Prosecution orders arrest of Black Bloc leaders, investigates sympathetic journalists
Prosecution received several reports from citizens regarding journalists and talkshow hosts
Prosecutor Hazem Salah ordered the arrest of five individuals suspected of being the founders and leaders of the Egyptian Black Bloc on Thursday morning.
The decision was based on reports received by the prosecution from public security and the intelligence and documentation sectors of the Ministry of Interior, Public Prosecution spokesperson Mostafa Deweidar said in a Thursday statement.
Deweidar added that the prosecution also received several reports and complaints from citizens, with CDs and newspapers attached as evidence, regarding journalists and talkshow hosts who “promote Black Bloc ideology” in their writings and television programs.
Several other Black Bloc members will be arrested soon, said Deweidar, who added that the information was gathered in a joint effort between several agencies, including the General Intelligence Service and the Homeland Security Agency.
A black bloc is a protest tactic adopted by anarchist groups and other protesters in Europe in the 1970s and to a lesser extent in the United States in the 1990s.
It is based on protection of other protesters through engaging the police or other riot squads and does not adhere to non-violent methods. Black Bloc groups have been known to damage property as a way to protest capitalism.
An Egyptian version of the Black Bloc emerged on the political scene earlier this year. Black Bloc members dress in black clothes and don black balaclavas in order to hide their identities.
The Muslim Brotherhood has accused them of attempting to overthrow the regime and of being Coptic Orthodox Christian Church militias.
Presse contre-révolutionnaire (Ahmed Aboul Enein, DailyNewsEgypt.com, 7 mars 2013)
(…) Eighteen suspects that are allegedly members of the group were arrested by authorities on 31 January.
(…) On 29 January, Prosecutor General Talaat Abdallah ordered police and members of the Armed Forces to arrest anyone suspected of being involved in the group.
State-run news agency MENA reported that Hassan Yassin, a spokesman and head of the Public Prosecution’s technical office, claimed investigators have proof the Black Bloc is carrying out « terrorist activities. »
However, he did not reveal evidence of his claims.
Presse contre-révolutionnaire (Al-Masri Al-Youm via EgyptIndependant.com, 6 mars 2013)
Egypt’s Opposition Tactics: Black Bloc Violence vs. Canal City Strikes
From violence to civil disobedience, Egypt’s disparate opposition groups are deploying a variety of tactics in resisting the state.
The past month has seen the emergence of two very different approaches to street protests emerge in Egypt.
On the one hand, the use of violence as a means of protest has gained renewed vigour. Port Said erupted into clashes at the end of January after death sentences were issued to 21 people for their role in the deadly football riots the year before. And a new, violent and mysterious protest group called the Black Bloc has emerged in the last few weeks whose predilection for street fighting and aggressive tactics has become well-known.
On the other hand, however, resistance to President Mohammed Morsi’s government is evolving in other ways. Recently in Port Said, although violence has continued, there has also been a marked shift towards organised strikes and civil disobedience.
Masks and Molotovs
On the afternoon of 31 January, a group of protesters wearing gas masks clashed with the police guarding the Semiramis Hotel in Cairo. While the riot police held their ground against the stone-throwing, they charged the demonstrators down when they started throwing Molotov cocktails, sending scores of youths fleeing in every direction.
A member of the group – calling himself ‘Kadir’ – explained their purpose. “We tried to take the hotel before, but we had to leave before we could set it ablaze. We have returned to finish the job and the police mercenaries cannot stop us for forever”, he told to Think Africa Press. He wore the trademark Black Bloc uniform of black clothing and a gas mask.
Kadir’s group walked back to their tent on the edge of the Omar Makram Mosque. But as they approached it, Kadir spotted three men watching them from one of the makeshift cafés scattered around Tahrir Square. Kadir abruptly left his comrades and demanded to see the ID card of a clean cut man with a nice leather jacket sitting at the café. The man in the remained calm as the youths accosted him. “I’m just sitting here having a tea after I finished at the Mogamma”, he explained, pointing at the Soviet-style administration building which dominates the square.
The man’s companions tried to calm Kadir down, but he became increasingly enraged. When he lit the Molotov cocktail he was holding, the man in the leather jacket quickly reached for his ID card. But Kadir threw the card back at him without even looking at it. “Forget the ID card, you look like a spy and here is what I do to the fascists who oppose the people”, Kadir exclaimed, abruptly smashing the Molotov cocktail on the ground a foot away.
Samer, a street vendor in Tahrir Square, who observed the scene commented: “This guy is one of the Black Bloc”. Samer sells surgical masks to protesters eager to ward off the effects of tear gas.
The rise of the Black Bloc
Though a loose franchise, the original Black Bloc had been organising for months on the internet before it finally made its appearance on January 25, the second anniversary of the start revolution which ousted Hosni Mubarak. Assembling down a side-street, the group dramatically appeared en mass into the busiest part of Tahrir. At one point members put their arms on each others’ shoulders to maintain cohesion, before taking their place at the front of clashes with the police on Qasr El-Ayni Street.
Members of the Black Bloc are instantly recognisable from their black masks and outfits but the group has another, less sartorial, trademark for which it has become equally notorious: This new organisation has openly embraced violent confrontation with the police. Struggling to contain the group, Egyptian authorities have tried to paint them as pro-Israeli saboteurs and have labelled them a terrorist organisation.
