Steve Negus writes:
The only surprising thing about the breach of the Israeli embassy in Cairo is that it never happened any time before in the past 30 years. In a city that abounds in isolated walled desert compounds, someone decided to put the most often marched-upon facility in Egypt in a quite ordinary apartment building in the heart of the city, whose defenses basically consist of however much force the security services/army choose to deploy on the street that particular day. Throughout the 1990s, at least once a year, students from nearby Cairo University staged a half-hearted attempt to storm the place. The hardcore “Ultra” football club fans who seemed to be a major contingent of yesterday’s crowd may simply have been more persistant than your usual Cairo demonstrators — partially because the self-styled “commandos of the revolution” (whose subculture is described by Ursula below) are used to fighting with police, and partially because they claimed to have one of their own dead to avenge, supposedly killed on Tuesday night post-match battle between Ahly club fans and police on Saleh Salem Road that started when police charged the stands in response to taunting chants.
So, rather than being satisfied with a few hours of melee with the police and military, they kept up the battle until late into the night, until eventually some got inside the building and up to the reception area. Meanwhile, other protesters tried to storm the Giza security directorate, reportedly after a police car leaving the scene ran down two demonstrators. The deaths were a tragedy, but I don’t think that this quite constitutes an international crisis.
I was at the Tahrir demo earlier in the day, and although the Ultras were a heavy presence, and although small groups approached the nearby Interior Ministry from time to time, most of them responded pretty quickly to the “Peacefully! Peacefully!” chants from the crowd. In fact, part of the reason that the Ultras were there seemed to be that they wanted to be taken seriously as an aggrieved constituency — a huge banner reading “Ultras are not criminals!” hung in the square. Ultras in the crowd said that while they were used to demonstrating, today they came specifically on account of their own grievances: specifically, police brutality, and the referral of civilians to military trials. (Activists following the military trials says that military prosecutors tend to pick on working class kids who aren’t connected to one of the mainstream movement, so I’m guessing that includes a lot of Ultras.). “I used to come to Tahrir for the sake of the nation, but now for the first time I’m here as an Ultra,” one Ahli fan said.