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Dispatches From Cairo: Blood, Youth and Revolution

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Posted on May 4, 2012
thecoldwhisper (CC BY 2.0)

Flags and demonstrators in Tahrir Square, late 2011.

By Lauren Unger-Geoffroy

We asked Lauren Unger-Geoffroy, an international artist who lives in Cairo, to share her perspective of life in Egypt after the revolution. In this entry, she writes about the outbreak of new violence and the fervor of young revolutionaries.

Youth is a branch of insanity.
            —Prophet Muhammad

CAIRO—“I have a gun.”

Yussef, 20, told me this excitedly on the phone Wednesday. He was calling from a protest in Cairo’s Abbasseya district, near the Ministry of Defense, and I could barely hear him over the yelling and chaotic noise in the background. 

Earlier, his mother had stopped me in front of the new Muslim Brotherhood election information tent when our paths crossed in my largely MB-hostile Salafi neighborhood. Uma Yussef (“Mother of Yussef”—some Arabs take as their name “mother of” or “father of” their eldest son) was nearly hysterical because she had heard of people being killed at protests and then was unable to contact Yussef, who has a habit of ignoring her calls to his cellphone. She knew he would answer a call from me, and she asked me to phone him to see if he was all right. “Tell him to come home!” she pleaded. “Stupid, stupid boy!” Soon I was speaking with him.

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“Why do you have a gun?”

“What?”

“Why?” I shouted.

They have guns! It is war! A guy here is killed! I have to go!”

“Yussef, be careful!”

And he was off.

Reasoning with him had been out of the question. He was racing on adrenaline and looking forward to tasting blood, his or someone else’s, to confirm his proud revolutionary heroism.

The rough mobilization and confrontation that have occurred at every juncture in Egypt’s post-revolutionary evolution is happening again as the first true presidential election in the nation’s long history approaches. 

Twenty people have been reported dead, and hundreds more injured, in what is now labeled a massacre—more than three days of shootings and stabbings. Knives, guns, metal rods, bludgeons, tear gas, rocks are the usual weapons in these now familiar street battles.

It is no surprise that the aggressors were “unidentified thugs,” assumed to be employed by the deposed regime and/or the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). The locals of various neighborhoods were, at least at first, allies against the protesters, who became more destructive after initially peaceful demonstrations were attacked. Stores, homes and buses burned as the injured were rushed on scooters to field clinics in a now depressingly familiar scenario.

The army was two days slow to intervene. Some Egyptians said the military was letting the “thugs” do its dirty work. But to what end? If the military is indeed supporting this violence, what exactly is its motivation? The bloodletting has once again united the opposition against the SCAF’s military rule as revolutionaries from all parties have rushed into the fray.

The latest round of demonstrations began Saturday in the mostly pro-SCAF neighborhood of Abbasseya as crowds made up primarily of supporters of Salafist preacher Hazem Abu Ismail protested the disqualification of the front-running presidential candidate. Abu Ismail, a fundamentalist hard-liner, was forced out of the race because his late mother had held American citizenship, in violation of a candidacy rule originally pushed through by the Salafi Party itself. (Abu Ismail’s followers, never ones to reply on evidence, insist that the disqualification was based on a lie.) Soon stones flew, and guns, some handmade, did their deadly work. 

Violence has so often been used to distract public attention from covert missions of the true powers here that the people understandably suspect that the government’s hand is now at work. They can’t believe the coming vote will not be fixed—as “elections” were in the past—or delayed until the SCAF’s hidden agenda has been implemented.

Though the SCAF previously was committed to ceding power to the new president by June 30, after a free and fair election, Gen. Sami Annan, the SCAF’s deputy head, said recently that the military “might possibly” hand over power after this month’s first round of elections if a candidate won outright with more 50 percent of the vote. With 13 candidates, that is numerically next to impossible. Several have dropped out in protest against the new stand by the SCAF. [Editor’s note: At a Thursday news conference, Gen. Adel Aasar, a member of the SCAF, said the military would transfer authority to a new president by June 30. “We are not seeking power. SCAF is not a substitute for legitimate authority,” he said.]

Whatever the deepest cause of the new violence, suddenly the people have forgotten the recent and smoldering antagonism against Saudi Arabia.

The Jewish Star of David that a demonstrator drew on the front of the Saudi Embassy has been erased after the outraged departure from Cairo of the Saudi ambassador. Demonstrations outside the embassy were aimed at the allegedly unwarranted imprisonment of an Egyptian lawyer in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi ambassador had said in February that 1,400 Egyptians were in Saudi jails. Longstanding resentments boiled to the surface, and hostile media reports, jokes and cartoons appeared on both sides.


