Crucifixion and Liberation in Cairo

Hisham Rizk
Hisham Rizk

Last summer the body of Hisham Rizk turned up in a Cairo morgue. The 19 year old graffiti activist had been missing for a week, and the official autopsy labeled him as having drowned in the Nile River.

No further information was given on the English language Ahram Online. But withholding comment only fuels speculation – rampant among many revolutionary activists – that the security apparatus is coming after them. Orchestrated to begin on Police Day, the January 25 revolution humiliated them but now is the time for payback. So goes the theory.

Rizk was a member of the Mohamed Mahmoud Street Graffiti Union, whose images are among the few to remain prominently displayed in Cairo. They are at the site of terrible clashes in November 2011, between protestors and police on a side-street off Tahrir. They contributed also to the rift between revolutionaries and the Muslim Brotherhood, who did not participate in defense of the square.

The Brotherhood has since suffered its own terrible losses at the hand of police. Though these groups share a common enemy, there is little sympathy offered. During their year in power the Brotherhood marred revolutionary icons and dismissed the ongoing struggle with the military and security apparatus, with whom these activists say they readily accommodated.

News of Rizk’s death reminded me of my last visit to Mohamed Mahmoud Street, several weeks earlier. President Sisi was not yet elected, though his victory seemed inevitable. An interview subject postponed our meeting two hours, so I had lunch in McDonalds facing the ubiquitous graffiti.

To pass the time I alternated between reflecting on the images and reading ‘A Theology of Liberation,’ tucked away in by bag to read on the metro. It was written by Gustavo Gutiérrez, the Latin American priest who demanded that Christianity pursue justice for the poor, as reflected in the character of God. For Gutiérrez, the cross of Christ represented the total involvement of God in the suffering of mankind. As such, Jesus identified with all victims, and his resurrection presages their own, toward which his followers must strive.

Consider then the following picture, as seen behind the bars of McDonalds, while eating French fries and a cheeseburger from the Egyptian equivalent of the dollar menu:

Here is the image in question:

McDonalds GraffitiThe three crucified pairs of legs are covered by a belt bearing the name ‘Central Security,’ the revolutionary activists’ archenemy. What is not clear to me is what the symbolism means. Are these the victims of police, mocked and tagged with state insignia? Or have the police themselves been stripped, hung, and crucified? Does the image commemorate, or anticipate?

If the former, it is a remarkable statement of the power of Christian imagery within a revolutionary struggle of Muslim majority. Islam rejects the cross of Christ, believing instead God saved Jesus from the humiliation of crucifixion at the hands of his enemies. But the clashes and aftermath of Mohamed Mahmoud represent a losing moment for these activists. To depict their suffering they drew a cross.

To my knowledge there is no revolutionary graffiti of an empty tomb. They can hardly be blamed; they have had no victory. Initially pleased with the military removal of the Muslim Brotherhood, many now see in President Sisi the restoration of the security state. But some Christian revolutionaries have spoken of how they comforted their Muslim colleagues with tales of Jesus. Struggle involves suffering, they said, and perhaps even death. But victory comes as God resurrects.

This is how most non-revolutionary Egyptian Christians view the emergence of President Sisi. They, with millions of Muslims beside, project upon him the image of savior. He is the answer to their prayers, the remover of the Muslim Brotherhood.

And now it is the Brotherhood which is now being crucified, though this particular image is not found on Mohamed Mahmoud Street. Their opponents might cite a different Biblical parallel in the story of Esther. Following the failure of his plot to exterminate the Jews, Haman was hanged on the gallows he prepared for Mordecai.

Crucifixion GraffitiInstead, the graffiti interpretation is possible that it is security which receives its comeuppance. A triumphant revolutionary movement finally secures the reins of power and holds the police accountable for its crimes. Their execution is in order. Perhaps the picture draws on Islamic imagery: Crucifixion is among the punishments commanded for those who sow discord in the land.

Liberation theology anticipates such a grand reversal. Salvation is not simply from personal sin, but from the corruption of society which binds the poor in their place. Certain strands of this theology call for participation in the necessarily violent struggle to overthrow the powers-that-be.

Certainly those who fear God should be involved in the pursuit of justice. The question is how best to interpret justice, and where on the spectrum of participation a red line should be drawn.

But the alternate interpretations of the graffiti – whether identifying the Brotherhood or the security on the cross – should not be tolerated. Neither is consistent with the Jesus who cried out, ‘Father forgive them,’ according to the Biblical account. Jesus intended his crucifiers also to be beneficiaries of the liberation he offered.

For according to Christian theology, his crucifixion was the wisdom of God to put right the universe. This is not the case for Hisham Rizk, even if he drowned a martyr. It is not the case for any of the revolutionaries who have died for their cause. They represent a tragedy, a reminder of a world not yet put right. Whether one fights nobly, foolishly, or not at all, death is still the reality for everyone amid extensive injustice.

But to put it right, God expects his followers to work for justice in the face of death, unafraid. Such is the glory of a martyr, who will receive God’s compensation in reward of uncompromising faith. Many revolutionaries have been motivated by this promise.

The hope of liberation theology is that the promise is greater still. It is that through crucifixion resurrection comes. This is certainly true of personal Christian theology. It is only through death to self and identification with Christ on the cross that God’s life can inhabit an individual, in this world and the next. But is it true for society as well?

Here, liberation theology appears to be of two minds. For one, the answer is yes: We struggle on behalf of the poor and oppressed and whether or not we die, we await God who will put right all things through our sacrifices.

For another, the answer is no: It is obvious our idealistic struggles fail, so we must in a sense crucify the other and wrest power from him. Then we can put right all things in view of what God has commanded.

The first is of faith, perhaps naïve. The second is of pragmatism, perhaps ungodly. Where in this analysis is Egypt?

Perhaps Sisi has put all things right. Perhaps he is struggling to do so. Perhaps he only pretends, putting all things wrong.

Let each Egyptian judge, mindful of the following: Faith must be lived in the world, but the ways of the world must not sideline the convictions of faith. Countenance no manipulation, and avoid no crucifixion.

Securing the first assures God’s blessing; enduring the second enables God’s liberation. Such is the hope of faith.

Even as I type I am filled with dread should such hope prove empty. If Hisham Rizk died an inopportune death, where is the liberation to follow? Is it found in his enduring images on Mohamed Mahmoud Street? Is there some collective cosmic tally to which he contributes?

Perhaps. Paul wrote that his sufferings filled up what was lacking in the suffering of Christ. Jesus said his followers would do even greater works than himself. An earlier prophet summed up all requirements: Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly.

The world will not be put right until God puts it right. But God desires us to put it right in the meanwhile, flawed and incomplete our efforts will inevitably be.