The Black Bloc was blamed for the original raid on the Semiramis Hotel on January 29. Groups of protesters simultaneously converged on the hotel from several streets, overrunning the hotel’s meagre security. Outside, other protesters meticulously smashed every window of the hotel within stone-throwing range. The hotel’s staff desperately took to the social networking site Twitter and tweeted for help. Scores of youths from Tahrir Square and ambulances arrived on the scene to aid them.
An unidentified member of the Black Bloc told Think Africa Press that its members were at the hotel during the attack, but that their role had been misinterpreted. “The Black Bloc did not participate in the attack on the Semiramis Hotel. Instead we contributed members of the Black Bloc in defence and coping with robbers, and have handed them over to the police and hotel management” [sic – NdJL], the individual said.
Elsewhere that same night, a police vehicle was torched near the US embassy in Cairo and a second vehicle was captured by rioters and driven into Tahrir Square and also torched. Youths in black masks posed for photos on the smoking hulk, threatening Think Africa Press for attempting to capture the scene on film. In the days following the attack on the Semiramis Hotel, Egyptian police announced the arrest of several Black Bloc members – but their aggressive tactics have continued.
Guns are also now increasingly common in confrontations between the police and rioters. In 2011, protesters around Tahrir Square refrained from using firearms – those attempting to were often accosted by their fellow protesters. Yet on January 25, 2013, many frontline protesters held improvised shotguns and crude grenades made from little more than tape and pyrotechnics.
Sabotage and incidences of arson have also increased to new levels. Early in the morning of January 25, an arson attack at the Egyptian Railways Authority gutted several floors of the government building. Witnesses reported they had seen men on motorcycles fleeing the scene. On the same night, another downtown arson attack set off a powerful explosion when a gas tank is believed to have ignited, rocking buildings several blocks away.
Calming the waters around Port Said
While violent tactics are increasing in Cairo, however, elsewhere in Egypt a new tactic of choice for confronting the state is emerging. Port Said has been synonymous with violence in recent months, with President Morsi even declaring a state of emergency in the region. In the last week or so, however, Port Said has also switched to a new strategy: civil disobedience.
Media reports suggest that 10,000 people participated in a general strike which ground factories to a close across the city. A number of city officials, teachers, and many of their pupils also joined in the industrial action. While operation of the Suez Canal remains unaffected, there have also been attempts to block access to the railway and Port Said’s harbour – one of the largest on the Mediterranean.
“The recent violence in Port Said is portrayed in the state media in a way that is critical of the people of Port Said”, Max, a pharmacist who has been active in the strikes, told Think Africa Press. “We are portrayed as terrorists who throw Molotov cocktails and stones at the police. Thus, we have changed our tactics to organise action in order to improve our image and attract attention to the fact that there has been no justice for the people of Port Said following the verdict in the stadium riot case.”
The April 6 Movement – arguably Egypt’s most organised opposition group – has been inspired by the example of Port Said and is active in the Canal cities, where it hopes to spread the civil disobedience further. On February 19, the bakeries division of the Ismailia Chamber of Commerce announced it would join the strikers in March.
However, it may be difficult for civil disobedience to broaden out across the country. “While I see messages of support online from Cairo, Alexandria and the other Canal cities, I know it will be difficult to spread civil disobedience there because the people here are primarily inspired by the recent verdict”, said Max.
Indeed, attempts to export these tactics have led to mixed results. Recent efforts by protesters to shut down Cairo’s Sadat metro station – which lies immediately under Tahrir Square – led to fistfights between youths and commuters. Other travellers simply peered down the empty metro tunnels in the direction they were headed, before stepping off the platform, following the tracks into the darkness.
Nevertheless, while Egyptians wait to see how President Morsi can come up with ways to calm the streets in both Cairo and the Canal cities, there is no doubt his opponents’ tactics will continue to evolve.
Presse contre-révolutionnaire (Joseph Hammond, Think Africa Press, 5 mars 2013)
Black Bloc and ‘Hooligans’ to head to Nile Delta city to ‘avenge’
Opposition groups Black Bloc and The Hooligans warn they will escalate their tactics; plan to travel to Mansoura to protect protesters and avenge those killed in police-protester clashes
Radical opposition groups ‘Black Bloc’ and The ‘Hooligans’ announce they will head to Mansoura city in the Nile Delta where clashes have intensified between protesters and Egyptian police.
Some of the Delta cities including Mansoura are into their sixth day of civil disobedience to protest against President Mohamed Morsi, which has escalated to clashes with police, leaving one dead and dozens injured in the early hours of Saturday morning.
A statement on several Facebook pages under the opposition groups’ names reads that they will go to Mansoura on Saturday « not [to participate] in a civil disobedience, but to protect [people’s] blood and avenge the bodies that were dragged on the ground.
« We promise you that you will see a different [approach] from us… but you are the ones who forced us [into this]. »
« You will see among us youth who will go to death, like you rush for life; for us martyrdom is sacred… Wait for [our anarchy] soon, » they warned.
The Black Bloc first appeared in January as a radical opposition group of young protesters on the second anniversary of the January 25 Revolution.
They participated in anti-government demonstrations and were known for blocking roadways and metro lines.
At one point, Prosecutor-General Talaat Abdallah ordered the arrest of members of the group as part of the investigations on « sabotage, rioting and intimidation of citizens. »
The clashes broke out in Mansoura after riot police reportedly fired tear gas at protesters at the Daqahliya governorate headquarters.
The calls for civil disobedience have led to protests and clashes in Egypt’s Suez Canal cities, Port Said, Ismailia and Suez and recently the Delta cities of Mahallah and Mansoura.
Presse contre-révolutionnaire (Ahram Online, 2 mars 2013)