Thugs

Another good video, also produced by Egypt's new online journalism. This is a series of interviews with protesters (many of them well-known activists) who all identify themselves as beltagiya ("thugs"), then go on to give their real professions (university professor, dentist, journalist) and the demands for which they have come to the square -- mocking the many who dismiss most protests and all clashes with the police as the work of the ubiquitous, infamous "thugs." (Reports suggest that the only verifiable thugs involved were plain-clothes reinforcement on the Ministry of Interior's side). 

The word beltagi refers to hired muscle--to neighborhood toughs (who have been part of Cairo neighborhoods forever), who under Mubarak were most often employed by the state, to intimidate voters and beat up demonstrators; but also by private individuals who needed something (say a business disagreement) taken care of and preferred to bring in their own men rather than the police. These days the word is a catch-all whose main effect is to obscure the real grievances and difference underlying any clash, casting a dismissive (class-inflected) smear over all participants. It can refer to anyone young, male, and of lower-class extraction; any protester whose views you don't understand or share; anyone engaged in or caught up in in violence. Every time a clash happens, this and a few other overused terms (the "remnants of the regime," "infiltrators") are thrown around -- lazily, fearfully and unhelpfully. 

3 Comments

Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.