Wherever Egypt is along the path of progress, she has not yet arrived. Blessings to all Egyptians who seek to move her forward.


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Deep Wounds

Flag Cross Quran


When all is not well the wounds can go deep. Continued health demands paying attention.

The Muslim Brotherhood has stumbled badly. Tripped deliberately or drunk with power, their wound still feels fresh to many. And the United Arab Emirates throws salt on it by designating them – and allegedly connected organizations – as terrorist entities.

But the wound in the Gulf is treated carefully. Qatar, isolated politically from her neighbors, is restored into fellowship with Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. Agreeing to tone down her rhetoric against Egypt, they tone down support as well for the Brotherhood.

The wounds of many have been left to fester. The anniversary of the Mohamed Mahmoud clashes passed with little remembrance, as revolutionary activists lament missing justice. One former Brotherhood member beloved of most activists had long withdrawn from many in depression. She committed suicide only a few days earlier.

God, the Brotherhood is mentioned in all the above, but there are many wounded beside. Indeed, they caused much of the wounding. But whether activists or old guard, Islamists or Christians, Bedouins or police, tour guides or the average Egyptian, many are nursing their lingering bruise.

Having a wound implies neither innocence nor guilt. All it implies is the need for healing.

Some wounds demand amputation. God, help Egypt, the region, and the world judge the Brotherhood correctly.

But deal mercifully with all taken in by the promise of the Brotherhood, who currently at least have had their dreams derailed. Deal mercifully as well with those enamored of the revolution, who find their sacrifices have been in vain.

Guide them, God, so that they may reflect correctly. But heal them and restore them to wholeness.

But even treated wounds can leave a scar. And a scar can boost pride and intimidate others.

For those wounded early in the revolutionary period, many have rebounded. They were trampled on by the dreams of others, and many were enamored with their fall. May they now deal mercifully.

Guide them, God, so that they may reflect correctly. But heal them and restore them to wholeness.

But after their individual healing, God, judge righteously between them. Hold accountable all who have erred. Deal mercifully, but restore society to wholeness.

And if Egypt heals, may the Gulf as well. Not just politically, but in full conformity with your will. Bless the region, God, and all its people.

Her wounds are deep and stretch back decades, even centuries. May all pay attention, and in good health, continue.



Friday Prayers for Egypt: Morsi Speaks, Protests Diversify?

Flag Cross Quran


Following the opening session of his trial, President Morsi was transferred to a public prison where he was able to release his first statement since he was deposed. He called his removal a coup, praised the people for their steadfast protests, and said Egypt would have no stability until his legitimacy was restored.

Meanwhile, the week upcoming marks the two year anniversary of some of the bloodiest protests from the interim period, when the military ruled and the Brotherhood left the revolutionary stage. Supporters of the current general are calling for a commemoration, but of the new unity between the people and the police. But it was the police who killed them, revolutionaries maintain, and the institution remains unreformed under any regime. They may protest afresh in counter-commemoration.

Will the protest movement widen? Will anti-Islamist revolutionaries recall their original ire against military rule? Or is it now nothing of the sort, and a true democratic transition is underway?

God, answer these questions in the hearts of Egyptians. May they hold their leaders accountable as they pray for them. May they join a consensual process as they protest all wrongdoings. Unite these dichotomies in both the diversity of the people and the uniqueness of the individual.

Give Morsi patience, discernment, and courage, God. He is frustrated, surely; give him hope. Judge both him and the nation, God, and bring both to a better place. Do likewise with all who support him.

Give patience, discernment, and courage to the revolutionaries as well, God. They have been frustrated for two years, having watched colleagues fall and justice fade. Will fresh protests renew their hope? Or has their hope come in newly minted unity? Reform the police institution, God, and show revolutionaries the best way to honor both their friends and their nation.

Protect Egypt, God. As she emerges after three months of a state of emergency and life under curfew, give self-discipline in place of security solutions. Amidst all her diversity in a cacophony of speaking, give her silence and reflection.

But whether within the din or its dearth, make the right voices heard. May yours be quietly audible, above all else. Then have Egypt’s roar follow.



Walls All Around

The disturbances in and around Tahrir Square in recent weeks have resulted in the erection of several walls cutting across downtown streets. These were built at the time to separate demonstrators from security forces as they battled in the streets. Additionally, some were built to provide additional protection from sensitive government facilities, especially the Ministry of the Interior, which runs the police. Some of these walls – namely near the Parliament building – are barbed wire allowing for foot traffic to flow while preventing mass demonstrations. The majority, however, are massive cement blocks which make Cairo begin to resemble an apocalyptic scene.

Julie’s parents have been visiting us, and the other day I accompanied them downtown to the Egyptian Museum, in the heart of Tahrir Square. I took advantage of the time to check out the scene. Many areas are too sensitive to photograph, but in and around the places of confrontation there were dozens of cameras – mainly for demonstrators seeking documentation – so I was more comfortable.

Fortunately I made my tour during a comparative lull in the conflict, but not without a reminder of how terrible tear gas is.

The most recent clashes occurred when angry protestors gathered near the Ministry of the Interior following the deaths of near eighty soccer fans in Port Said. While this may have been the result of hooliganism gone amuck, many people feel the tensions were deliberately stoked and facilitated by the security forces. The hardcore soccer fans then took to the streets, joined by other hardcore protestors who believe the police – the target of widespread anger in the January revolution – still reflects and works on behalf of the former regime.

In these street battles there is often little fighting. Usually a handful of protestors advances to the front lines, and will often throw rocks or Molotov cocktails. The police respond with tear gas, and there is a no man’s land in between the two sides. In addition, the police stand accused of using shotguns which fire pellets that scatter, resulting in small, but multiple wounds on a body. At times these have been fatal, or caused protestors to lose their eyes.

These clashes appear to have been different, though it is hard to verify. With all the walls downtown the Ministry of the Interior is effectively sealed off. Police could simply remain behind the walls, but some reports claim they have driven around the streets in their vehicles chasing after protestors. Whether or not this is true, other reports suggest the police have been the ones under pressure. One of the stone barriers has been destroyed as demonstrators filled the streets en masse. It also appears some demonstrators have fired similar shotgun pellets at police, resulting in many injuries. Whoever the aggressor is, to date around fifteen people have died in clashes over the past few days.

This picture is of a historic French research center housing many old documents. It was the scene of earlier clashes, in which an errant (or intentional) Molotov cocktail landed inside and destroyed the building with much of its content. Following the street to the right will lead to the largest Protestant Church in the Middle East, which has doubled in function as a field hospital during clashes over the past few months.

