The Black Bloc

"The Black Bloc is the new black," blogger Zeinobia has said. These masked young anarchist (?) militias (?) had everyone intrigued and scratching their heads last weekend. The group, inspired by international protest tactics, said their mission was to protect protesters from Muslim Brotherhood attacks (such as those that took place in December outside the Presidential Palace). But -- as exemplified by the menacing motto on their Facebook page ("Retribution or Chaos"), and their methods (bringing tires to burn to block traffic) -- their posture is more than defensive. 

Quite a few activists were immediately skeptical of the group, noting that: 1) they will be easy to infiltrate 2) they will be cat-nip to the Islamist media 3) they will be disturbing to the general public. All three propositions are already seemingly been proven right. 

The supposedly anti-media Bloc has made several media appearances. In this interview, members describe methods that are very similar to those of hard-core soccer fans, or ultras, and say their one goal is to obtain justice for the martyrs of the last 2 years' violence. 

We've used every peaceful means since January 25 2011, to obtain retribution for the martyrs, but we were surprised by acquittals and postponements [of the court cases againt police officers], so this pushed us to escalate, because for every action there must be an equivalent reaction. 

Two (If I had to guess, 16-year-old) members also went on the private, "revolutionary" Tahrir TV channel and explained that their enemies are the Ministry of Interior and the Muslim Brotherhood, but that acts of violence and arson had been carried out by infiltrators not belonging to the group. The Facebook group itself immediately denied that the two masked teenagers on TV were members, and accused the station of staging the appearance to boost their audience. 

Of course, a sheikh has already given an inspiring example of religous scholarship and reportedly issued a fatwa saying it is a "legitimate duty" to kill members of the Bloc. And now Al Ahram is reporting that the prosecutor general -- as always prioritizing the greatest threats to the rule of law -- has ordered members of the group to be detained and questioned, and not-at-all hyperbolically described them as a "terrorist" organization.

The whole Black Bloc phenomenon is pretty silly. It's a symptom of the immaturity, lack of foresight and drift from peaceful (and seemingly fruitless) protesting to glamorized, indiscriminate, anti-authoritarian violence that has characterized a wing of the protest movement. And I fear these kids could end up paying a high price for their bravado. 


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.