I saw a funny thing on the way to the demo tonight. I was headed up to Talat Harb to watch artists demand change and I stopped outside the Judges’ Club. There were a dozen or so women standing on the sidewalk holding up some signs advocating independence for the judiciary.Accounts and pictures of this morning's demos in Downtown Cairo to follow shortly.
Pretty ordinary looking bunch really. A couple of them fairly well known in certain circles, but it wasn’t like they were doing anything really. Just standing there on the corner holding some signs.
A few minutes after I got there, around about 7.10, however, lines of riot police and beltagui started drawing up. They boxed the women in, the officers drawing lines with their troops across the sidewalk and down the edge of the pavement. They left a couple of feet of breathing room, but it was a little box. Like a cell in Khalifa or Tora or wherever, but more convenient.
The women stood there inside this box, the troops—kids mostly, sporting little peach fuzz mustaches—staring dully at them. The way that they were drawn up, with a line of uniformed amn al markazi and then a line of the uniformed beltagui, was a clear signal that any time they way wanted, the officers could open the lines and let the thugs loose inside the box.
And so the matter rested for about an hour—maybe a little less. The teenagers stared at the women, most of them old enough to be their mothers, and the women mostly ignored them. Outside the box, boys in sunglasses and badly fitting uniforms postured and talked on walkie-talkies. The women talked on their mobiles. A couple of photographers took pictures. One was mildly roughed up by police who didn’t like him taking pictures.
Eventually the women decided to leave, which the officers allowed them to do—two at a time. I suppose that there was a risk that, once outside the box, these women would go on a rampage if allowed to leave together. Burn some cars perhaps. Tear down lampposts. That sort of thing. So they let a couple go, waited five minutes, and then let another couple go. They kept the well-known ones to the end and kept them for longer than the others. With the press out of the way, they drew the riot police and the beltagui closer and tighter on the women, turning the box into an isolation cell of well-armed and armored young men and thugs. A hundred or so of them squashing in on two middle-aged women.
Eventually they let the women go. They emerged smiling. Hugged some supporters, and made their way off up the road. They didn’t seem to have been cowed by the teenagers in the body armor any more than the middle-aged men in the sunglasses seemed to have impressed them. I don’t suppose their views on the separation of powers have been much altered.
In retrospect, it’s a little funny to think that someone thought they might be.