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By gerard, May 6, 2012 at 10:23 am Link to this comment

If Muhammad said that—if, which I doubt—he was wrong.  It’s the older men, the “tough guys who feel themselves getting old, slipping just a little, facing their last chance to “make money” or “make a name for themselves” or “make a killing in the market”, or “make it with a dame”. Of course they haven’t got a clue, but they own a bunch of hardware and have “access” to what passes for the media and the halls of government.  So it’s “root!root!root! for the home team” and the wheels start turning in the bomber factories and heaven help some poor little god-forsaken country somewhere with lots of peasants and crazy ideas and oil, and ... wow!
  Ten years later thousands of people are dead or wounded, mainly women and children—but what the hell! We got them told, didn’t we?  Yeah!  Or did we ...?  Oh, well ... We’re the greatest!  Killers! In the world! “Make no mistake about it!”  And just remember, NOTHING’S OFF THE TABLE!”

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By vector56, May 6, 2012 at 7:02 am Link to this comment

“I ask the same questions whenever churches are burned or Christians are persecuted in the Islamic world.”

OzarkMichael;

do you ever dare ask yourself why millions of Muslims Men Women and Children have be slaughtered by the “good blue eyed Christian boys” in our military since 911?

The NAZIS set a kill ratio of 100 to 1; if the other side killed one of their soldiers, they would round up 100 people, put them against a wall and shoot them dead! For the 3000 killed on 9/11 we have killed about 2 million Muslims (and still counting); if the NAZIS were monsters for 100 to 1 kill ratio, what are we?

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By balkas, May 6, 2012 at 6:02 am Link to this comment

i suggest that in all countries and in the UN be ONLY TWO PARTIES:
socilalist-gregarious one and the other asocialist-individualistic-
atomizing. [autistic, to be short and in point]
this wld represent the NECESSARY TRUTH or NEED [apodictic to
aristotle]
so, ACHTUNG paesanos, forget about liberals, progressives,
Democrats, democrats, libertarians, conservatives, neocons,
Republicans, independents, fascists, communists—-all these are
fakes and are, perforce, faking it!

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By balkas, May 6, 2012 at 5:49 am Link to this comment

put another way: ONEPERCENT has two political
parties and 99% none.
so, when the ONEPERCENT get’s mad at or is
displeased [or just feigns it] with one party, it
elects the other one.
however, always in control of major foreign and
domestic policies.

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By Free Thinker, May 5, 2012 at 2:12 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

There is no doubt in my free mind that the U.S., Israel, Saudi Arabia and few other beneficieries are hard at work to abort the people’s revolution in Egypt.

However,this is no excuse for true revolutionaries to identify the enemies and thwart their ploting for good. The too many contenders for power in Egypt is the main problem. Egyptians need not be deceived by so many contending political parties, thinking that this is true democracy. At this point all nationalists need to unite in one party that they should call the Revolutionary Party.

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By gerard, May 5, 2012 at 1:56 pm Link to this comment

Lauren Unger-Geoffrey: A small white butterfly just flew past my window.  It will soon come to your house, so be sure to watch for it.  Love.

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By OzarkMichael, May 5, 2012 at 1:51 pm Link to this comment

The army was two days slow to intervene. Some Egyptians said the military was letting the “thugs” do its dirty work. But to what end? If the military is indeed supporting this violence, what exactly is its motivation?

I ask the same questions whenever churches are burned or Christians are persecuted in the Islamic world. Their government lets it happen, or when they do intervene they either arrest Christians for blasphemy, or force Christian leadership to attend a binding “reconciliation” table with the Muslim majority who are threatening them.

To what end? What is the motivation?

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By vector56, May 5, 2012 at 7:50 am Link to this comment

In short what balkas is saying is that there are no appeals outside of the already established institutions of power. I agree!

You rarely seem Wall Street, The MIC, or AIPAC out in the streets carrying signs, being pepper sprayed and beaten by Police.

The reason is simple; all of the above mentioned groups (Wall Street, MIC, AIPAC) have “mobility” between the two major parties. If one of the two parties is not meeting their needs, they can always threaten to leave and support the other. Liberals do not have this luxury.

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By balkas, May 5, 2012 at 5:47 am Link to this comment

“youth is branch of insanity” said muhammad. no, i disagree with this utterance and no
matter what muhammad meant by it.
and muhammad had not prophesied anything and neither did issaiah or i.
===
as for protest in egypt, i have already ‘prophesied’ over a year ago that it will fail.
i still stay with this expectation as long as protesters only protest.
politics, as i have said a few time, is part of life; so, if one wants changes for better, one has
to engage in politics and then one needs not waste time protesting.
the best protest is the one in a parliament, congress, diet, sabor, among army echelons…

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