Egypt: the mayhem

Yasmine El Rashidi writes: To live in Cairo these days is to live in constant disorientation. You wake up on Friday to violent clashes between the army and civilians, on Saturday to young people rescuing old books from a government building engulfed in flames, on Sunday to images of women being assaulted by uniformed soldiers, on Monday to pools of blood in the city’s central square, and on Tuesday to thousands of women marching through the streets of downtown chanting for freedom, cheered on by a human shield of men. A week later, nearly all the traces of these events are gone: except for some graffiti, the odd tent in Tahrir, and a few barricades of barbed wire and concrete blocks, the city feels listlessly unchanged, almost as if the revolution never happened.

The past two weeks in Cairo brought all of this and more, as has much of the fall. Amid moments of hope for stability and lasting change — such as Egypt’s first free and fair parliamentary elections, which began on November 28 and end next week — the country has faced wave after wave of unpredictable violence between civilians and security forces. Peaceful protesters are arbitrarily being arrested and thrown in jail; and the army’s estrangement from the activists who led the revolution is visible in the newly-erected concrete walls that sever downtown streets to separate its forces from the people. Last week, security forces raided 17 offices of internationally-funded NGOs, confiscating computers, documents, cameras, and bizarrely, even office tea kettles. It was the latest attempt to tarnish the image of the activists, and more urgently, abort the possibility of another ‘January 25’ — this time against the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), which has been in power since Mubarak stepped down.

From their position as the apparent protectors of last year’s revolution, SCAF have been pushed into increasingly brutal confrontations with civilians — at Maspero in October, during the run-up to elections in November, and most recently, during a week of mayhem in mid December. These spasms of violence, as important to the future of Egypt as the outcome of elections, often seem to have a logic of their own; December’s episode was set off by a chain of events few could have predicted. [Continue reading…]

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