Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1133, 31 Jan - 6 Feb 2013
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1133, 31 Jan - 6 Feb 2013

Ahram Weekly

Behind the mask

Ahmed Morsy talks to a member of the Black Bloc

Al-Ahram Weekly

“The regime will not enjoy a moment of rest till we achieve retribution for the martyrs. Otherwise, we will topple it,” a member of the Black Bloc told Al-Ahram Weekly. Dressed from head to toe in black, face covered with a bandanna, he added: “The revolution has been peaceful for two years to no avail. We are turning it violent now.”
The Black Bloc first appeared in Tahrir Square on 24 January. It has since excited a frenzy of media speculation as members popped up across the country. Mostly young, some are anarchists, others football Ultras. But while both groups have been a presence throughout the revolution, the Black Bloc has declared itself a discreet entity.
“We are a new revolutionary group, not affiliated to any political party or movement and we have no religious background as some have claimed,” said one member.
“We don’t have a founder or a spokesman. Each member of our group gathers in a pre-arranged place before heading to their destination. Each member should have a weapon,” he added.
“We formed in reaction to the existence of the Muslim Brotherhood’s military wing. We warn the Muslim Brotherhood never again to use their armed militias against protesters as they did outside the presidential palace last December.”
The Black Bloc claims to have cells in several governorates, each numbering around 25. Members are discouraged from speaking to the media, and are required not to disclose their identity.
A video entitled “Black Bloc Egypt” has appeared on YouTube. It provides instructions on the preparation of explosive devices, smoke bombs and other weapons.
The group has claimed responsibility for setting fire to the downtown offices of Ikhwan Online and several of the Muslim Brotherhood’s provincial headquarters. They have also blocked the 6 October bridge and Cairo Metro more than once.
“We have been striving for years to liberate people… we will demolish corruption and topple the tyrant,” they said in their video. “We are not Ultras, we are not anyone,” reads one of their statements.
On Sunday Al-Tahrir satellite channel hosted two members of the Black Bloc. However, the group’s Facebook page announced that the group has no official representatives.
The term “Black Bloc” has been used for years in Europe and the United States to describe the tactics used by anarchists and anti-capitalists during large-scale political demonstrations that regularly turn into street fights with the authorities. It was first used in Germany in the 1970s to refer to a group of anarchists, and was loosely applied during the anti-World Trade Organisation protests in Seattle in 1999 and the G20 summit in Toronto in 2010. The Egyptian Black Bloc, however, insists it has no connection to any international movement.
Members typically dress in black to make it difficult for witnesses to differentiate between them. They often blend in larger groups of protesters then break away, linking arms as they rush down streets.
Claims that the group is the armed wing of a Coptic movement, the Theban Battalion, made by Ikhwan Online, have been denounced by members as yet another of the Muslim Brotherhood’s attempts to incite sectarian strife. The Brotherhood’s website also named Sherif Al-Serfi, a Christian activist, as the Black Bloc’s founder, and claimed the group targeted and killed members of the Muslim Brotherhood during the December clashes at the presidential palace.
All such claims, say Coptic spokesmen, are erroneous.
Bishop Morcos, who heads the Coptic Church’s Media Committee, said the Church knows nothing of the group, while Naguib Gabriel, an adviser to the Orthodox Church, points out that far from being an armed militia the Theban Battalion is the name of a Coptic newspaper headed by Mathias Nasser, a priest.
Gabriel has threatened to file a lawsuit against Ikhwan Online for publishing false and misleading news seeking to incite strife between Muslims and Christians, according to Al-Watan independent newspaper.
Khaled Al-Masri, a lawyer, has demanded Prosecutor-General Talaat Abdallah investigate the group which, he says, is seeking to form armed militias in order to spread chaos. Al-Masri’s petition includes demands that former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi and his campaign manager, Sherif Ashraf, be investigated over what he alleges are connections to the group. He also claims to be in possession of photographs that show Mathias Nasser, priest of the Church of Ezbet Al-Nakhl and editor of the Theban Battalion newspaper, alongside members of the Black Bloc.
“[Are the Black Bloc] anarchist revolutionaries or 18-year-old youths who live with their moms and wear black masks thinking life is a video game?” activist Adel Abdel-Ghaffar asked on Twitter.
“The formation of a group like the Black Bloc is a natural result of events in Egypt,” argues activist and blogger Bassem Sabri. “I expect more groups like it appear, which worries me.”
High profile activist Gigi Ibrahim believes “the Black Bloc will make trouble even if its members have good revolutionary intentions. It will definitely be used against the revolution.”
“Black Bloc refers to a street protest tactic not a group/militia. Yet in Egypt many talk about them as if they’re a group,” columnist and activist Mona Al-Tahawi, wrote on her Twitter account. “Black Bloc is a good tactic but we still lack a vision.”
“Investigations are underway to monitor these elements, find out their inciting figures and funding sources. Such investigations will determine how we will deal with them,” a source within the Interior Ministry told the Weekly.
“Should one of them be detained we will announce the fact only after investigations are complete.”
In a later development, the prosecutor-general on Tuesday accused the group of terrorism and ordered their arrest.

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