The next picture shows the street – Mohamed Mahmoud – which was also a scene of earlier clashes, described here and here. Not much was happening but many were gathered, and I wandered down to get a feel for the atmosphere. About halfway in the crowd turned and ran in my direction, but many at my level were calm and stationary. I turned to walk out with them, and soon knew why. The police had launched another round of tear gas.

I neither heard nor saw anything, but on the way out it became more and more difficult to breathe. My eyes watered and I was grateful to soon be back out in the open air of Tahrir Square. I stayed put for a little while just watching from a distance, but again, little was happening. The tear gas was meant simply to drive people back, keeping the sanctity of no man’s land.

I walked around town a bit to see where other clashes had taken place, as well as the barriers erected here and there. Near the Parliament I passed by about two hundred women who were leading a march to deliver demands to their representatives. They shouted against the military regime, and were viewed by many curious onlookers. Earlier in the day there was news of a larger ‘mother’s march’ which went to the site of the clashes to demand their sons stop being killed. This group, though, was much younger in appearance.

I kept moving and after taking several city blocks to maneuver around the barricades wound up on the other side of the clashes. The police line by this point was very calm, with many pedestrians milling about. This was the site of a great battle the night before, and many shops were damaged and the pavement scarred. All felt well, but it did not seem like the place for pictures.

Continuing the circuit, I wound up parallel to Mohamed Mahmoud looking in at the action from side streets. At the entrance were large crowds, appearing to regulate traffic in and out. It was not quite a human wall, but there were several arguments between people about joining the demonstrations or accusing them of ‘burning Egypt’. After several minutes of just watching, I meant to move through, but one of the group whistled and told me to come back. It was an easy decision to comply.

The next side street down had a similar scene. Again I waited within the crowd to get a sense of the situation. After a while I moved again to go to the main street and this time just sauntered by. It was eerie, as the street was deserted save for the handful of people moving either direction. Once I got back to Mohamed Mahmoud, though, I was back among the demonstrators and the several onlookers, as well as the multiple cameras, and all was well.

There was no conflict, except a philosophical one among those present. Several people rallied in the middle of the street and shouted, ‘To the Square, to the Square, he who goes is not a coward.’ Others adjusted their chant against the military council, shouting against this effort, ‘Down, down with the (Muslim) Brothers.’

There was nothing distinguishing about the effort to lead people away from the areas of conflict, but in the news were the efforts of different parliamentarians, among them the Muslim Brothers, who tried to mediate to end the clashes. The Muslim Brotherhood has positioned itself as the party of stability in the past several months. While this has played well among the electorate at large, it has infuriated the protestors who feel the Brotherhood is betraying the revolution now that they have won their legislative majority. Whether or not this effort was Brotherhood, it brought the anger of several. Most did not leave, even as the group clasped arms across the street and tried to sweep everyone away as they left.

Shortly after this I noticed a large contingent of Azhar sheikhs milling among the people as well. The Azhar has scholars of different persuasions, but is generally understood to be non-Brotherhood though socially conservative. Whoever these sheikhs represented, they were seeking a similar result, urging people to go back to the square.

Azhar Sheikh Holding a Megaphone

At one point a sheikh mounted a wall with a megaphone, but was drowned out by protestors shouting against him. His non-sheikh colleague took the megaphone and tried to gain an audience, beginning with ‘Down, down with military government.’ At this everyone cheered, and at least listened somewhat as they tried to argue the merits of protesting in Tahrir rather than in the streets leading to the Ministry of the Interior. They convinced no one, and after a bit the soccer fan among the protestors grouped together and raised their own cheers, dancing around and waiving their hands. All the while the police looked on from their line right even with the wall on which the Azhar sheikh stood.

By now several hours had passed and I started back to the museum to receive my in-laws. The following pictures show scenes from the center of conflict back out toward Tahrir Square.

A Wall Demolished by Protestors, between Tahrir and the Site of Clashes
The Size of a Single Boulder in the Wall
A Wall on a Side Street from Mohamed Mahmoud; Translation: Down with the Field Marshal, Down with Military Rule

At the end, I offered in-laws a chance to see the action and smell the lingering tear gas. All was calm, and they agreed, coming to the entrance to Mohamed Mahmoud before we found the nearest metro to return home. The following picture shows them in front of a sign accusing the military council figures of being oppressors, condemning them through a quote from the Qur’an.

Translation: And those who have wronged are going to know to what kind of return they will be returned.

There is a much different feel about the protests compared to that experienced last January. While the initial revolution was met with violence, there was a sense of hope and purpose, buttressed by the sheer number of people and the diversity of their backgrounds.

This time there is much revolutionary fatigue, and the revolutionaries are largely on their own. The anniversary of the 25th brought the masses, renewing their vitality, and every bloody incident serves to rally more troops. But for the most part those there now are troublemakers, curious onlookers, hardcore activists, street children, or some combination of the sort. Without commenting on the rightness or wrongness of their continuing struggle against military rule, the hope of earlier days has been replaced by the reality of death and struggle.

The following picture is a beautiful graffiti rendering of a few recent ‘martyrs’ who have perished on this street. Yet above them is written a curious phrase, seen elsewhere on city walls. It translates, ‘Peaceful is completely dead.’  In another place it continued, ‘Now we will take our rights by our own hands.’

In January every time the protestors were met with violence on the part of the police they called out ‘Peaceful, peaceful’. Now, though many still cling to this commitment, others have been induced to let it go. They feel that since Mubarak stepped down they have been increasingly killed during their protests, and must now change tactics. By no means is the situation as in Syria, where armed groups have formed among military defections, but this is a strong indication of the loss of hopeful idealism.

The latest change in tactics serves to take advantage of the final anniversary from the earlier revolution. Last year on February 11 Mubarak stepped down from power as the people celebrated. This year, a broad revolutionary alliance is calling for nationwide civil disobedience and a general labor strike, in addition to a boycott of all consumer products manufactured by the military.

It is unclear how much support this initiative has. The Muslim Brotherhood has condemned it, while several university student groups have indicated their participation. It is not a turn toward violence, but rather an effort to find another avenue toward hope (or chaos) – forcing the military to surrender power to civilians. The demand is that power be given to the Parliament with presidential elections to follow at the earliest moment possible.

The military council is currently weighing its options, and a prominent general has promised ‘good news’ will shortly be issued. What this entails is anyone’s guess.

So is the next phase in the Egyptian revolution.


Pessimism from an Egyptian Sandmonkey

The Egyptian Sandmonkey

Mahmoud Salem, the self-moniker-ed Sandmonkey, has made a few previous entries into this blog. Several months ago when the revolution appeared to be faltering over the summer, this widely-read Egyptian blogger outlined the reasons for his optimism. Later on, I had the opportunity to hear and wrote about his campaign speech as he ran for parliament in the recent elections (and lost). He has been quiet on the internet since then, but resurfaced with a new post – Underneath– which I will excerpt from below.

