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E Pluribus, Pluribus – The Battle of Tahrir

By on Jul 17, 2011 in Politics | 1 comment

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FIRST – A RECAP

Today marks the 10th day since the official start of the second protest / demonstration / sleep-in / camp-out at Tahrir Square. To some of us, this round of protests started out about 19 days ago – on the 28th of June – when, under somewhat fuzzy circumstances, a battle erupted between the Central Security Forces and the protesters in Tahrir who were there in solidarity with some families of martyrs of the revolution.


Battle in Tahrir With Interviews (This one’s only in Arabic, sorry…)
I have not been there every single day, but I was there during the battle that started on the evening of June 28th and lasted well into the next day – despite a statement from the Minister of the Interior released at around 2am on the 29th claiming that he had ordered his forces to retreat in order to put an end to the fighting. On the ground, there was no sign of any such retreat – and more than 10 hours later, protesters were still being attacked by State Security forces, men dressed in civilian clothes who were armed with blades and Molotov cocktails, and some citizens who later said they had been duped by police officers into joining the fight on the premise that they were defending the neighborhood of Abdeen from ‘thugs’ who were planning to attack.

I was not there to witness the end of the battle, I simply didn’t last that long. I had arrived in Tahrir at around 9:30pm, and after about 11 hours of fighting and filming, I had simply inhaled too much gas, stressed out too many muscles, dodged one too many rocks and at least one gas canister that had been fired directly towards my face, I was out of camera batteries, my phone battery had died down, and I had been struck in the back by a rock thrown hard against me by a fellow protester who perhaps had been too meek to make it to the front lines but who still thought he should give it a shot.

I went home and I slept.

I knew we would win. I knew that when I looked around me at around midnight, 3 or more hours into the battle and realized that our numbers had increased dramatically. When I first arrived at Tahrir, we could not have numbered more than 500-1000 but by midnight – we were at least 8,000 strong. The people had heard of the battle, and they came to the square, many of them knowing full well that a battle was raging – that they were putting themselves at risk just by showing up, and yet – they came.

After the square had been captured, many decided to stay behind. It had cost us dearly. At least one was confirmed dead, and I know of at least two other cases that may also have been killed. One of the field medics told me two days later that a girl had been admitted to their tent in Tahrir with no pulse, and that she had most likely died as well. In the hours that I had been there, I had seen the motorcycles, that had been acting as our field ambulances, carry wounded protesters past me at least once every minute or so during the whole night. There would be two riders on the bike, and they would speed though our crowds, make it to the front lines, sandwich the wounded between them and speed back through the battle, taking him back to the ambulances in the square.

It was a long, long, night.

Since then, things have been hectic – between trying to explain to people what had happened, uploading videos, making videos, and preparing for July 8th, we were all quite busy – but today – I woke up with a bad cold – so I have time to outline some observations that I’ve only had the time to briefly tweet in compact form.

THE PIGS

I do not expect to see any of the cops accused of killing protesters sentenced any time soon, no, in fact, punished in any substantial way. Some have wondered why this is so, how the government could be so stupid as to not at least sacrifice a few scapegoats here and there to sate our thirst for justice, to somehow make us feel that our lives are not cheap – that the blood of martyrs, so dear to Egyptians – has not been forgotten – that the debt to those brave souls will be paid.

This, I’m sorry to say, won’t come anytime soon.

The fact of the matter is this: any punishment to the accused police officers would dramatically threaten the government’s ability to order the use of force against any other protesters in the future – and as long as they intend to do just that – as long as they choose to retain the use of force against peaceful protesters as an option – then this kind of punishment is not something they will ever risk imposing.

THE SUPREME COUNCIL OF THE ARMED FORCES & THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD

To all of us on the ground, it seems clear that SCAF have dug themselves a very deep hole. They’ve banked far too much on the Muslim Brotherhood, which, they are now finding out, have completely oversold their street power and, in desperately groping for power at the expense of integrity, lost the support of even the youth of the Brotherhood – who at this point are abandoning their former mentors, mentors who are trying to save as much bearded face as possible by quickly ‘excommunicating’ anybody who chooses to abandon them.

