It’s hard to imagine the above photos are two different events. Yet one took place at the turning point of the 18 day revolution, when pro-Mubarak thugs came out on 2 February 2011 on horseback and camels to scare the protesters away, and the latter was on Friday, nowhere near the level of the Battle of the Camel, but disturbing enough. What they do have in common, besides the striking visual parallel, is citizen versus citizen, which has not happened at any time in between those two events.
The backdrop to Friday’s case could not be any more tragic, the perpetrators of the notorious Battle of the Camel that resulted in dozens of deaths and hundreds of injured (Exhibit A) were acquitted on Wednesday. So what do pro-Morsi supporters do? They gave us a re-enactment of the Battle of the Camel, the very event they came out to protest against.
Friday roughly brought out two camps – pro-Muslim Brotherhood supporters to denounce the court decision and liberals for their “Friday of Accountability” to denounce Morsi’s failed 100 day election promises and the constitution drafting process.
The clashes erupted on Friday when civil forces in the pro-Hamdeen camp chanted anti-Morsi statements which led nearby Muslim Brotherhood or pro-Morsi supporters to ransack the stage as seen in this video.
What followed in the ensuing hours were street battles long into the night that involved throwing stones, fireworks and Molotov cocktails. Confusion reigned as one tweet noted “how the hell do people know who is who?” (@Bassem_Sabry).
I won’t say the liberal forces’ hands are clean, and this event will pass and we will move onto the next drama. But there is a pattern that the Brotherhood has tended to illustrate since last year.
First, it is the attempted appropriation of Tahrir Square. Tahrir has taken on a sacred dimension. It’s where many martyrs fell; it’s where Mubarak was overthrown. With the mindset of, “He who controls Tahrir, controls Cairo, controls Egypt”, they fear losing it will mean losing their legitimacy; all political factions in one way or another draw their legitimacy from the square. The insecurity shows up in various Brotherhood tactics such as drowning out other political voices in the square with their loud speakers as I witnessed on the first anniversary of the revolution.
Secondly, the double-talk of the Brotherhood spokesmen to deny over the airwaves that there are any members in the square, while simultaneously announcing that members should leave the square. Also the tightly controlled and disciplined Brotherhood apparatus makes it difficult to believe that spontaneity is one of their weaknesses.
The Brotherhood should not delude themselves. The fact they have to bus in members from other governorates is the first clue that their strength is not in the urban heartlands. Effective public mobilisation does not mean effective public opinion. Their political arm polls very poorly in Cairo and Alexandria, and it could even go lower.
It would be an overstretch to think Morsi had anything to with Friday’s violence. However, questions need to be asked as to the whereabouts of the police force. We know during the uprising, the police were withdrawn by the regime. Yet what possible reason can there be this time?
The thuggish behaviour on Friday leads one to to ask of the Brotherhood, what did they ever learn during the days of the Mubarak regime? Were they in fact repelled or inspired? Praying or paying off ? Opposing or taking notes?