‘Underneath’ is Sandmonkey’s effort to put to words his diverse thoughts about the current Egyptian situation. Several weeks ago protestors were fighting the police in Mohamed Mahmoud Street off Tahrir Square; now they are fighting the army in Qasr al-Aini Street a further 90° to the south. The mood is sour, people are dying, and a media battle is underway about who deserves the blame.

Within this context Sandmonkey’s earlier optimism is gone. What remains is his lucid commentary as a revolutionary partisan. The opinions are his, but they summarize what many are thinking. Or perhaps more appropriately, what many are confused about. I rank myself among the confused, and trust he will forgive my additional comments interspersed with his own.

This is not an uplifting post. You have been warned.

On the Context

My helplessness reached its peak when my friend S. came over two nights ago, and she was not alright. Fighting to release the thousands that are getting military tried over the months has been a draining crusade for her, and it only got worse the moment she got involved in trying to ensure that the death reports of those killed in Mohamed Mahmoud do not get forged, which meant she had to be at the Zeinhom morgue the night those bodies would come in, surrounded by wailing families and crying loved ones, seeing dead bodies after dead body come in, and almost getting arrested by the authorities that didn’t want her stopping the cover-up. She told me after wards that she now sees those dead bodies everywhere, and she can’t escape them. But that night, 2 nights ago, she had just come back from Tahrir, where a man, standing inches away from her, ended up getting set on fire due to an exploding Molotov cocktail. She could see the fire engulf him, the smell of burnt flesh and hair, his agonizing screams for help. She was silent. Very calm and silent. She was sitting next to me and I couldn’t reach her, and all I could do is hold her without being able to tell her that things will be alright. Because… how? How will they be alright exactly?

Human rights activists have stated that over 10,000 people have been sentenced under military law since the revolution. The ‘No to Military Trials’ campaign has been helping individual cases and seeking a halt to the entire process. Certainly many of these 10,000 – I do not know how the number is calculated – have committed crimes of different natures. With the police ineffective and the judicial system painfully slow, the military has stated it must use military law to keep security and ensure justice. Activists claim it has been used against demonstrators – who get labeled as thugs – and in any case even a criminal is due a trial before a civilian judge. This particular activist is fighting hard against what she believes to be stark injustice, and seems nearly spent.

On Culture vs. Politics

One of the biggest mistakes of this revolution, and there are plenty to go around, was that we allowed its political aspects to overshadow the cultural and social aspects. We have unleashed a torrent of art, music and creativity, and we don’t celebrate or enjoy it, or even promote it. We have brought the people to a point where they were ready to change. To change who they are and how they act, and we ignored that and instead focused all of our energies in a mismanaged battle over the political direction of this country. We clashed with the military, and we forgot the people, and we let that small window that shows up maybe every 100 years where a nation is willing to change, to evolve, to go to waste.  

It is true Egypt exploded in hope and creativity following the revolution. I don’t know if idealistic artistic utopia can last forever, but it has certainly been sidelined by the political struggle for power. Particularly damaging has been the Islamist vs. liberal rhetoric which has dominated, casting many into a defensive politics of fear and culture war. This is not fertile ground for the arts.

On the Elections

The parliamentary elections are fraudulent. I am not saying this because I lost- I lost fair and square- but because it’s the truth. The fraud happened on the hands of the election workers and the Judges. People in my campaign were offered Ballot boxes, employees and judges in polling stations were instructing people who to vote for and giving unstamped ballots to Christians in polling stations where they are heavily present to invalidate their votes, and the Egyptian bloc has about half a ton of correct ballots- ones that showed people voting for them- found being thrown in the streets in Heliopolis, Ghamra, Shubra, Zaitoun, Alexandria, Suez and many other districts. The amount of reports of fraud and legal injunctions submitted against these elections are enough to bring it all down and have it done all over again. Hell, a simple request for a vote recount would be enough to expose the fraud, since the ballots were thrown in the street. The people, however, are not privy of this, because it all looked very functional and organized to them. This is very important, because it tells you the shape of things to come.

The Egyptian Bloc is the grouping of liberal parties which organized for a civil society, but appeared to be motivated chiefly by opposition to Islamist parties. Sandmonkey ran with the support of this coalition. All sides have engaged in electoral violations to some degree, but what he reports here, if true, demonstrates organized fraud. One member of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party – a member of the Egyptian Bloc coalition – went as far as to state the current violence is meant as a distraction from the electoral violations. Beginning one day after the vote, the world did not look at the elections but the violence which followed, maintaining the belief the elections were sound because they were comparatively free from violence. From my readings this is little reported internationally.

We had one of our campaign workers fall victim to a hit and run “accident”, a campaign operative getting arrested by the military police at a polling station for filming the army promoting the Salafi Nour Party (with a big banner carrying the Noor Party slogan being placed on the side of an army truck) and his film confiscated of course, our campaign headquarters got attacked with Molotov cocktails by thugs sent by a “moderate” Islamist centrist party, the hotel we were staying in got repeatedly attacked by thugs till 3 am, with the army platoon leader protecting the hotel informing me that if I don’t resolve the situation, he will “deal violently” with those outside and inside the hotel, the Leader of the 3rd Egyptian Army calling us looking for me, the Chief of Security for Suez doing the same thing, lawyers and thugs working for a semi-leftist party filed police reports against us claiming we hired them and owed them money when we didn’t, and the other campaign manager finally going to deal with the situation, ends up getting arrested, and the two campaign members that were with him were left outside under the mercy of groups of thugs, and we managed by the grace of God get them all out unharmed and we escape Suez while trucks filled with guys with guns going around Suez looking for us.

Oh, and we also sent in one of our campaign operatives dressed as a Salafi into the Suez central committee for vote counting, where army personnel assured him that they have helped the Noor Party and told him that they hooked them up with two seats, while winking.

Well, this is testimony. Take it or leave it. The Noor Party represents the electoral alliance of Salafis, who campaigned both against the Egyptian Bloc and the Muslim Brotherhood dominated Democratic Alliance. I have heard tales that American democracy was similar a hundred or so years ago. Doesn’t make it right, if true, but it might put a brake on judgmentalism, though not on demands for transparency.

