Tahrir square in downtown Cairo has once more become the scene of running battles between protesters and police. The major difference to the January 25th scenario is that alongside the police is the army. In one piece of footage soldiers and police officers wielding long wooden sticks strike randomly at fleeing protesters. They spot a man lying unconscious on the ground by the kerb and wander over to him. They then proceed to aim blows at his head. Seconds later a young woman is dragged along the pavement by her hair.
The latest violence broke out after a march on Friday, orchestrated mainly by the Islamists groups protesting against the deputy prime minister Ali al-Selmy’s document of supra-constitutional principles. This document was drafted as a framework for a new Egyptian constitution. However, the Muslim Brotherhood want complete freedom to draft a new constitution and do not want to be bound by any overarching principles. They believe they will win a majority at the parliamentary elections due to start on 28 November and thus be able to shape the committee to be appointed by parliament that will draft a new constitution prior to presidential elections.
They appear to have achieved their aim on Friday when al-Selmy announced that his document would not be binding but would simply offer guidance. It also appears that he has removed the term ‘civil state’ and replaced it with ‘democratic state’ based on the demands of the Muslim Brotherhood. Consequently, the Muslim Brotherhood stated that its supporters had withdrawn from Tahrir.
However, not all the protesters in Tahrir were there for the Brotherhood. They were there for their ongoing demands for an end to military rule and the establishment of a civil state, the resignation of Field Marshall Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF), and for an end to the military trial of civilians. And so they stayed.
As with the January 25 uprising, it is young activists leading the way and sacrificing their lives, while the political parties and Islamists struggle to keep up, only concerned that they can turn events to their political advantage. On this, the third day of violence, the political parties and Muslim Brotherhood have realised that they have to move to support the protesters. This has once more led to criticism that they are hijacking the protest from the youth coalitions such as April 6th Movement. There are reports that Mohamed al-Baltagy, spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, was forcibly removed from Tahrir earlier today.
Activists and protesters have once more turned to social media, with calls for supplies being circulated via Twitter and advice on treating various injuries. The call has also gone out for a million person march tomorrow.
One activist I spoke to warned that this time could be more brutal than in January/February. At that time the police withdrew after 3 days on 28 January and the army moved in ‘to protect the people’. They also set themselves up as the guardians of the revolution. But it has become increasingly clear that it is not the 2011 revolution they are protecting but the 1952 revolution that brought the army to power in the first place.
In February the SCAF sacrificed Mubarak. So the president fell but his regime, which was ushered in by the Free Officers in 1952 did not. In fact the SCAF stepped in precisely to ensure that the army’s position in the political order would continue. Their willingness to use violence to ensure their position was exposed at Maspero in October when the army violently attacked Coptic protesters leaving more than 24 dead. Yet many Egyptians still continued to defend the SCAF. Surely now they are indefensible?