The MB had sold SCAF on the premise that they have the major bulk of street power, that without them, the ‘revolutionaries’ would fall apart since they are disorganized, leaderless, and not subject to any command structure. In this, they have repeatedly been proven incorrect. The first time they were shown otherwise was on April 1st – when a large demonstration was planned that the Brotherhood – showing allegiance to SCAF – announced they would not attend. When that demonstration succeeded without them, they were quick to announce they would join the next one, and thus began their long descent into desperation, marked by an inclination, devoid of any integrity, of hedging their bets whenever possible.

Revolutionaries do not hedge their bets.

Of course, their last bet-hedging maneuver was their feeble showing on July 8 – when they came for a ‘demonstration’ on a day that all other opposition parties had announced would be the launch of an open-ended occupation of Tahrir. They came early in the morning of the 8th, were greeted with shoes held high by many of those who had been in Tahrir – and were clearly shown that their highly hypocritical and unprincipled actions over the last few months had not gone unnoticed. The youth of the Brotherhood were welcome, as usual, since they had clearly shown divergence with their mentors, but the Brotherhood as a body had to basically force their presence in Tahrir that day. It wasn’t pretty, and we ‘tolerated’ their presence because we were told they would leave at 6pm that day, and for once, in months, they were true to their word.

It was an obvious ploy, obviously – if the protests succeeded they would claim to be part of it, and if it did not then they could always tell SCAF that they had demonstrated but had not been involved in the sleep-in occupation of the square.


Old Man in Tahrir Square Ranting @ The Brotherhood (Subtitled)
So now, the MB – realizing that they have lost much of the popular support they once had – I had even tweeted a while back that it turns out the MB are a household plant that cannot survive the light of day – are clinging quite desperately to SCAF – marry me, they seem to be begging SCAF, quickly – before everybody can see my shame…

TAHRIR

SCAF might be hoping that Tahrir will simply fizzle. That the grueling summer heat, along with the bad name they are promoting on state television, will dissuade people from protesting. SCAF also realize that they do not need a complete fizzle – that if the numbers dwindle just enough – then this will be taken to mean that Tahrir has lost popular support – that the protesters there can be attacked with some degree of impunity. This is a calculated risk.

TAHRIR AS PR OFFICE

I have come to see that Tahrir has generally gone through two phases. First it is a battleground; it is there that the revolution has headed, both because it is the largest square in Cairo, and because by virtue of it’s name (liberty) it has become a symbol for the main thrust of the revolution. It is in Tahrir that the final battle with the forces of the Ministry of the Interior was fought on the 28th of January, before we set up camp there for the first round of the revolution. Days later, after the battleground had endured it’s most bitter challenge, in what is now known as the Battle of the Camels, Tahrir had settled back – it was no longer a battleground. The people, no longer afraid for their lives, flocked to the square, the street vendors came, and families wore the Egyptian flag, had it painted on their arms and cheeks, and rejoiced.

We, who had fought for the square hated the festive atmosphere at first, and we often still do. It seemed to trivialize the battles fought, the plight involved, the stark black and white of a battle versus evil was now a place where you could buy a flag for a pound or two. It seemed all too cheap.

We were like warriors whose battlefield had become a circus.

It took me a while to realize that in fact, Tahrir has two functions, one that naturally the other. First, it is a battleground, then – when conquered – it becomes a Public Relations Office for the revolution. Regular Egyptians ( who we sometimes refer to as ‘the tourists’ ) come and in doing so – they see that their state media and their papers have lied to them; that we are not Israeli agents, we are not Working for Hamas, that despite the fact that some of us speak good English, we are not funded by America to destroy Egypt, that we are not thugs, or if we are, then we are surprisingly friendly thugs, prone to laughter, sharing water and food, and generally more than happy to explain why we are there, and that we intend nothing but the best for Egypt. So they go home, and they tell their neighbors, and their friends, and their families, and this is how we beat the lies of a media system that reaches millions upon millions across Egypt.