So, why would the military be “helping” the Salafi Noor Party get votes? Well, mainly because they invented them. It was a match made possible by State-Security, who probably alerted the military of how reliable were the Salafis in their previous “cooperation” to scare the living shit out of the population into submission and supporting the regime. … Ensuring that the Salafis have a big chunk of the parliament (one that is neither logical or feasible considering their numbers in Egypt) achieves two goals: 1) Provide a mechanism for the security apparatus to keep the Muslim Brotherhood in check if they ever thought of using religion as a weapon against SCAF (As far as the Salafis are concerned, the MB are secular infidels) and 2) to really frame the choice in our (and the international community’s) heads between a “Islamist country or a military regime”, because, let’s face it, The MB are not scary enough for the general population. But the Salafis? Terrifying *#@!.

Even before the revolution there was suspicion that state security had its hands in the Salafi movement. The rationale was that their theology promoted obedience to the ruler, whereas the Muslim Brotherhood continually advocated for reform, criticizing the president and his policies. Salafis were supposedly built as a counterweight, and allowed freedom to propagate in mosques whereas the Brotherhood was constantly curtailed. As Mubarak maintained a policy of ‘it’s me or the Brotherhood’, the military council has now raised the Salafis to play the same game (it is maintained).

In speaking with Salafis since the revolution they counter this argument, saying their silence was because they did not want to take on a regime that would crush them if they got out of line. They preferred to focus on the moral reform of society along Islamic lines, and let politics be. For what it is worth, those I have spoken with have seemed perfectly nice and normal people. Some of their leaders on the other hand, at least in the media, well …

On the Electorate

There is a disconnect between the revolutionaries and the people, and that disconnect exists in regards of priorities. Our priorities are a civilian government, the end of corruption, the reform of the police, judiciary, state media and the military, while their priorities are living in peace and putting food on the table. And we ignore that, or belittle it, telling them that if they want this they should support what we want, and deriding their economic fears by telling them that things will be rough for the next 3 to 5 years, but afterwards things will get better on the long run. Newsflash, the majority of people can’t afford having it even rougher for 3 to 5 years. Hell, they can’t afford to have it rough for one more month. We tell them to vote for us for a vague guarantee and to not to sell their votes or allow someone to buy their loyalty, while their priorities are making sure there is food on the table for their families tonight. You sell them hope in the future, and someone else gives them money and food to survive the present. Who, do you think, they will side with?

Living in upscale Maadi, I don’t have a pulse on the economic state of Egypt, but conventional wisdom states it is degrading rapidly. Egypt was always suffering from poverty, however, and to my knowledge the state is maintaining its subsidies. At the risk of ‘letting them eat cake’, I wonder about the dire situation of the common family. They are poor, but are they destitute?

Nonetheless his point is interesting. It is well demonstrated Islamist parties joined their campaigning with social charity to sell meat or supplies or gas bottles at discount prices. Would liberal parties not ‘stoop that low’? Do they not know how, being far from the street? Meanwhile, praise God for their charity, but was it a masquerade for their manipulation? Only God knows their hearts.

Here is a fun fact: About 40% of the people head to the polls not knowing who they will vote for, and are simply there because they are afraid of the 500LE fine they must pay for abstaining to vote; about another 50% go to the polls with a piece of paper that has the names & symbols of the people they will vote for, people that they don’t know, or their history or anything about them. They simply asked their friends and they told them that these are “good people to vote for”, and this is true across the board in all classes, upper and lower, uneducated and educated. And you can’t blame them really, because each district has over 100 candidates fighting over 2 seats and only 4 weeks to campaign. If you are the average new voter, there is no time to meet or evaluate or educate yourself about all of them in order to choose objectively between them. I know people that voted for me simply because I was the only candidate they met. I am not kidding.

I don’t know where he got his statistic from, but the fine for not voting is correct, as is his description of the peoples’ virgin political experience. He could have continued with a description of how 1/3 of seats go to individual candidates, and 2/3 go to party lists, both of which must have 50-50 professional vs. worker/farmer representation. By compromise politics or design, these elections must have been among the most confusing ever.

On Liberal Opposition to the Islamists

So many times I have met people who are terrified at the electoral successes of the Islamic parties in the election, and while they acknowledge that there “must be a deal” between the SCAF and the Islamists, they sit back with a knowing smile and tell me: “But you know what? The SCAF are not stupid. They will screw the Muslim Brotherhood over. They are just waiting for the right moment and they will destroy them. You just wait and see!”

I tell them that they are disgusting for thinking this way. That they are like a raped woman who is rooting for her rapist to rape the other woman who got away so that she wouldn’t be the only raped one.

A violent and pejorative metaphor, but he describes liberal thought well. I don’t know they express this with the glee he puts into their mouth, but there is an expectation of this eventuality – unless there is a deal, which if it holds returns to the United States for their still-undetermined support of Islamists, which confuses everyone. Furthermore, the expectation is often one of relief. ‘If we don’t win at least they won’t either.’

And he is right to condemn it.

On the Army

I love it when a fellow revolutionary asks me:  “I don’t understand what’s going on. Why are the Police/Military shooting and killing people and prolonging street conflicts in Mohamed Mahmoud/Qasr al-Aini? What do they want? What’s the big plan?”

Well, to put it simply, the big plan is the same as the immediate plan: they want you dead. It’s not that they want to kill opposition; they want to kill the opposition, literally. This country ain’t big enough for the both of you, and they have everything to lose. And they have guns. And the media. And all the keys of power. And you want to overthrow them. How do you think they will react to that? Give you cookies?

I think his zero-sum analysis of power sharing is apt in the post-revolutionary struggle for power. But it is hard to imagine ‘the point’ is to be killing people. If they wanted people dead they could be much more efficient in their killing. Furthermore, it is not the major activists who are dying for the most part, but the average man in the street (as best I know – apologies to those who know them better). Do they want to kill off the opposition by attrition? Are there infiltrators in the military? This is where things get so confusing again. Unless Sandmonkey has hit the nail on the head.

On Tahrir, and Confusing the Symbol with the Cause

But here is the truth: Tahrir is not a magical land, one which if we occupy we can hold all the magical keys of our kingdom and bring down the evil regime of whomever is in Power. Tahrir is a square. A piece of land. A symbol, but a piece of land nonetheless. And just because it worked before, it doesn’t mean it will work again. We are like an old married couple trying to recapture the magic of their early days by going to the same place they went to on their honeymoon, or dance to the same song they fell in love to, and discovering that it’s not working because there are real problems that need to be resolved. Symbols are nice, but they don’t solve anything.

