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Sunday, January 25 2015 @ 06:16 AM CST

Egypt’s black bloc seeks revenge after death of protester

Over the last six days protests in the town of Mansoura, in the Nile Delta , have seen one protester killed and many others injured. Egypt’s Black Bloc and The Hooligans have reportedly vowed revenge and are making their way to the town. Meanwhile more clashes have taken place today with one policeman killed. Below, we report on the weekend’s events, the lead-up to the protests, as well as the background, courtesy of Vice magazine, on Black Bloc.

Egypt’s black bloc seeks revenge after death of protester

Over the last six days protests in the town of Mansoura, in the Nile Delta , have seen one protester killed and many others injured. Egypt’s Black Bloc and The Hooligans have reportedly vowed revenge and are making their way to the town. Meanwhile more clashes have taken place today with one policeman killed. Below, we report on the weekend’s events, the lead-up to the protests, as well as the background, courtesy of Vice magazine, on Black Bloc.

The worst fighting took place two days ago, in the early hours of Saturday morning, following the death of the protester, Hossam Eddin Abdel Azim, the evening before. Riot police fired tear gas at protesters who had gathered outside the Daqahliya governorate headquarters. Azim, 35, was killed after he had been knocked down, then run over by an armoured police vehicle.

On Sunday, the trouble escalated and one military officer and two soldiers were injured during protests in Port Said. Around 300 people were injured when protesters clashed with the police, who used tear gas against the crowd. The protesters threw Molotov cocktails at the main governorate building and set fire to a police car. In Cairo, at Tahrir Square, more protesters placed burning tyres at its entrances and blocked traffic,

Lead-up to current wave of protests

The protests began on Monday 25 February after members of the Islamic Brotherhood attacked protesters who had taken part in a peaceful sit-in outside the governorate building. Clashes then took place over the following days.

On Saturday the funeral procession for Azim passed by the local prison and the police were attacked. Some protesters tried to break into the local security HQ and later entered the Popular Current offices and detained most of those inside. A photographer, Samir Waheed, was pushed by Popular Current members out of the third-floor balcony to the ground and was then taken to hospital by activists. Later that night there were reportedly 60 protesters injured from birdshot, including 16 people so badly attacked they are still in a coma.

Other protests have taken place at Ismailia and Suez.

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Inside the black bloc

The Black Bloc Egyptian anarchist group made its first appearance during the current wave of insurrection on 25 January. It immediately declared its aim was to fight both the state and the Muslim Brotherhood. The Black Bloc appears to have forged links with other Egyptian revolutionary groups, including the “Ultras”. Members of the group appeared in Tahrir Square, banging drums and saying they would “continue the revolution” and “defend protesters”. Others were reported by the al-Ahram news website to have blocked tram tracks in the northern city of Alexandria. State-run Nile news TV reported that the group attacked President Muhammad Morsi’s house in his hometown of Zagazig in al-Sharqiyah. It also said a number of group members were arrested during clashes with security forces near Tahrir Square on the first day of their demonstrations. The group also claimed responsibility for an arson attack on the office of the Muslim Brotherhood’s and a famous restaurant in Cairo believed to be owned by a Muslim Brotherhood figure. “We declare our revolution today in Tahrir Square until Egypt and its people get their rights back. We are not thugs or saboteurs, but rather we defend Egypt against the criminality of the Muslim Brotherhood.” Their Facebook features violent rhetoric against the Muslim Brotherhood and videos on street fighting. Black Bloc describes itself as a group that is “striving to liberate people, end corruption and bring down tyrants.”

The following is from Vice (edited down)…

All afternoon, last Thursday (25 January) demonstrators in Egypt were tearing chunks from a concrete wall on Cairo’s Qasr Al-Aini Street, hurling the stones at riot police who attempted to disperse them with tear gas. The wall had been built by police to keep such protests contained to Tahrir Square, but now it was providing the protestors with ammunition. Suddenly, two youths wearing black ski masks, black sweatshirts, and matching black Adidas athletic pants sauntered up to the wall, carrying lit Molotov cocktails. The pair moved with an odd air of casualness as they scaled the barrier, hurled their fiery payload at the police, then rejoined the crowd.

The attack was one of the first appearances in Egypt of the Black Bloc, a protest formation, long used by anarchists in Europe and North America, involving the use of black masks and clothing to conceal protesters’ identities and project an image of ominous unity. No Western media groups have been able to talk to Egypt’s black bloc—but on a visit to Cairo last week, we scored an interview.