LORD OF THE FLIES

Lately, as a PR Office, Tahrir has been up and down. We have simultaneously gotten better and worse.

We have gotten better through initiatives such as Tahrir Cinema – a projector based nightly viewing of revolution-related films presented to the visitors of Tahrir – here visitors see things which the protesters are all too aware of but which state tv channels ( and in fact most others ) have all but ignored; the army attacking Tahrir on April 8/9, the plight of the Dar El Salam people, and various other fact-based films which help explain why we are there, and why we do not trust the army. Yesterday, as I left Tahrir, they even showed a short art-film called the Soldier’s Dance which showed a plastic puppet of a man attached to a subway vent on the sidewalk and thus made to dance in a manner I found reminiscent of the plastic bag sequence from the movie American Beauty.

We’ve also had the Tweet Nadwa initiative, a discussion forum designed to emulate the brevity and interactiveness of a twitter conversation – this has drawn more and more crowds who appreciate the social element involved as well as the chance to express their opinions in a communal setting where they know they’ll be heard and during which they get to learn a great deal and hear various people from various backgrounds talk.


Random Discussion in Tahrir (Arabic Only)
However, we have also gone ape.

The mind-bending summer heat, the constant fear of attack whenever the numbers dwindle, the ongoing paranoia of knowing that there are, undoubtedly state detectives walking amongst us, taking our photographs, biding their time, waiting for the day when we fail, plotting our failure, the daily infiltration by both random thugs and petty criminals, drug dealers, and other unsavory characters – the small size of the core community, especially that at the Mogama’a garden opposite the old AUC building , have all contributed to a growing atmosphere of distrust and a rage at aggressors that has, in some instances, led to them being aggressed in a manner that is in direct contradiction to the principles of the revolution.

Those are not good things.

However, it is absolutely and utterly pointless to complain about them – I will quote a previous posting I once wrote, that seems to address this particular issue quite well –

If you’re worried about the demographics in Tahrir, if you think the fate of Egypt will be decided by a crowd you don’t trust – then the best thing to do is to go. Go to Tahrir and make your voices heard in the only place in Egypt which is now truly free. The only place in Egypt that is now truly liberated. The price of that liberty so far has been occasional attacks by hired thugs who want to maintain their brutal grip on the whole Egyptian population. The solution to Egypt’s problems isn’t that the protesters go home, it’s that Tahrir must grow to encompass the whole country, in spirit if not in body.

This cannot become a civil war for one simple reason – there are no people on the other side unless the government manages to divide us by scaring you and making you afraid enough to choose to live as you had lived before. Don’t allow them to divide the people, don’t allow them to divide US into those who have patience and those who do not! Especially when our end goals are the same! Do not betray this movement, do not betray your own hopes and aspirations for this country. Your support is needed, your fear is understandable, but must not control you.

The seed of Egyptian liberty, of Egyptian democracy, of a truly liberal secular society lies in Tahrir right NOW. Nurture it. Embrace it, and if you come around, you can help shape it.

I wrote those words months ago, but today, they remain relevant – the only way for things in Tahrir to get better is if those of us who can exert a moderating influence do just that. If we, instead, choose to stay at home and not participate, if we think that by doing so we retain some kind of moral high-ground, then we must understand that by doing so we are condemning the revolution to hell. You keep your hands clean, but in doing so you act the role of those who handed Jesus over to the Romans, and thus washed their hands of his murder.

Tahrir may not be perfect, but it is beautiful – and it dreams.

STATE TV – LIE, LIE, OH, AND WHEN CONFUSED – LIE SOME MORE!

