Account of Labor Day demo

Matthew Carrington writes about yesterday's Labor Day demo in Midan Tahrir:
It wasn’t shooting fish in a barrel exactly, more like poking at them with a chunk of wood. However you want to describe it, the big May Day protest in Downtown Cairo was a non-event.

Called for by a number of groups with anti-privatization axes to grind, it was supposed to kick off at 5 pm in front of the erstwhile state-owned flagship of low-quality mass merchandising, Omar Effendi. By 5:15 a mix of police, Central Security troops and “plain-clothes policemen” as a couple of outlets have taken to calling them, had started to clear Talat Harb Street. They pushed forward on both sides of the street, paying particular attention to anyone with a camera. By 5:30 they had swept both the press and casual passers-by, which included a half-dozen confused Americans holding a Rough Guide and trying to find “the hostel,” back to Café Riche.

Your tax dollars at work.

There was a bit of roughing up along the way, but not much. A couple of moments when packs of “plain clothes policeman” swarmed in, rubber truncheons twitching in their sweaty little hands and that now familiar ripple of excitement and fear went through those close enough to see into the heaving knot.

The point, it seemed, was to seal of the Nasserist party offices, where half a dozen members were shouting dangerously inflammatory slogans about the good old days from a first-floor balcony.

Outside the Air France office on the midan, a few police officers had their command center set up in the shade. Operational equipment included a little table of tea. The tea was fetla, not kosheri (these were officers after all), but they wouldn’t say how many sugars, and in fact, objected strongly to being asked in the first place. Pictures were out of the question.

Up above them, a dozen or so people had gathered on the balcony of Al Ghad Central. They too were chanting dangerously inflammatory slogans. Inside, the office—which is done up in way over the top red velvet wallpaper, by the way, and lit by two of the most hideous, gargantuan gilt chandeliers that I have seen in my life—was musty and a bit depressing.

When I poked my head out onto the balcony they were chanting “Horeya horeya wenik? Amn al dowla beni benik” and when one of them spotted the hawaga, he added a counterpoint in English “doggy men, doggy men!”

Hardly sophisticated political rhetoric, but given the display of grinning brutality put on by the security forces, hardly surprising either.
One note: Isn't it the Tagammu rather than the Nasserists who have their office near Midan Talaat Harb, across from the Greek Club (and the Al Ghad office)?

Update: Another fine account with pics at Jeff Black's new site, Contact Egypt.
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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.