Protest in Black

UPDATE

Sorry, I just saw that Issandr posted below on the same demo. Sorry for all the redundant material - but there are differences between the posts.
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PICTURES:

For pictures of yesterday's demonstration and meeting at the Journalist Syndicate, go to this album. Feel free to circulate these.

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NDP-supporters and thugs are not very consistent.

Upset at Kifaya-sponsored protests and their opposition to Mubarak (or 'Mobarak' as their signs say), they had showed up at the past two protests on the 13th May and 25th May. At those protests they traded insults and eventually attacked Kifaya demonstrators (including women). Yesterday, however, their zealous fever and thuggery was absent as the Egyptian Mothers Association and the White Ribbon Association called for a protest in black. The reason for their absence is likely to do with a lack of orders rather than a lack of enthusiasm.

The protest, held at one of the scenes of the last week's crime (the Journalist Syndicate), turned out between 500-700 people either dressed in black or in regular clothes with black cloth attached to their shirts. Everyone assembled at the syndicate's stairs, where al-Amn al-Markazi sealed off and stood two-deep on the other side of the barrier.

Despite that this was the largest of the opposition protests since December (excluding MB protests), the street was kept open to traffic and security officers were keen to keep photographers inside the barrier so that it was difficult to capture a wide angle shot of the sea of black.

Yet, when one ventured outside the security cordon to have a look down the street, plenty of security - including "thugs-on-standby" - were visible. Fortunately, the security figures decided against using their services.

In addition to the increase in numbers, in which I saw new elements of AUC professors/Cairo university professors protesting to supplement the swelling numbers of women, the atmosphere was noticeably different from previous demos.

As people coalesced and hoisted their signs, one could feel the anger bubbling amongst the protesters - particularly from the women. Rather than being a feeling of general discontent, a focused hatred and faces stared down the security in a unsaid taut that dared them to "bring the thugs on".

The day's demands were somewhat less focused. Some wanted a public apology from the president. Others wanted victims to press charges against 'their' particular group of thugs. The commonality was the call for the resignation of the interior minister, Gen. Habib al-Adly. The reason they gave was because they connect the use of thuggery to his office. Whether this is true or not (I doubt there is a written order to prove such an allegation) seemed inconsequential. The real reason they want al-Adly's resignation is because of an assault on the dignity of Egypt's sons & daughters.

Dignity is a funny concept. Impossible to measure and quantify, you felt the deep impact of dignity driving the anger and the harshest criticisms yet forwarded to the regime.

Speaking to activists old and new about their participation, there is a sense that the violence against men and women last Wednesday was simply a bridge too far for most to handle turning apolitical individuals into mobilized opposition. One women I spoke with had not been involved in a protest since 1972. Whether this is the emergence of a new trend or a one-day thing will remain to be seen.

For about an hour, people stood in black under the hot summer sun. Someone brought green, blue, and yellow umbrellas to protect people from the rays. Others feigned the umbrellas in favor of getting into the security's face with signs of al-Adly which an X crossed over it that read "Make Him Resign". Others carried sings with pictures of security personnel which read "Try him [in court]". Another sign read "the dignity of Egyptian women plus the dignity of Egyptian men equals the dignity of the Nation. We will not give up our Nation's dignity."

The symbol of Egyptian women was a journalist for the paper al-Geel called Nawal Ali. Nawal had been leaving the syndicate last week after an English class when she was put upon by the rent-a-thugs. She was beaten and her clothes practically ripped off. She lost gold and her mobile in the attack. Nawal, since her humiliating day, turned into a voice of those attacked through her confrontation with the Crimes Editor of Egypt's largest daily - al-Ahram. The day after the referendum, al-Ahram choose to give the violence light coverage. It appeared in the crime section of the paper on page 26. In the article, editor Ahmad Mosa approved that the article read that lewd women began ripping their own clothes off and blaming NDP-supporters. Nawal Ali was pointed out in this particular article. Had the assault not been bad enough, her dignity and honor were further tarnished publicly. A few days later, Ali appeared on Orbit satellite TV opposite of Mosa to have it out. She demanded an apology and Mosa backed down...kinda. The following day, his crime section printed a two line apology saying it was not Ali but another unnamed disreputable women. Hence it was a half-retraction. For any of you that cannot detect where this is going, it was not enough (mish Kifaya).

Nawal prominently stood on the steps and retold her story to the press in an effort to clear her name. At one point she almost broke down before her fury re-emerged.

After nearly an hour, a journalist syndicate meeting/press conference was held inside the air-conditioned syndicate.