And this is why I didn’t get involved: I couldn’t understand the Battle for Mohamed Mahmoud, because it’s a battle to hold on to a street of no actual significance or importance, and yet some of the best youth this country had to offer died or lost their eyes or were seriously injured protecting it. The same thing goes for the current battle. What is the purpose? What is the end Goal? A battle for the sake of battle? Just like maintaining a sit-in for the sake of maintaining the sit-in, even though a sit-in is supposed to be a means to an end, not an end in itself? I mean, I would understand if the aim was to occupy Maspiro or something, but they are not even attempting that. They are maintaining a fight in the street, because they got attacked at that street, so the street immediately becomes a symbol and we must fight back and not be driven away even as we get beaten and killed. Because it’s all about the Symbol, and not about the cause or the goal, and people are dying.

Maspero is the center of State TV broadcasting, which critics maintain is whitewashing military abuses during these clashes. The confusion I mentioned above can be partially resolved here, in that the protestors are themselves confused. They are fighting a battle with little point, and the police and army oblige them. Determining the perspective on police and army still leaves ample room for confusion, but this clears up why so many people are sacrificing themselves. It is sad.


There must be a way out, but I can’t seem to find one without more blood getting spilled. There is no panacea here, no exit strategy. Just helplessness, and waiting for whatever it is that will happen next, even though we can rest assured it won’t be good news. I am sorry that I cannot comfort you, but maybe, just maybe, this is not the time to be comforted.

Here is where his pessimism reigns, and where he himself is probably most distraught. Sandmonkey is an ideas person who focuses on solutions. Here, he has none. Perhaps it will come soon, perhaps not. In this, at least, for now, he needs comfort. Comfort offered helps one regroup. Of course, in all this he could be wrong and deluded. Regardless, he and everyone else deserves comfort all the same.

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The Battle for Mohamed Mahmoud Street: Testimony

Mohamed Mahmoud Street, with barricades in the near- and far-ground, erected by the army

note: This is Part Two of the Mohamed Mahmoud Clashes. For Part One dealing with surrounding conspiracies, click here.

Balancing Conspiracy with Testimony

Each of these conspiracy theories has several flaws; indeed each flaw is revealed in the theory of its opposite. Furthermore, the theories thrive not on fact, but on speculation where facts are absent. In each of the above suspects there is little transparency; even where it exists it is doubted due to the sizeable stakes allotted to the winners. For more clarity direct testimony is needed.

Even testimony, however, is colored by the media. Furthermore, activists have their own causes which filter through their narrative. Even so, this report is able to present the testimony of one ‘combatant’ in the Mohamed Mahmoud Street clashes. His perspective appears credible, and sheds light on why many, perhaps, were there. At the least it reveals why he took part.

The testimony comes from a Coptic Christian resident of Shubra, Cairo, who prefers to remain anonymous. Though he has spoken of his tale on Facebook and Twitter, he believes these avenues to be largely ignored by the police. Foreign media, on the other hand, is monitored and suspect.

Non-Revolutionary Pedigree

Mina, as he will henceforth be called, was an onlooker during the January revolution, connected only to the pro-Mubarak State TV. Slowly he became politicized as he considered joining, but refrained, fortunately, the morning of the infamous Battle of the Camel. Yet momentum triumphed and he descended to Tahrir the Friday after Mubarak resigned, swept up in the euphoria.

Interestingly, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the renowned Islamist scholar connected with the Muslim Brotherhood, gave the traditional Friday sermon. Mina’s church community in Shubra was long suspicious of the revolution as the agenda of political Muslims, and Mina found himself in the position of having to represent Tahrir Square to apprehensive friends and family. Qaradawi’s words, he said, were inclusive and wise.

Over the months that followed Mina became increasingly concerned about the fate of the revolution vis-à-vis the ‘remnants of the former regime’ or the slow-moving government cabinet. He followed devotedly major activists on Twitter and saw events through their lens. He lent his presence during many major summer demonstrations. Yet he also grew critical of the sectarian Christian slice of revolutionary activity. Following each sequential attack on a church or Christian community, he foreswore the Coptic-specific protests in Maspero in favor of wide ranging condemnations issued from Tahrir, only two blocks away.

Over time, in fact, Mina began to see his chief revolutionary contribution to lie in translation of Tahrir to the traditional Coptic residents of Shubra, at least those within his circle of influence. He began to go less and less to the square, instead spending more time defending it among his friends on Facebook.

In Mohamed Mahmoud Street

Until, that is, the Twitter community broadcast the injuries suffered in Tahrir Square on November 19. He followed along horrified, and then went down the next morning when he found a friend of like mind.

The idea was not to engage the police, but to swell the numbers of demonstrators. It was a well known rule among protestors that small crowds meant increased chances for violent suppression. Hoping simply to be one of many, Mina and his friend arrived in Tahrir and found some, but no signs of conflict.

It did not take much searching. Tahrir was peaceful but they followed the commotion to Mohamed Mahmoud Street and found themselves via a side street immediately at the front lines.

Their description fits with that above. Protestors and police swayed through patterns of advance and retreat. Though the security movement was based on tactics, the crowd relied on emotion and passion. Mina was drawn in; police brutality was a central point of the January revolution, a principal cause of transitional frustration, and was once again in play. His friend threw rocks, but Mina chose not to. Both soon fell into the semi-violent rhythm: Watch the tear gas canister shot through the air to gauge its landing spot, run away, re-congregate, and advance again from another angle. As protestors were either shot by pellets or collapsed from tear gas inhalation, a Salafi riding a motorbike would come and ferry the injured back to Tahrir makeshift field clinics. To Mina and his friend, this man was a hero.

Characterizing the Combatants

The Salafi was notable by his beard and robe, but fit right in with the diversity of the crowd. It was clear to Mina that some were upper class as they twiddled on Twitter or were outfitted with expensive gas masks. Then there were others with torn sandals, shabby clothing, and a piece of cloth tied under their nose for protection. Yet they were one, and Mina was with them.

They were the good guys. They coordinated with residents to remove cars from the street so they were not damaged in the clashes. They climbed the buildings to put out fires caused by errant tear gas canisters landing in residential apartments. There was no vandalism. At one point during a temporary halt in hostilities, the protestors cleared the street from all rocks and debris.

The police, meanwhile, were the absolute bad guys. Groupthink solidarity took hold and Mina and his friend purposed not to abandon their newfound colleagues. At one point after several hours they pulled away to buy a sandwich to refuel for the evening, and a stranger asked sympathetically for them not to leave them. It was their furthest thought. They were in it together, and they were angry. They were determined not to yield their ground to police. They would not be defeated.

Mina relates there were no plans to storm the Ministry of the Interior. Yet he confessed also he somewhat fantasized about it – what they would do if the police gave up. Its burning would not have been for the sake of destruction, he explained, but for the sake of its corrupt symbolism. The people must win; the institution needs purging. Though never feeling on the cusp of victory, their greatest advance led them within eyesight, 700 meters away.