Black blocs popped up in Cairo and Alexandria last weekend during the huge marches marking the second anniversary of the revolution that ejected President Hosni Mubarak from power. They were seen blockading bridges, waving huge black flags, guarding the entrances to Tahrir Square, and joining thousands of other protesters, masked and unmasked, in clashes with the police.

This new mutation in the protest vocabulary instantly triggered a spiraling debate in the streets, on the internet, on talk shows and in the pages of Egypt’s politically diverse newspapers. Depending on who you ask, the black bloc is either a serious response to state repression of protests, a violent menace to public order, or an exercise in adolescent silliness.

With violent demonstrations again roiling the country, the black blocs also provided the government and its allies with a convenient new scapegoat. Muslim Brotherhood officials and state-backed media have already blamed the groups for all manner of mayhem, from exchanging fire with security forces to attacking Brotherhood offices.

On Tuesday Egypt’s chief prosecutor ordered the arrest of anyone participating in a black bloc, with a spokesman calling the blocs an “organized, terrorist group.” The state news agency announced the arrest of 18 alleged black bloc members on Thursday. Local media also reported that Salafis were forming a “white bloc” to combat the newcomers. The hardline Islamic Group announced that it was prepared to “kill, crucify or cut off the hands and feet” of black bloc members, if so ordered by the president.

Black blocs were originally used by the anti-nuclear and squatter movements in German in the 1980s and gained worldwide notoriety for smashing Starbuck’s windows at the 1999 WTO protests in Seattle. Activists said that the impetus for using the tactic in Egypt came in response to a shift in the local dynamics of street protests.

Hassan, a 20-year-old engineering student, explains that activists were looking for new means of self-defense after the melee outside the presidential Palace in early December 2012, in which throngs of Muslim Brotherhood supporters had attacked an opposition sit-in. Five people were killed in the ensuing fighting. “After the palace events, we saw that the Brotherhood were very organized,” he told me, sitting in a dim glazed-window café in downtown Cairo. “We had to organize ourselves. Basically the idea is to defend the revolutionaries.” Activists had seen videos of European black blocs on the Internet, he said, and began to spread the black bloc idea on Facebook in early January. The tag line on one of the largest pages was, “Get ready for hell.”

Egyptian activists and protesters have been well-versed in the tactics of street clashes since well before the 2011 uprising, and demonstrators have been covering their faces for decades, so what will the black bloc do differently to defend protests? Hassan wasn’t exactly clear. His response suggested that the black costumes are at least in part a sort of street theater. “It’s a new face for the defense of the revolutionaries,” he said.

Hassan (not his real name) is one of the administrators of a pre-existing 66,000-strong Facebook page which in January was completely re-made with Black Bloc slogans and imagery of black-masked demonstrators. Hassan is himself a supporter of mild-mannered opposition figurehead Mohamed El Baradei and talks a lot about anti-fascist movements in Europe.

When asked if he had joined a black bloc over the weekend, he waffled. “Not exactly,” he said, then admitted that he had in fact joined demonstrators the previous Friday in blocking Cairo’s massive 6 October Bridge while wearing a hood and a scarf over his face. Later, while walking through Tahrir Square to join the ongoing battle with police on the Nile Corniche, this time sporting jeans and a purple scarf, he said the black bloc is just “an idea that anyone can adopt.”

The fact that the black-clad demonstrators appeared in multiple cities on the same weekend after, however, indicated that there was a concerted effort ata nationwide rebranding. How much coordination among groups, and who is behind them, however, remains a mystery. One of the bloc’s axioms, borrowed from their European counterparts, is “anti-media” and masked protesters routinely wave off requests for interviews on the street.

The Egyptian black bloc also has a burgeoning online presence, including dozens of Facebook pages, a “black bloc” rap song, and video communiqués recorded by masked demonstrators. These social media fragments, however, have added to the confusion about whether the black bloc is simply a tactic or an organized group. In one YouTube clip, a masked youth claiming to represent Black Bloc in Alexandria proclaims that the bloc is a group of individuals, with no connection to opposition leaders like El Baradei. He then presents a list of the group’s demands: revolutionary trials for members of the old regime, a raise in average wages, reform of the Interior Ministry and other government institutions, job-creation projects, and “punishment” for “crimes” committed by subsequent governments since 2011.

