middle of an important football game: “rage against who? Against the army that gave you freedom?”

The religious parties, wanting to appease SCAF and avoid meddling with their anticipated march to big gains in the upcoming parliament elections, announced they won’t be participating in the demonstrations. The Muslim Brotherhood issued a statement stating that they won’t participate because the demonstrations were against the army and against the people. Other more radical groups stated that May 27 was organized by “secularists and atheists.” Funny because at midday the multitudes were bowing in prayer. I tweeted their picture under the heading “secularists and atheists praying in Tahrir!”

Everything indicated that Tahrir would be empty on that day. The exact opposite happened. The square was full; not like the heydays of the revolution, but given the fear-mongering campaign of SCAF and the absence of the religious parties, the numbers were pretty good. “Where is Ikhwan, here is the square,” became the keynote slogan of the day.

Not only was the square full, but it was safe as well. Tahrir is always the safest place when full.  News spread that SCAF’s fear bubbles were just, ummmm just bubbles, and by evening shops were open and the epicenter of Egypt’s revolution was as gorgeous as it always was.

May 27 was an eye opener.  The lesson we all got from the day was this: Egypt does have an alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood and its radical siblings. There is another camp besides the deposed National Democratic Party and the religious parties. A camp composed of people who believe that finishing what we started on January 25 is much more important than any political ambition. A camp that includes people from all the political spectrum, and also people who do not have any political affiliation or conviction. A camp that includes the great Muslim Brotherhood youth, the group whom we all hope will one day replace the arrogant bogeymen who run the organization today.

The May 27 camp could be a minority, yet it is large enough to make a difference, strong enough to fill Tahrir despite SCAF’s fear bubbles.  Strong enough to create nightmares to whomever will rule us in the future and deviate from what January 25 stands for.

  Posted by BP at 10:08 am Comments (8)