If you can’t come to Tahrir, then please don’t sit back and assume you’re helpless – because you are not! The fact of the matter is, we in Tahrir are idiotic. We’re foolhardy idealistic idiots who are often blind to the reality at large. We believe in ourselves, we believe in Justice, and in a whole lot of other wonderfully sounding words that lend themselves well to Capitalization, but we are too often blind to what’s going on outside the Square. This isn’t just irresponsibility on our part, this is partly a reaction; a  reaction to being disappointed countless times by a public that is slow to realize what’s going on, and slower to react, a reaction to a media that hurls invective against us, insults us, calls us deluded or misguided at best, and accuses us of being traitors at worst, a reaction to the isolation we sometimes are forced to feel in the time between our recognition that action needs to be taken and the slow, ever so slow, but similar recognition by the political parties and coalitions that we initially expected would be the at the forefront of events. We have been disappointed many, many, times and have learned the hard way, the brutal way, to rely mostly on ourselves.

This has worked so far, if you don’t count the casualties we have incurred, but it is a very dangerous approach.

Meanwhile, State TV, and a mass of other non-state, but equally cowardly and corrupt media, has been working full-time against us. For every media victory we achieve on some of the revolution-friendly TV stations, we incur massive loses on State TV. Just tonight a friend told me that they interviewed somebody from Roxy Square (where an incredibly feeble 200-man protest has been held in support of SCAF & Field Marshal Tantawi) saying that their numbers are small ‘so as not to block traffic’, and, naturally condemning those of us in Tahrir as traitors, and calling for the use of violence against us! Then, as though to appear ‘even-handed’ and ‘balanced’ they then showed somebody who supposedly represented those of us in Tahrir, and his words were more along the lines of ‘we are holding Tahrir because we can’ and when asked about the demands he didn’t seem to have a clue. Now, clearly – this is a direct attempt by State TV to slander those in Tahrir and to incite violence against them.

It’s become clear to the Ministry of the Interior that they cannot defeat the protesters in Tahrir, and that if and when they try to do so, thousands rise to our aid – such as happened on June 28th. It’s also become clear to the army that their previous abuses and uses of violence are becoming more and more clear to the people of Egypt, who previously trusted them, and who now tolerate their presence only out of fear of igniting an all-out civil war. We have also done quite well against the actual (excuse me for using the word) thugs – that the Ministry of the Interior used against us – they have mostly retreated, and although a few of them are still idiotic enough to attack us, it’s clear that most of them have learned the lesson of February 2nd and are loath to attempt another attack against a people who fight for principles and not for money.


Protester in Tahrir Addressing SCAF & Field Marshall Tantawi (Subtitled)
So now – once again demonstrating that they care more for their personal interests than they do the future and security of Egypt and its people – the powers that be have, apparently, decided that they will attempt to use – not thugs, not state security forces, not the army, but the people of Egypt themselves against the protesters – they hope to split us in to, as Mubarak almost succeeded in doing with his 2nd speech – they would have a small civil war erupt rather than risk losing power.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Well, ideally – come to Tahrir.

It’s not that we want you there because you’ll help us win a BATTLE – not necessarily, but that your very presence is enough to prevent one.

But if you can’t join us in Tahrir – then this is what you can do to counter the lies of State TV, talk. Talk to your friends, your security guard, your porter, the people with whom you ride the bus, the cab driver taking you on an errand, your family, your neighbors, and anybody that you can reach. Sit at the local Qahwa, and discuss matters, make clear to others what you yourself know to be true. Make T-shirts (in Arabic!) saying “State TV is LYING To YOU!” and wear them. Make many, and distribute them! Call in on TV shows whenever you can, whenever they lie (I know you’ll be busy) and confront them with their lies. If you know authoritative people who support them, help them get on TV to tell their view of things.

Just do what you can, when you can.

Many of us are willing to die for a better future, we just don’t want to be stabbed in the back.

Good luck to us all.

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