It is also not clear whether the social media pages have anything to do with the black bloc’s presence in the streets. The administrator of one such page called me in response to a message I sent him. “I am Citizen X,” he told me, before claiming that the Black Bloc maintains no Facebook pages and refuses all contact with the media. “There is no information,” he said. Citizen X agreed to a meeting in Tahrir Square, but then failed to appear at the interview.

Some dedicated revolutionaries assailed the black bloc as a meaningless stunt orchestrated by teenagers. Mosa’ab El Shamy, a respected photojournalist who participated in the 2011 revolution, told me, “I think whoever is behind them is very immature. All they’ve done is given the government more excuses to clampdown on protests.”

In El Shamy’s view, the group’s claim to protecting protesters is hollow, and the group actually invited more aggression from policy. “They haven’t been able to protect any protesters. They’ve harmed protesters even more,” he said. “They’re basically the new bogey man.”

Interview with Black Bloc representative by Vice.

Q. What does the Egyptian Black Bloc represent, ideologically?

A. The Egyptian Black Bloc holds several different views and doesn’t adhere to one specific ideology. There’s obviously a resemblance in appearance with the European black blocs, though, and we share some of their basic ideas.

Q. Do you guys have any kind of relationship with Anonymous?

A. There isn’t one, no.

Q. Does the group have any desire for future involvement in Egyptian politics?

A. We are indeed already involved in Egyptian political life because we are the youth of the revolution.

Q. How did the group form?

A. It was formed after one of the attacks that took place against people holding a sit-in at the El-Ettihadia Palace, in which activists were targeted.

Q. How has the general public reacted to the group?

A. In the beginning, the public was afraid of us. But after we protected and defended them our intentions became clearer and people who liked us started appearing. It’s gotten to the point where people have started defending us

Q. What is your relationship like with the Egyptian media?

A. There is no relationship or communication between the Egyptian media and us.

Q. How is the group structured?

A. We have a general leader named Cabo Zero, as well as a few leaders of smaller branches.

Q. Egyptian state media is claiming you are an armed rebel group, what is your response to that?

A. These are the same accusations that every fascist regime accuses people of. We wonder what the official state media’s current stance is on the Hazzimoon Group, or the Muslim Brotherhood militias, or other extreme Islamic right-wing movements.

Q. What is your relationship like with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists?

A. They are our enemies.

Q. How far are you willing to go to reach your objectives?

A, We are willing to go to the furthest extents, even if it costs us our lives.

Q. What is the group’s ultimate objective?

A. We seek to overthrow a corrupt and tyrannical government, cleanse the judicial system and the police force, and punish those who have the blood and money of Egyptians on their hands. Beyond that, we also believe in the creation of a minimum and maximum wage and establishing social justice.

Q. What is the relationship between the Black Bloc and general religious ideology? Are you a secular organization?

A. Our members hold different ideas. There are liberals, there are secularists and there are also moderate Islamists.

Q. What do you have to say to Jama’a al-Islamiya’s assertion that “the Black Bloc must die”?

A. How are we to answer those whose hands have been tarnished with the blood of innocents?

Q. Is there any message you wish us to convey to the public on your behalf?

A. Our message to the entire world is that we do not seek to make enemies of anyone. We wish to lift the Egyptians out of injustice and corruption and establish social justice and human rights and protect them from religious fascism. Our message to our countrymen is: “We are your children. We do not seek to destroy our nation. We sacrifice our blood for our nation and we will not stay silent in the face of injustice and corruption.”

Q. Who are the White Bloc and what is your relationship with them like?

A, The White Bloc is an organization created to destroy us, comprised of members from the extreme right.

Q. Is it possible to tell us about some of the things you have done together as a group?

A. We decline to answer that question.

Q. How do you guys work together at a protest, how does an average day go?

A. No comment.

Q. How do you plan to enact the changes you want to see in Egypt?

A. We shall keep on escalating our endeavors.

Q. Can you tell us about your personal past and how your experiences motivated you to get involved with Black Bloc?

A. Some of us were arrested in 2008 and many of us are activists from before the revolution, some who got started during it. We have been involved in many altercations since January 28th, 2011 and we’re still keeping up the struggle.

Posted from the darker net via Android.


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