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Egypt's revolutionaries cry foul: They are tainting our image by instigating brawls

Egypt's political activists come to the conclusion that forces are systematically instigating violence from within peaceful protests to taint their image

Salma Shukrallah, Tuesday 26 Jul 2011
Demonstrators shout slogans as they clash with loyalists of ruling military council in Cairo
Demonstrators shout slogans as they clash with alleged loyalists of the ruling military council near the defence ministry, the headquarters of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in Cairo July 23, 2011.REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
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The violent clashes of Abbassiya, when thousands of protestors were violently attacked as they attempted to march to the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces headquarters to protest the revolution’s yet unmet demands, raised the question as to who is behind the escalations that are overwhelming the political protests in today’s Egypt.

Tensions have been rising in all of Egypt’s sit-ins. Several demonstrations, the most recent in Abbassiya, have ended violently, despite demonstrators’ insistence that intentions have been peaceful. The Abbassiya clashes were the most violent, leaving more than 300 injured, according to the health ministry’s estimates.

However, stories as to how the violence erupted are multi-layered.

The state media version was that the demonstrators who marched from Tahrir Square to Abbassiya were attacked by residents of the area who wanted to protect the army from the anti-military protest.

The narrative goes that the residents created a shield to protect the army and military police, blocking the road to the military council headquarters when the protestors started attacking with stones.

However, Mohamed Abdelfattah Eleiwa, an eye witness and resident of Abbassiya, says that military police blocked the road leading to the military headquarters, after which unknown people came from all side roads to attack the peaceful demonstrators with rocks and glass bottles.

Another resident of Abbassiya also confirmed that the general feel before the rally amongst the people of Abbassiya was a positive one.

Another story is that shop owners were told that the Tahrir sit-in will move to Abbassiya if their rally was not allowed to reach the military council HQ. This rumour, according to the eyewitness, triggered fear amongst the area’s shop owners that their businesses will be harmed during the Ramadan shopping season. Consequently, the shop owners, it was said, were ready with hired thugs waiting for the protestors to approach.

The Abbassiya resident added they have been talking amongst themselves that a former National Democratic Party member was playing a role in inciting against the planned demonstration.

Mohamed Waked, one of the demonstrators, speculates that the attack was so well organised that it couldn’t have been spontaneous, but rather plotted by a centralised authority.

Nazly Hussein, another demonstrator, said that while she was trying to escape the violence an army official was standing and watching before he gave a sign to the man instructing the thugs to attack her, as well.

Hussein added that while Amr Gharbeia, another demonstrator, was being beaten up his attackers accused him of either being a spy or a member of the 6th of April movement - now under a heavy smear campaign by the ruling military.

One day before the march to Abbassiya, Hassan El-Reweiny, member of Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, made public media statements against the April 6th movement and Kifaya accusing them of serving foreign agendas and of trying to create strife between the people and the army.

The Abbassiya violence was not the only incident where activists expressed their belief that there is a plan to taint their image as revolutionaries.

In Alexandria, for example, demonstrators held a man captive who they suspected was trying to turn one of their demonstrations violent when he incited others to block one of the city’s main roads for no apparent reason. On the second day of captivity, other activists recognised him as policeman from previous demonstrations staged before Egypt’s 25 January Revolution.  

According to Samah, a member of the National Front for Justice and Democracy and one of those participating in the Alexandria sit-in, the policeman escaped captivity with assistance by unknowns. She says “about ten thugs attacked the sit-in, stirring violence to distract demonstrators. After the violence was contained we realised that the policeman had disappeared.”

Samah also added “instigating violence and escalating demonstrations to the point of violence are not the only attempts made to taint the revolutionaries’ image. Beside the square where our sit-in is being staged there are always a number of people standing around constantly creating random fights so that the sit-in appears for those passing by to be dominated by violence and tension. Within the sit-in itself random people, whom we do not know and who claim to be demonstrators, like us, instigate random fights, especially with street vendors so as to drain our energies in constant fighting and taint our image; making us look like bullies who are constantly engaged in violent fights.”

Earlier, six alleged thugs were arrested by protesters in Saad Zaghloul Square, Alexandria, as they attempted to attack the sit-in. The thugs said they were mobilised by a man named Yabany who works for the businessman, Khaled Khairi, a former parliament member of the dissolved National Democratic Party (NDP) that ruled for 30 years. He was the representative of the district where the sit-in is taking place. According to the accused thugs, they met with Khairi, along with other thugs, and he ordered them to provoke conflicts between protesters. If they failed, they were to turn violent and injure some protesters in order to disperse the sit-in.

Similar stories are being narrated by activists participating in the Cairo sit-in, who also complain of sit-in participants who are constantly initiating random fights, especially with street vendors. Ali Osama, one of the Tahrir Square protestors, says “one of the people seen amidst the clashes of Abbassiyathrowing rocks and glass bottles at the demonstrators from rooftops was one of those participating with us in securing the Tahrir Square sit-in,” proving, in Osama’s mind that both the sit-ins are infiltrated and that the Abbassiya clashes were not spontaneously initiated by residents of the area, but have been plotted by the same people trying to create chaos in Tahrir Square.

Waked said he was also surprised to realise that some of those who were marching behind the Abbassiya demonstration and whom he assumed were protestors started attacking the demonstrators, revealing that the demonstration was also infiltrated.  

Samah from Alexandria adds that close to the Saad Zaghloul Square sit-in a couple of passersby are often seen badmouthing the women participating in the protests.

Protesters were already angered once when the military council stated at a press conference and again to a CNN correspondent that the women participating in one of the previously dismantled sit-ins were of “bad behaviour,” saying that “The girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine. These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters in Tahrir Square, and we found in the tents Molotov cocktails and [drugs]."

The Abbassiya violence and the allegations that followed it acted as the final evidence for protestors that a plot exists to ruin the image of the revolutionaries. How the activists’ told their stories implies they slowly came to this conclusion over the past months.

Following the Abbassiya violence, 21 political groups have declared at a press conference that “while the military council claims that the revolutionaries are trying to create strife between the army and the people, the council is creating strife between the people and the revolutionaries.”

On the other hand, others believe that tensions overwhelming Egypt's political scene is related to a general widespread sentiment that sit-ins and demonstrations should be suspended, that the new government should be given a chance and that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces should not be so harshly criticised as there is no alternative body currently capable of running the country.

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