The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

"Sweeping Sayida On" Protest

Sayida protest

For more pictures of yesterday's protest, visit this album. Let me know if you want to use any of the shots.

Yesterday, several groups that are nominally linked to Kifaya held a sunset protest at the Mosque of Sayida Zaynib in Cairo.

These groups, such as "al-Sharaa Lina" and "Shafeenkum," are sprouting up following the referendum violence on May 25th. As best as I understand, these groups' members are for those who may not subscribe to Kifaya goals but were outraged at the electoral violence. So groups are emerging to accommodate and channel discontent into opposition. Rumors on the street another group is coming next week.

The big difference between yesterday's protest and its predecessors is that the Kifaya brass such as Kamal Khalil, Abd al-Halim Qandil, and George Ishaq did not attend. Instead, this protest was organized by younger members of Kifaya and those interested in protesting against state-sponsored violence.

The protest was rather small with one sympathizer telling me that there was no more than 300 people. There was lots of media covering the event in what is starting to be called "Democracy Wednesdays" in Cairo.

That said, the younger activists are interesting. Their backgrounds are varied and many of them are new to street politics. The are internet savvy and many have blogs. Of the activists I spoke with most professed that they did sympathize with Kifaya but did not want to be active in the movement. This all changed on 25 May as these unsatisfied citizens now want a stake in their future. The most striking is one young woman who worked for NGOs that provided social services. She has a picture taken next to Egypt's First Lady Suzanne Mubarak - it was a sort of reward for her efforts. Now, I am not sure either side would want to be in the room with the other.

Kifaya is slightly changing. Younger activists are starting to gel together and bringing new ideas and themes to protests rather than the older generation of "legendary" protesters of the 1970s generation. While their future strength is tied together, whether the center will hold remains undetermined.

The theme of last night's protest was "Nuknus Sayida ala.." which translates as "Sweeping Sayida on..." Rather than denote an act of cleaning, it carries a mystic connotation. When you sweep Sayida on to someone or something it means you are wishing evil to befall them. It is akin to putting a curse. In last night's context, this means placing curses on the government, its ministers, and its chief executive.

Overall, the protest was very orderly. Despite the younger activists - some of whom wanted to challenge the Central Security Forces (CSF) at the Saad Zaghloul protest a week earlier - emotions were controlled and there were no scuffles or near-scuffles to report. The protest was also disciplined in that it advertised between 6-8pm. It ended promptly at 8pm.

Two side notes:

1) Ayman Nor showed up very briefly. He passed through the opposition crowd and drew a lot of attention. At the post-protest festivities, I bumped into a group of the younger activists/organizers. Several of them were perplexed at why Ayman came.

2) On the other side of the street, a group of Pro-Mubarak supporters showed up during the protest. There were two types of supporters but all carried the same sign - a picture of the president that said "Yes to Mubarak". It underscored how highly staged these pro-Mubarak retorts are. Of the two types of supporters, there were the calm and unenthused supporter that looked like they were unhappily there bil'affiya (by force). Then, there where the shabbier supporters in football jerseys. They were late 40s/early 50s and many of them acted like they were hopped up on speed. They were scaling lampposts, pulling at their hair with crazed looks in their eyes as they screamed pro-Mubarak slogans. For some of these characters, the only solution maybe an exorcism.

The pro-Mubarak supporters were separated by the street and loads of CSF, who looked like they were working harder to control the Pro-Mubarak rage than their colleagues manning the opposition side.
Next week - a new location, new themes, and more symbolism is promised.