For the first time since the revolution, protestors from opposite camps attacked each other at Tahrir Square. The events have been well documented – and disputed. Here is my version.
Please read this EgyptSource article for a good summary of events and context. Please read here for my brief introduction in the form of a prayer. In brief, a protest against the constitution drafting committee was joined by a protest against the ‘not guilty’ verdict in the revolutionary ‘Battle of the Camel’.
The former protest was called for largely by liberal and leftist forces; the latter by Islamists and revolutionaries. Perhaps there was some overlap between them.
‘Perhaps’ is the key word in all that follows. Previous violent skirmishes all involved the people against the police force. When protestor turned on protestor it was very difficult to tell one from the other.
I arrived at around 3:30pm. As I ascended from the Metro I looked around to see sporadic rock throwing in several locations throughout the square. It took me a little while to gain my bearings. I anticipated a full crowd of dueling chants. Instead, I discovered Tahrir to be quite empty.
As I watched I was surprised to find my only reaction was to laugh. The scene was so surreal. I was standing calmly beside the Metro steps with a few dozen others, while about fifty yards away on the other side of the Omar Makram statue rocks were being hurled through the air.
Onlookers told me there was a single stage set up by the anti-constitution protest, but it was destroyed by supporters of President Morsy. Others told me it was the Muslim Brotherhood members who were attacked first by rocks, and then responded. See the EgyptSource link above for video about the stage destruction. Clearly they are Morsy supporters, but how can one tell if it was the Brotherhood or not?
While we were watching the nearby rock throwing, other bystanders told me the Brotherhood had now withdrawn from the square. Their organization has since issued contradictory statements, but the official spokesman stated their members were not present at that time at all. I could see some of those tossing rocks wore beards in Islamist fashion. But then again, anyone can wear a beard.
Eventually the scene settled down nearby, and fighting concentrated on Mohamed Mahmoud Street towards the Ministry of the Interior. Months ago the clashes there with security had been fierce. Now, the battle lines were on the edge of the square leading in, with little to suggest either side cared particularly to advance.
But who was ‘either side’? Onlookers were completely confused and had no idea who was fighting. Eventually one person who seemed like he knew said it was the two wings of the April 6 Movement fighting each other. Indeed, the black flags with clenched fist of April 6 were on both sides. Then again, anyone can hold a flag.
Please click here for my video of this scene (three minutes). The proximity is from the zoom lens, but there were a few moments I thought to judge how close the stones were coming to my vantage point. At this point I wasn’t laughing. If anything, my eyes were a touch moist watching Tahrir disintegrate.
Again, it was hard to tell who was who, but I did not see many bearded protestors; one was assaulted by fists and ran away from the scene to the relatively open Tahrir Square behind us. As for April 6, they have long been divided into two fronts with separate leadership and institutional decision making. One front has closely aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood as a revolutionary movement. Perhaps the other increasingly sees this as a betrayal. It was hard to know.
And then, the reconciliation happened, sort of. All the while the stones were being thrown other revolutionaries were gathered to the left in front of Hardees, chanting furiously, but peacefully. They made their way towards Mohamed Mahmoud Street, and upon arrival, united the two groups. Once together, they chanted the now-popular anti-Brotherhood slogan, ‘Sell the revolution, Badie,’ referring to Mohamed Badie, the Muslim Brotherhood General Guide. Perhaps they were not fighting over a supposed allegiance to the Islamists.
Please click here for my video of these scene (four minutes). It is after the reconciliation itself but shows that perhaps a quarter of Tahrir was now relatively packed, presumably by liberals and leftists.
Somehow they were still divided. A short while later the fighting broke out again.
But by now the main fighting had moved to the Talaat Harb Street entrance to Tahrir Square. This was too far away for me to determine who was who, but onlookers said the Revolutionary Socialists march had just arrived. Again, if flags are any indication, their banner was on one side, while April 6 was on the other.
At this point I decided to leave, figuring there was not much left to see. The only possible development would be if the riot police entered to stop the fighting. Indeed, that was my first thought near the Metro: Why did President Morsy not put an end to in-fighting?
One observer commented, likely correctly, this would then turn into a brawl against the police which would fall on Morsy’s account. At the same time, should it not be the role of the police to calm a civil disturbance? Was Morsy letting the protestors paint each other black? Does he not feel confident he has full control over security forces? Did he just hesitate? Or were there Muslim Brotherhood members present who were stoking tensions, even deliberately?
These are too many questions, which unfortunately fits with the lack of answers that characterizes Egyptian politics these days. Perhaps in days to come everything, everywhere, will be made known.
- Misunderstanding Plagues the US Embassy Protest over anti-Islam Film: A First Hand Account – September 13, 2012