The Role of the Army

To Mina’s surprise, their conflict was not with the police alone. Earlier in the day Mina and his friend tended to nature’s call in a computer mall on Bustan Street, a few blocks north from the conflict flashpoint. Shortly later they found themselves in a mix-up with the military, who, unknown to them, had just cleared Tahrir Square completely with the help of the police. In Taalat Harb Square he witnessed a soldier fire a tear gas canister directly at a protestor, who turned just in time to avoid being hit in the chest. Yet before this conflict tarried too long, the scene was quiet as all security forces withdrew. Their displaced local group lurched back to Tahrir, found it empty, and reoccupied. Meanwhile, the battle continued on Mohamed Mahmoud.

During the evening hours Mina believed the military was involved again. He judged from their brown uniforms and sturdy build, as opposed to the black of the riot police with their equipment covering their normal Egyptian scrawny bodies. At nightfall only the soccer hooligan contingent continued scuffles with the police, who were now more passive behind a barricade. On a Mohamed Mahmoud side street leading to Sheikh Rehan Street, however, the protestors fought the army.

Nightfall was much more violent, with more casualties. Tear gas canisters could not be sighted in the sky, and victims fell from gunshot, not just pellets. He saw dead bodies. Mina had never repeated calls against the military council, though he joined many in condemning military trials for civilians. Yet that night in the street he prayed God would not allow military rule to continue. He did what he could on his part, maintaining his presence until the early morning hours.

Once home he was grilled by family and friends. Once again they wondered why he was there at a Muslim protest. Two days earlier Islamists, primarily, had called for a massive demonstration which led to the small sit-in violently dispersed. He was far too tired to answer, or even to think coherently. After several hours of sleep he arose, answered all possible questions on this Facebook page, and referred all inquisitors there. He did not return to Tahrir, which continued its protest for several days. Mina relates his community now understands better what took place, trusts him, and is sympathetic.


It is only one testimony, and should not be generalized. Nevertheless the sentiment that comes through is of a situation that escalated quickly, pungent with emotion and a lingering sense of grievance. Anger and solidarity drove the protestors, not strategy. Where there is no strategy, there is also no conspiracy – at least not from their part.

While testimony is lacking, it may well be anger and solidarity which drove the police as well. Images from this and other confrontations with protestors depict police taunting and celebrating against their rivals. Rivalry may be an apt description; it is said police feel as if they ‘lost’ in January, while protestors feel their ‘win’ has not been cemented as the Ministry of Interior fails to reform. The explosion at Mohamed Mahmoud Street may have stemmed from these unresolved tensions.

This is not to absolve any ringleaders from the charge of conspiracy, whoever they may be. Rumors are the catalyst for conspiracy, and Twitter is fertile ground. Surely most retweets were innocent; could some have been planted to provoke an onslaught of support? Were the specters of Tahrir in play?

Little else from Mina’s testimony adds to charges against the other suspects listed above, except for his tentative identification of military contribution to the clashes. While the reasons behind clearing Tahrir Square remain mysterious, the contingent at nighttime may well have been seeking to stand between the two factions. Or not, but Mina’s words alone are not sufficient to state either way.

The main contribution is simply to highlight his own heart during the Mohamed Mahmoud clashes. Conspiracies concern the big picture, the puppet master, but may well have no basis at all in reality. On the other hand, Mina and thousands of others represent the detail. They do not represent puppets. They are the reality. They are flesh and blood willing to put their lives on the line for the most visceral – and perhaps noble – of reasons. Their mistakes may have been many; their wisdom may have failed them. Yet they were there, and may we trust they were there for good.

If testimony was available from the side of the police, it is quite possible similar nobility would come through. Individual policemen also represent the detail. They too are the reality. They stood their ground in front of what must have appeared an angry mob. They did their job.

If either one were puppets, may God forgive those who abused them. Much of Mohamed Mahmoud, and even Tahrir Square in its entirety, may only make sense in retrospect, several years from now. Until then, while focus is needed on the big picture, the individual details must not be forgotten. These are the lives fighting for Egypt’s future, just as much as any army general or political leader. Conspiracy may enwrap them all, but it must not obscure them. Each is given a share, and each will be held accountable.

May God honor all who strive for right.

Translation: Martyrs Street, formerly Mohamed Mahmoud Street
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The Battle for Mohamed Mahmoud Street: Conspiracies

Mohamed Mahmoud Street, Site of the Clashes

Note: Yesterday and today Tahrir Square witnessed new violence between demonstrators and the military police. Right before the start of elections, however, demonstrators were engaged in a pitched battle with the regular police. I wrote about it here, but did not delve into the surrounding issues, which were far to numerous and complicated. In this essay I do, aided by the testimony of a participant, which will be provided tomorrow in part two. As for any light shed on the larger question by today’s confrontations, well, that may still need additional reflection. May God aid Egypt.


One of the most confusing aspects of the recent clashes in Tahrir Square is why they happened at all. The basic story, told at length here, is that a small group of sit-in protestors were dispersed violently by police, and as word spread more and more protestors joined their ranks. Eventually several thousand, and then tens of thousands, re-converged in Tahrir, provoking another political crisis which eventually led to the resignation of the government and a promise to hold presidential elections by the end of June 2012. This is not what the protestors were demanding; they wanted no less than the return of the military to its barracks and the immediate transfer of governance to a civilian council. Yet this basic description obscures the fact that over forty people died during these few days of clashes, which is the most likely reason why there were mass crowds at all. Blood and suppression rallied the troops.

But why did they die? Most clashes occurred on Mohamed Mahmoud Street, which leads from Tahrir Square along the American University in Cairo and toward the Interior Ministry. During this time the square itself was peaceful, with one exception when police and army cleared it together, but then immediately re-allowed its occupation. From my observer standpoint the two posited explanations made no sense at all. One, the protestors were trying to storm the ministry and burn it down. Two, the protestors were defending Tahrir against the police, who wished to raid it and prevent further protests. I do believe that participants in Mohamed Mahmoud may well have believed these explanations, one against the other.

But with so many deaths and injuries, why did this fight rage for several days? Protestors could have pulled back to Tahrir and its relative safety; if the police stormed through their aggression would have been obvious. By continuing the fight the protestors enabled accusations against them.

Yet the same can be said of police. Though they suffered far fewer injuries, they could have pulled back to the Interior Ministry and set up barricades. By engaging the protestors so far from these grounds they enabled the accusations of trying to suppress peaceful proteStreet

So was either group then seeking one of these objectives? If police were seeking to clear the square, they could have done so from any number of entry points. In fact this was done (as mentioned), and required little effort at all. Why then did the fighting rage in the side streets?

