Egypt's second revolution?
What does the violence at the mass protests in Egypt mean for the country and its hopes of lasting reform after the Mubarak years?
It’s difficult to say, of course, but we’ve certainly entered the realm of irony within irony. Just to recap. The military were supposed to be the guardians of the revolution. But they are proving repressive. Demonstrators, angry at this new repression, have been met with … more repression.
Tahrir Square protesters, with their “Occupy”-style tents (OWS protester-campers are themselves inspired by the original Tahrir #1 of course), are back in the square to express their anger at what they see as the hopes of the “25 January” revolution being snuffed out by the dead-hand of the ever-powerful armed forces. This new protest is in turn … being snuffed out by the dead-hand of the ever-powerful armed forces. (Or not snuffed out. We shall see).
Yes, some protesters have reportedly used Molotov cocktails and hurled masonry and broken-up paving stones. But the Egyptian police reaction appears to be massively excessive. At the weekend the BBC’s Yolande Knell reported on the heavy police use of rubber bullets, teargas and buck shot, and how numerous protestors sustained serious injuries – including eye injuries – as a result.
As early as Saturday the blogger Egyptian Chronicles provided details of the injuries in her “Tahrir: Camel Battle No.2 ‘Live blogging’” update, including a disturbingly matter-of-fact video of the Egyptian photojournalist Malek Moustafa walking along with blood coming from his right eye (which he apparently lost after surgery). This all has a feeling of being thrown back to the days of the January-February revolution itself, with accounts like @cairowire tweeting about medical emergencies in Tahrir Square, with urgent messages going out for “5cm syringes, local anaesthetic, Voltarine pills, Betadine, Brufen, Cataflam 50mg, cotton, dressing, gloves, charcoal tablets …”.
The Guardian’s Egypt correspondent Jack Shenker, tweeting as @hackneylad, has also described “brutal” volleys of tear gas from the Egyptian police. One source of anger is that tear gas canisters bear the inscription “Made in USA”, with some of them made by Pennsylvania-based Combined Systems Inc (CSI). Numerous protestors clearly feel that nothing much has changed since the Mubarak era, when Egypt’s vast military-industrial complex was underpinned by US money and political support.
This is the key point. Change. How much has really changed in Egypt since Mubarak’s downfall? According to a new report from Amnesty – very little. A warning: if you don’t like bleak reports – don’t read this one. Across 62 pages it details a series of hopes that were raised then summarily smashed. Since Mubarak fell in February and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces took over, Egypt has seen more than 12,000 civilians brought before military trials, demonstrations have been dealt with viciously (the ongoing demo being just the latest and biggest), critics have been arrested and tortured, strikes have been outlawed, newspapers and TV programmes have been censored, and the much-despised Emergency Law expanded. Hosni Mubarak would be proud.
Here’s just one example. On 9 March, 28-year-old Mostafa Gouda Abdel Aal, was arrested by military police at a protest camp in Tahrir Square. Here’s what he told Amnesty: as he was arrested he was beaten and dragged into the nearby Museum of Antiquities. He was blindfolded, had his hands tied behind his back and was thrown to the floor. He had water poured over him, was given electric shocks – including to his penis and buttocks – and interrogated about whether he was paid to come from Alexandria to protest in Tahrir. They carried on beating him, including with a wooden baton which broke his foot. He was tied to a pole and whipped with a cable on his back for 20 minutes. When his blindfold was removed, he saw people on top of each other lying in blood and soldiers trampling them.
There’s something about that last detail which seems especially disturbing (it’s like a particularly horrific abattoir scene in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s unforgettable German TV series Berlin Alexanderplatz. Once seen, never forgotten).
Some of the Tahrir Square protesters are describing the current protests as “Revolution No2”. There is definitely a lot of unfinished business here.
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