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Egypt’s Protest Dispersed by Force

February 26, 2011

Photo: Al-Jazeera

Each time I’ve been asked to answer the question “What’s next for Egypt“–most recently yesterday in an address to the Model Arab League–my first scenario, a military coup, receded further into the background. Like many Egyptians I’ve been cautiously optimistic about the military’s posture (not so many of my academic friends, esp. Ted Swedenberg of the University of Arizona, who has been chanting “Don’t trust the military, don’t trust the military” since tanks rolled into Cairo Jan. 28th)

The military coup scenario moves forward now that the army 25-26 Feb. dispersed Friday demonstrators by force, and enforced the curfew. It is telling–an ominous–that they appear to have waited until there were no television cameras, and that many wore black masks under their riot helmets. This uprising has very much become both a social drama and a media performance.

I first heard about it through social media (of course). I received two messages back to back via Facebook from two different friends:

At least 60 protesters arrested in Tahrir. Military police & masked commandos attacked people w/ whips, sticks & tasers, & waved machine guns around 2 intimidate them. They chased them thru side streets. The square has been evacuated but they’re trying 2 regroup. Now they’v…e beat up protesters at the parliament sit-in & are threatening & arresting them.

‎”More fun with the army tonight, who decided to break up a two small peaceful protests (why?) using completely unwarranted force. I knew they would do this, but didn’t think it would be so ugly. Sherif Azer was beaten up, but he’s fine” via Sarah Carr about today’s protests in Cairo. The army has shown its true face today…

The continuing Friday protests were intended to keep the pressure on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces now running the country that they must deliver on their promises. One of my wife’s friends told her (via Facebook) that it had become a Friday after-prayer outing for many people. Indeed, there was a carnivalesque ritual aspect, where munaqaba (veiled women) make posters alongside young men in jeans, vendors sell grilled snacks, and parents bring their children.

One stream of messages by young men I kibbitzed involved an argument between a young man who called himself Shady, saying “We got what we wanted. The guy gave up power, resigned his office. My friends and I went home and so should the rest of you.” A half dozen others jumped on this, arguing that “Mubarak was just a figurehead” and “You may have gotten what you wanted but we are fighting for a better Egypt”. This, I think, is emblematic of a number of similar debates.

Later today (Sat., Feb. 26) the ruling military council apologised for the military action, said the incident “wasn’t intentional”, and promised such confrontations would not happen again. While the apology may be sincere, I am reminded of an old Mubarak ploy, arresting this journalist or that NGO leader, even though they are later let go or have their cases dismissed in court, just as a way of sending a chill through the rest of the press or NGO community.

After this, how many dads will bring their daughters to Tahrir next Friday? And if the Friday protest ritual stops, from where will come the pressure for the military council to make good on their promises?

For More Information:

Egyptian Military Forces End to New Protest – New York Times

Egypt’s protest dispersed by force – Al Jazeera English

Video Footage from Al-Masry Al-Youm

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