Perhaps there were a few thousand protestors in Mohamed Mahmoud. Though they threw stones and Molotov cocktails, they were otherwise weaponless. Did they believe they would overcome police? Perhaps. Protests in January led to the burning of several police stations throughout the country, when the police withdrew. This is still a mysterious part of the revolution for me, but it is plausible, however unlikely, there was a real offensive underway.

A Video Depiction of the Conflict

Furthermore, video from Mohamed Mahmoud gives a different picture than the circulated images of ‘warzones’ from the media. This video was filmed on the 20th, while numbers were still growing. It was also filmed during the daylight, and testimony suggests there was more violence after dark. Yet assuming the manner of clashes was consistent throughout, the video depicts a very slow moving conflict.

A vanguard of a few dozen protestors stand at the front lines and throw stones, while another hundred or so mill behind them, with the mass of a thousand or so further back. The story is similar on the police side. One or two move forward with tear gas launchers, or bird pellet shotguns, and fire towards the crowds. Behind them are several others, with even more further back. Every once in a while they charge briefly, but all in all, the conflict rarely moves more than a few meters. Even more telling, between the two sides is the length of at least half a city block, or more. It is not trench warfare; it is a faceoff.

Even so, no one stands their ground to be killed for no reason. Something was at stake, but what?

Seeking Sense through Conspiracy Theories

The assumed implausibility of these two scenarios has led to a number of conspiracy theories. The chief line of conspiracy analysis says the protests were manufactured; excessive violence was employed and blood shed so that protestors would flock back to Tahrir Square. Telling support is marshaled in lieu of the elections, which were only a week away at the time. In whose interests were protests manipulated? That depends on the storyteller, but there are three candidates: The military, the liberals, and the Islamists, with shadowy Tahrir specters floating throughout them all.

Against the Military Council

The conspiracy for the military is simple. The armed forces have ruled Egypt since the 1952 revolution and they are loathe to give up power now. Circumstances have forced the Arab Spring upon them, and they are not entirely opposed, but must remain in control. Elections are a threat, whether liberals or Islamists come to power, so why not engineer a crisis to ‘postpone’ them, and continue to manipulate public opinion back to pre-revolutionary sentiments?

Against the Liberals

The conspiracy for the liberals is less simple. All indications pointed to an Islamist victory in elections, which could well lead to the cementing of an Islamic state in the new constitution. While ivory tower liberals could not engineer this crisis on their own, either the police or the army provoked a situation to delay elections and work towards a situation in which the powers-that-be – business interests, media, the political establishment – marginalize the Islamists. Here is where the simplicity is loStreet

One line of conspiracy imagines this crisis was meant as a trap for the Islamists. One day before the small sit-in was raided Islamist forces led a massive protest in Tahrir Square. Perhaps it was hoped that these forces would be drawn into conflict with the police, and then fall accused of fermenting violence, resulting in widespread discrediting. This is the interpretation publically issued by the Muslim Brotherhood. If it was a trap, they did not fall for it, as they refused to engage. Their official line was that participation would have led to more bloodshed.

The other line of conspiracy accounts for this possibility. The protestors of Mohamed Mahmoud were championed in many circles as heroes against the ‘Mubarak-style’ repression of police. By not joining the protests the Islamists would be seen as abandoning the original spirit of Tahrir Square for their long desired electoral success. In fact, the Brotherhood was panned by many, both political parties and simple residents of Cairo. Yet if it was a conspiracy to discredit them politically it failed, as Islamists are currently sweeping the vote in the majority of constituencies.

Against the Islamists

The conspiracy for the Islamists is complicated. Islamists are suspected of playing both sides of an issue, so they come out the winners on either result. Recounting conspiracies must therefore jump back and forth across possibilities.

In the background is the question of international support. Conventional wisdom and Egyptian history suggest the ruling powers are threatened by Islamists. Yet there is a flip side, casting shadows on all possibilities, that a shift is underway. Some observers believe the ‘West’, the US, and via their international aid the Egyptian military council as well, are now poised to accept Islamist rule provided it respects international norms and the market economy. The Muslim Brotherhood, perhaps, is pragmatic and business oriented enough to accept this arrangement.

If true, or even otherwise, why would Islamists be behind the events of Tahrir Square, which ostensibly threatened elections? It should be noted, first of all, that despite official Brotherhood denials, there were Islamists in the square. Salafis were present in good number, and many youth from the Brotherhood ‘broke rank’ and joined in as well. Brotherhood youth are revolutionary, and forged many bonds with their secular activist counterparts. Conspiracy suggests, though, they could have been there by design.

Why? There are two options. First, as long as the Brotherhood could publically deny their official presence, distance from the ‘revolutionaries’ could help their cause. As most liberal political groups threw their support behind the protestors – winning the sympathies of the Tahrir crowd – the Brotherhood remained in the background as the rest of Egypt grows tired of endless protests. Even if elections were to be postponed, the Brotherhood would do well whenever they were held. Perhaps some leaders even feared their support might not have been as strong as was rumored. An election delay, and further discrediting of Tahrir liberals, might give them a boost.

Second, if the demonstrations in Tahrir succeeded, the presence of Brotherhood youth would allow the group to stake its claim as a revolutionary force, similar to January, when official leaders remained in the background. There would be damage control to render, of course, but if the military council resigned the weight of the Brotherhood could not be ignored in subsequent negotiations.

Another scenario is that Islamists did not want the postponement of elections, but did desire the chaos leading up to it. In fact, they initiated the massive Friday protest preceding the clashes. The security situation in Egypt has been deteriorating with rumors rampant the elections would be terribly violent. Against the backdrop of Tahrir, many average Egyptians might be afraid to go to the polls. The Brotherhood is understood as benefiting from low turnout, as their political machine would be able to command its usual support. While deaths and injuries mounted, Islamists demanded elections be held on time.

Against the Revolutionaries

Finally, the conspiracy for the Tahrir specters is obscure. This theory centers on the makeup of the core demonstrators in the square. That the masses came was necessary, but others call the shots. A murky figure in this camp is Baradei, who was present among them briefly, and hailed as the savior of a proposed ‘national salvation government’.

The mechanisms to achieve success in this conspiracy are unclear however, as Tahrir has no real power. Yet many hard core activists insist on the reality of the term: Egypt has had a revolution, and it is not yet finished. Revolutions are not won through elections, but through the seizing of power by a few. Baradei is not a revolutionary, and he is not in the trenches. He is considered a liberal, connected with Islamists, and under suspicion by many. It is said he has no credibility on the Egyptian street, and could thus never win a popular vote. Is there another operation underway to bring him to power? Is Tahrir the method, whatever that means?

Part Two, focusing on a participant’s testimony, will be presented tomorrow.