A little more about yesterday's demo

Sorry if this is an overdose of demo-watch, since Josh has already posted at length, but I wanted to share my own thoughts about yesterday's "Women in Black" demo.

On the one hand, I was disappointed by the turnout. Although I did not stay long and I understand there were many more people inside the Journalists' Syndicate, outside there were only about 500 people at most. It's better than many other Kifaya demos, but still a bit disappointing. It's also too bad many of the attendees hadn't gone through the trouble of wearing all-black, which would have sent a more powerful image.

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On the other hand, I saw many new faces there, and many more women, which is a positive sign. I also talked to some women who were from a different background than the ones you normally see at Kifaya demos -- the engaged activist types. One woman, distributing white ribbons (a second campaign parallel to the wearing black one), said upper class women were now getting behind this, saying that they felt "they should have been there instead" on Wednesday. That dynamic, if it continues, could have some impact and certainly help with fund-raising.

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One thing that I noticed is that, once again, baltaguia (hired goons, see above pic) were waiting on the sidelines. Their presence was clearly meant to send a message of intimidation, and to some degree it worked. One (female) friend who wanted to join the demo hesitated outside, nervously eyeing the waiting thugs. Many will have similar doubts before joining a demo now, unfortunately. (My friend eventually went in the protest zone and joined enthusiastically.)

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Perhaps the most important new step taken yesterday, apart from trying to involve women outside activism, was that there were specific attacks on certain persons -- Minister of Interior Habib Al Adly (on the poster above) in particular -- as well as a new more general attack on not only the security and police forces, but also the army. Some of the slogans against a military regime were, I believe, the first ever in such a demo.

One interesting thing that happened after the demo was a meeting inside the Syndicate, during which several activists excoriated Ahmed Moussa, syndicate member and Al Ahram correspondent, for reporting last week that women were voluntarily taking their clothes off. There is now a movement within the syndicate calling for his expulsion.

For me, it's too soon to tell whether this will really lead anywhere. But highlighting the role of security elements seems to be a smart step, something tangible activists can focus on.

PS: You can see a short movie of the demo here. (Direct download)
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.