Inside, the syndicate's secretary-general, Yehia Qallash, and president, Galal Arif, delivered introductory speeches that essentially argued that the syndicate was being active in this matter. They remarked that they were contacting NGOs and gathering testimonies to submit to the public prosecutor. They repeatedly said that the syndicate was a non-partisan bastion of democracy available and open to all people of any political trend. Their profession as journalist brings them together as the conscious of the people. Arif then got about as controversial as he could. He said that a state that uses violence and thuggery in its streets was heading for danger. Among the audience this was seen as an understatement but drew no reaction. Then `Arif made his mistake. He said, "We at the syndicate will continue to work with and cooperate with the state to stop the violence."

The audience erupted. Journalists rose to their feet screaming at the Arif saying that the violence was state-sponsored. What could he be talking about, they exclaimed. the S-G intervened and tried to hush some of the more vocal participants. This backfired as well. Frustrated one of the audience members asked, "you're silly. I know you must be from the NDP." Qallash responded curtly, "Yeah, I am a member of the NDP, whatever you say. And what are you a member of?" Enraged the journalist, who works for the Labor party's al-Shab newspaper, screamed, " I am working for justice and God." Qallash snidely remarked, "It figures." At this point another journalist rose and told Qannash, "You have no right to prevent him from expressing his opinion. Behave yourself." There were applause all around.

Nawal Ali then took the microphone and explained that she wanted the resignation of Habib al-Adly. She went on to attack al-Ahram's Ahmad Mosa by saying that he took her honor and that he was nothing more than the "interior ministry's representative in the syndicate." She called for his membership to be revoked in a no-confidence vote. She said that she wanted girls and women behind her. Lastly, she had faith in president Mubarak, who if he knows what happened to one of Egypt's daughters will surely respond publicly.

Syndicate members took to the floor for question and answer, which mainly turned into people pontificating.

The first gentleman rose and said, "Ustaza Nawal, I can tell you right now - don't have any faith in the president." Rapturous applause overtook the auditorium. He continued to say that he was "shocked at what happened to you but we stand with all women who have had this happen throughout the years." Then he concluded by saying, "and who is this Ahmad Mosa character? I will tell you. He is the same guy who was a tattletale in primary school that would run to the teacher and tell on the other students so he could be the teacher's pet." The hall burst into laughter.

Others rose and spoke in order. Continuing the government bashing, one journalist said, "This regime is illegitimate and it is impossible to have a dialogue with it. They are the sponsors of violence and we want an apology." He was less interested in the interior minister resigning. From his point of view, whether it is some spokes-person from the NDP's policies secretariat or the interior minister, it is all relative. He argued that these types of people are don't have any real power because, "it all comes from above". In this vein, he felt Egyptians need to look for the "root of their problem, not at the branches."

At this point, Arif interjected and said that they were talking about the state and not the government officials and that the state is higher than the government. Again, this did not go over well.

Mohamad Sayid Idris got up and sensibly argued that what the journalist syndicate needs to do is come up with a unified position like the judges and university professors.

A lefty from al-Arabi newspaper got up and argued that beatings and imprisonments were no longer deterrents. He said the syndicate's call should not be for al-Adly's resignation but rather call for the resignation of the president of the republic.

Another member got up and said the syndicate was already infiltrated by thugs. The thugs he spoke of are journalists working for Ahram and Gumhuriya papers.

People were also calling for their to be weekly demonstrations every Wednesday until the government takes its demands over resignations seriously.
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Around this time and seeing that this was going to go on for a while, I left the auditorium and bumped into some friends. I saw Raba Fahmy, who was highlighted on the Arabist. She is doing well but still very pissed off.

Another friend - the former activist - and I were speaking. He was a bit shell-shocked. He said to me, "two years ago, this was unimaginable what they are saying about Mubarak in public". I agreed that it was quite a change but was unsure of what to make of it.

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You know...People connected to the party sponsored thugs to beat up the Kifaya people. In the past week, I cannot tell you how many conversations I have had that concluded that their was a seriously personal element to the beatings of the 25th. Their aggressiveness was rooted in the fact that for months "these Kifaya elements" were talking smack on the president. Those attacking protesters wanted to teach them a lesson for being insolent towards the president. Yet, the repression led to wider appeal and greater discontent towards the state.

Now, the security services and their masters find themselves in another predicament. Do they allow Kifaya and the women organizations to continue to demonstrate and slowly, slowly gain street credibility? Or do they crackdown and risk further polarizing society? Neither is an attractive option from the state's point of view. I suppose their are other means at the state's disposal such as law suits, smear campaigns, and whatnot. But the best advice at the moment seems to be to leave its citizens' dignity out of its plans.