The sad events of tonight will hopefully bury that relatively misguided phrase الجيش و الشعب أيد واحدة, “the people and the army are one hand” and reveal that the true nature of the situation in Egypt is better described as الخيش و الشرطة أيد واحدة “the army and the police are one hand.” A group of several hundred peaceful protestors, attempting to stay the night in Tahrir square and in front of the People’s Assembly to protest continued military rule and the persistence of the old regime’s illegitimate presence in government, were violently attacked and driven away by Military Police, Army officers and commandos wearing balaclavas and wielding sub-machine guns. One protestor, taken inside of the People’s Assembly building by army officers and beaten, was told bluntly “don’t fuck with the army.”
The victims of this assault were the committed remnants of an earlier protest of thousands in front of the square, whose numbers were perhaps artificially low since the army had kettled those already camped out and prevented others from joining them. These would-be demonstrators were quickly and unflinchingly attacked by military police and army soldiers using nightsticks and cattle prods, beating and shocking them until they were forced to scatter. Many people were abducted, including Shady al Ghazali Harb and one ‘foreign’ journalist who was taken away early (whereabouts currently unkown). Many more people were injured to varying degrees, some quite seriously, including several people passing out from the voltage of the stun batons; some of the injured required treatment at hospital.
The putative excuse for this assault was that protestors were in violation of curfew; aside from a curfew violation not justifying extreme physical violence without warning, this is effectively the same curfew that was flaunted without consequence throughout the entire initial sequence of this revoultion. The army, since taking control over the executive, has been increasingly strict (read: arbitrary, violent) in its enforcement of the curfew, seemingly in order to prevent sit-ins and other nighttime demonstrations. We saw no property damage or other violence during curfew hours in previous weeks (except that perpetrated by government-hired thugs), and so the presumption that this is “for our own protection” is a farce that hardly warrants discussion. Collective punishment, an air of anxiety, and the disruption of continued control and presence of key protest sites are the only observable motives of this curfew.
The greater point, however, which comes as no surprise to most involved in this revolution, is that the army is no friend of the people. This institution is as much a part of the regime as any other, representing not just the same entrenched military-political elite that have ruled Egypt for 60 years, but also enormous and substantial business interests that benefit from preferential treatment and systemic corruption. There has been little doubt in anyone’s mind that the army’s preference would be to maintain most of the country’s infrastructure (police and political) just as it was before, while placating the people telling them that it was their ally and guardian. And yet, and yet, we see the same violence directed at citizens here that we have seen in the hands of police (and only a day after a police officer shot a microbus driver during a verbal argument in the street). The army has shown its bloody hand, and the only hope is that the news of this will spread fast enough that people can realize their complicity and duplicity before any more blood need be spilled.
This remains a regime and a system which has been trained and taught to regard people as a threat to their continued privilege and prosperity, who in the name of stability create chaos, pain and anxiety for anyone who would seek to be present in public, to voice an opinion or seek after their long-lost rights. Whatever expectations the Egyptian people may have had from the army, and whatever the army may have done by way of protecting civilians during the early weeks of protest (as they did somewhat, but not enough) should be meaningless now. Now in the seat of power, they display the same callous paternalism and heavy hand that the old figureheads of the regime did, and whether this is their desire or this is simply the machine controlling its operator, serious structural and institutional change is the only possible acceptable outcome.
Out with the army, out with the police, out with the old regime. All one hand, all working together to drive the Egyptian people into despair, subjection and quiescence. We, however, have had a taste of the immediacy of freedom and will neither be placated by the gifts of the state nor cowed by its criminal, unacceptable violence