Latecomers crash the party

The readers of this blog, what few may remain, have surely longed for an update on events in Occupied Cairo. Because, yes, it’s still quite occupied. Even from the beginnings of celebrations of Mubarak’s resignation, groups were chanting “this isn’t an end, this is just the beginning.” The myriad labor actions in the past week give this chant credence, if nothing else. We now find ourselves in the midst of a strange occupation by the Egyptian military and military police, and the demands of those who went out in the streets are now caught between the military’s paternalistic calls to go home and keep quiet and the murmuring of others who seem to just want things to go “back to normal.”

A lot has been written on the Egyptian military recently, and as far as this post goes it should suffice to say that they’re not to be trusted as benevolent protectors. The other danger though, is more peculiar, not marked by any uniform and not even as confrontational or identifiable as the Baltagiya that we saw roaming the streets with weapons and posters of Mubarak a couple weeks ago.

It seems now that you’ll inevitably find at least one troublemaker milling about Tahrir and any given Labor strikes/demonstrations, all basically the same type. These troublemakers generally seem to be on last week’s news cycle courtesy of State TV, and from their words and accusations you can tell they’ve not spent a day in Tahrir. In the middle of a group of people all calling for the same thing (better wages, a change in government structure, etc.) you’ll find one of these types pick on someone in the crowd–sometimes a journalist, a foreigner, but not necessarily–and start making wild accusations about foreign agents, journalism ruining Egypt’s reputation abroad, or whatever. It’s as if they were paid provocateurs how effectively they distract and rile up a crowd, but the fear is that these are autonomous cretins who sat out the past three weeks and now feel like it’s time for them to get their say in. I’ve had several friends (all of them Egyptians) targeted in these sorts of situations, and while they’re generally resolved without violence they’re an absolutely disgusting spectacle, preventing participation by some and the transmission of the exact sorts of images that have given the Egyptian people the admiration of the world in past weeks.

It’s uncertain how these types are best dealt with, one suggestion has been just to fight fire with fire and accuse them of being National Security or Intelligence (they are, after all, doing the same work gratis). Solidarity and shared understanding amongst those protesting and demonstrating will also be a primary mechanism of fighting this sickness, preventing it from getting a foothold within the crowds. While these may work to diffuse an immediate confrontation, the bigger question still points back to the culpability of the Egyptian state media in propagating these lies and suspicions, and their failure–even after their apparent change of heart–to actively rehabilitate all the propaganda they put out. State media still needs to either be shut up, taken over by revolutionary forces or effectively countered by distribution of alternative information, etc. The latter is currently being attempted by many fronts with some efficacy (this could be seen when protestors outside the state TV building shouted “Where’s Al Jazeera? The Liars are right there!”) but stronger remedies may still be needed.

The second group, called only half-jokingly “the cleanup thugs” or “the chic thugs” are the groups of youth cleaning up downtown and Tahrir. Don’t get me wrong, it’s amazing to see the city sparkle (excepting the dust) but this isn’t just some apolitical adopt-a-midan program. We saw this first as almost all the anti Mubarak and anti-regime graffiti was painted over, washed out or otherwise erased. Also the stones that people had pulled from the pavement to defend the midan were suddenly carted off, where others had plans to make a monument of them. As symptomatic of the rest of their work, these groups basically sought the disappearance of all traces of the revolution, its battles and its calls for liberty and dignity. To so carelessly push aside this recent history because it somehow violates Egyptian middle class propriety (keep quiet, eyes forward) is dispiriting. A revolution was born in the square just as people were dying in it, and it’s not hardly the time to say “yalla let’s get back to cairo traffic.”

Apologies for the scattered quality of these thoughts, gentle readers, but the post-Mubarak scene and reorganization is still a work in progress, making writing a bit confusing.

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