Violence Came to Tahrir Square with Pro-Mubarak Protests
As we open and close the checkpoints on our streets and roads in the area (who would have thought that’s what I would be doing on a cool February morning in Cairo), there’s a new aspect to the procedure that we’ve developed over the coming days. And yes, there has been a procedure. We start with smiles, trying to remember and recall that this whole situation is difficult for everyone, and that the least we can do is make our part in the difficulty as painless as possible. At least in our neighbourhood, the people we have at the checkpoints are all behaving well, with great sensitivity, regardless of who is driving in—man or woman, elderly or young, BMW 4-wheel drive, or beat up taxi—they are all being accorded with the utmost respect. After we ask them for their personal I.D. cards and search their trunks, we give them a password to speed things up at the next checkpoint, and we send a sign to the next check-point to let them know all is well. Today, we’ve added something less: are you with him, or against him?
It was a different mood than yesterday. In traditional Muslim societies, its often been taken for granted that the existence of a bad ruler is better than no ruler at all—tyranny with security was better than anarchy. As such, by and large, religious authorities have argued that the overthrowing of an unjust ruler is generally forbidden—until that point where the level of tyranny is so great that you could say that the threat of violence emanating from the civil upheaval that might arise due to a revolution is substantially less than what would result from leaving him in place.
People aren’t making that argument exactly now. But it’s the same sort of logic that is being utilized, with an added twist—exhaustion. Even before the Egyptian president made his speech last night, people were hoping that this civil upheaval would end, one way or another, and they could return to a sense of normalcy and ordinariness. When Mubarak seemed to bow to pressure yesterday evening, many took the opportunity to argue that now was the time for people to return from the protests and plan for the future.
After the pro-government protests entered Liberation Square, and violence ensued, a little boy was killed. Prior to the pro-government protestors entering Liberation Square, there as no violence, and the anti-Mubarak protestors were definitely non-armed and nonviolent—and they’d been there for days. It was only after the two sides met that violence ensued. I met more than one person, however, that blamed those who had brought the little boy to the protests in the first place. Surely, they argued, he bore responsibility.
The idea of protest is not just endemic within the West, but also within traditional Muslim thought, where the “greatest jihad is speaking truth to an unjust ruler” (although not necessarily rebellion). But the mood was changing, if slightly—the anti-government protestors were losing some of the support that they had had. Yet, on the other hand, many were arguing that actually, the fact that the government let (and, according to some reports, sponsored) this new protest enter Liberation Square, showed that it had no intention of reforming itself. And that, as a result, it had closed all avenues open to it except for complete and total change.
I’m not sure what tomorrow is going to be like. The protests are now over. But before the Egyptian president spoke last night, Friday was supposed to be a day of renewed protests. Will it happen? And then what?
HA Hellyer is a Fellow of the University of Warwick, director of the Visionary Consultants Group and the Europe Fellow of the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU).
This article was published by Religion Dispatches on February 2, 2011: