The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Imbaba Protest

Just saw Issandr posted as well. For those of you asking of Imbaba coverage, here is a double dose.

For pictures see this album.

Another Wednesday protest happened on the 6th of July.

It could of of been the heat, how busy the streets have been the past 6 weeks, or that my camera and I were slightly off - but the Imbaba protest signified (for me) where the anti-Mubarak movement is heading.

To tell you the truth, I don't know who organized it. The young bloggers and post-25 May activists who do not want to been seen as Youth for Change or Kifaya were not advertising this demo. So I am guessing they did not organize it. But Youth for Change was there

Hamla Shabaya with their "Freedom now" stickers and small signs had a big presence. The Revolutionary Socialists (RS), who have previously been underground, made their first overt appearance (with signs) at the protest. It was the RS - which is headed by Kamal Khalil - that signed on with the Brotherhood at the National Front meeting at the Journalists syndicate on 30 June.

Also, the Islamist Labor party was in attendance and brought considerably more folks out than usual. There were many more beards at the protest than usual. Members from the women groups' al-Sharaa Lina and Shafinkum were also there.

As is now the norm, no real Harakat Masriya people showed up. Instead, many rank and file that used to be Haraka were there but they are all in different groups now such as the Rev Socialists and Hamla.

All these group's are using the Kifaya sticker and slogans.

The fact that Haraka refuses to sign on to the national front as they cling to a rigid strategy that refuses to cooperate with other factions is leading to the group's utter ineffectiveness. If Haraka's leadership is not careful, people like Qandil and Ishaq are going to be left screaming that the other groups mobilizing and cooperating stole their stickers. Haraka was described to me by former loyalist as "a very undemocratic movement. Haraka's leadership said it was an umbrella organization for all and it wasn't." The Kifaya logo and those bright yellow stickers maybe Haraka's key legacy.

The demo was strange. At one point, two anti-Mubarak protests were going on until both protests negotiated with security to join. It turned into a control melee as the protesters took over the street very briefly. They were then shuffled back to the sidewalk after a few minutes. The security cordon provided the smallest of spaces and, at one point, it felt like there were 300 people. A more realistic number is likely 150.

Plain-clothes security mobilized some Imbaba youth ad hoc to chant pro-Mubarak chants, which were highly unimaginative such as "Imshu" (leave). The pro-Mubarak crowd operated for about 15 minutes before their security minders dispersed them. They were kept separated from the anti-Mubarak protesters and there was no violence against one another.

The Revolutionary Socialists presence was clear as they recited chants from the days of the January 1977 bread riots. One of the best was "They (the regime) wear the latest fashions while we live 10 in a room." Alternatively, the Islamist characters chanted against America and "Allahu Akbar". At one point, the leftist and Islamist crowds almost got into it over who was leading what.

About the time, a group of the younger activists from the leftist trend decided to charge the security lines. One Amn Markazi solider was pulled into the crowd and slapped around. A senior officer entered and pulled him back to safety behind the security lines. He was not hurt. UPDATED (thanks to Mohammed): Although not directed at the CSF, the crowd chanted "Amn Dawla, Kalab al-Dawla" (State Security are the state's dogs.)

There is much debate over this strategy of attacking the small statued Amn Markazi conscripts. But, as one photographer said, "Not that I want the protesters to be attacked but this is stupid. I simply cannot sell photos of protester on security violence."

Naturally, after all the pushing and shoving, one of the over emotional demonstrators passed out. It was dramatic but I saw him back in action after a five minute reprieve.

The demo ended and I left feeling pretty empty. The movement is changing politics here but it feels kind of static. It is like the car is on and the wheels are spinning but there is no movement. There is certainly no guarantee where all this is going which helps as much as it hurts (I suppose).

Other developments:

Haraka cancelled their long anticipated conference yesterday. It was supposed to be at the Shepard's hotel, whose management backed out - no doubt - due to security pressure. There are no plans as to when the conference will convene as they said it was postponed indefinitely. It is the latest sign that Haraka is fading from the scene as the other groups mobilize.

This coming week:

The MB and Revolutionary Socialists, who singed the national front agreement are planning a demo at Abdeen palace on 13 July.

Haraka is saying they will participate on the 13th but have scheduled their own demo at a yet undetermined location on the following day.

Also, at the end of the Imbaba demo, the last guy with the bullhorn said a protest would happen next Wednesday at 6pm at Midan Mataraya.

Given the choice as an observer, the Abdeen demo is most interesting. But if the MB fails to produce numbers then the national front will likely be belly-up before it starts.

Al-Ghad was excluded from the national front because its president met with Condi Rice which seemed a stupid reason.

Perhaps, my interpretation is not as generous as these brave activists taking the streets and wrestling with security may like. But, just as the government advertises reform and does not deliver, the discontented groups appear divided and too argumentative to achieve a greater aim. The only thing holding them together is that they don't want Mubarak(s). Beyond that, it is all political fragmentation.

I could be wrong. But, given what I have seen the since December, I reserve as much a right to be critical of what is going on as those activists have to say I am misreading the developments.

Unfortunately, at this store, we cannot take credit from any side at this time.