Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1177, (19 December 2013 - 1 January 2014)
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1177, (19 December 2013 - 1 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Vicious circle

Violent demonstrations were an ongoing feature of the last 12 months. Ahmed Morsy asks why protests that began peacefully so often ended in clashes

Egypt
Egypt
Al-Ahram Weekly

Street demonstrations that end in violent confrontation have become routine since 2011. Beside the exacerbating state of chaos already prevailing violent protests threaten to derail the foundation of post-revolution state institutions and weaken an already battered economy.

There have been traumatic events during 2013. The year witnessed violent confrontations not only between police forces and protesters but between opposing protesters. In a number of cases bystanders have clashed with pro-Morsi demonstrators.

“Violence is infectious. It can be transmitted from one to another. People who took part in two revolutions and are frustrated by the non-appearance of results are particularly susceptible,” says Samia Khedr, professor of sociology at Ain Shams University.

“The media, to some extent, has helped fan an aggressive atmosphere and fed a mob mentality. Broadcasting violent street scenes can adversely affect the public. For the person watching such events on TV there is always a chance that he or she can be traumatised.”

Protesters are far from homogeneous. Demonstrations attract more than their share of thugs and vandals. There are petty criminals who ply their trade on the edge of protests, seeing any disturbance caused as an opportunity. And there is the rent-a-crowd, the hired mob paid to foment disorder. A growing number of protesters are also willing to resort to violence to press their demands. Add to this mix the all too likely possibility that demonstrations will be met with violence from the police and the situation becomes extremely volatile.

“Protesters may find anger a means of understanding. The revolutionary spirit stirs high levels of emotion, frustration and anger as demands are being expressed. It can also feed a spirit of revenge,” says consultant psychiatrist Ahmed Al-Beheiri.

Confrontations between pro- and anti-Muslim Brotherhood protesters, sectarian violence and terrorist attacks in Sinai have all increased over the past year, contributing to a pervasive atmosphere of violence.

On 24 January the anarchist group the Black Bloc announced its existence in Tahrir Square. Dressed head to toe in black and wearing masks, they have been accused of acts of sabotage. Their tactics involve burning tyres, blocking highways and disrupting public services. 

At that time, the group was protesting against the Muslim Brotherhood’s regime since it failed to meet the revolution’s demands including retribution for the martyrs. “The revolution has been peaceful for two years to no avail. We are turning it violent now,” the group announced. In addition to havoc wreaked in the streets, the group attacked the offices of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.

“The suppression of emotions can also lead to violence,” says Al-Beheiri, a former chairman of the Abbasiya Psychiatric Hospital. “Depression and emotional disorders can act as triggers.”

Following the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi on 3 July his supporters were widely blamed for the prevalence of violence on Egypt’s streets as well as a growing number of terrorist operations targeting churches, police stations and state institutions.

“Egypt faces great challenges in confronting terrorism,” Major General Hani Abdel-Latif, Interior Ministry spokesperson, told Al-Ahram Weekly. “The international arm of the Muslim Brotherhood has not yet given up its battle against the 30 June Revolution and refuses to recognise the new dispensation that has emerged.”

“Given this background increased violence during protests, especially during Brotherhood demonstrations, it will be expected. Their refusal to recognise the status quo is expressed in the adoption of any tactics they think will disrupt the roadmap imposed on 3 July. They are convinced that adopting violence will help achieve their plans.”

Egyptians have never been so polarised. The gap between the new regime and pro-Morsi supporters has become a yawning chasm in the last five months.

Mohamed Samir, a 30-year-old pharmacist, often takes part in protests calling for the reinstatement of Morsi. “We protest peacefully to express our demands and reject of the military coup. Yet we are met with force by the police, who killed more than 1,000 people in August when they dispersed pro-legitimacy sit-ins in Rabaa Al-Adaweya and Nahda Square.”

“We are being killed, jailed and oppressed. Yet the media calls us violent and says we are terrorists.”

A study by the NGO Safer World points out to violent confrontations with security forces during demonstrations, which have resulted in hundreds of deaths, has eroded any trust between the police and protesters.

“Following decades of focus on regime survival at the expense of public service official security provision in Egypt, as well as levels of trust in the security forces, are negligible. The legacy of past abuses, the use of torture against criminals, the poor, young people, political opponents and a broad range of other ‘suspect’ populations over the past decades has ruptured any bond of trust,” says the report.

Political analyst Mustafa Kamel Al-Sayed argues that political solutions are urgently needed “to calm down the street”. 

“There is suspicion between protesters and the police. Security solutions alone will worsen the situation rather than improve it. Political solutions are the only way ahead.”

It is too optimistic, says Al-Beheiri, to hope for an end to all the causes of violence, though one can realistically hope to foster “greater tolerance, forgiveness and patience”.

“We must learn to discuss opinions rationally. People need to express their opinions maturely and participate with others in searching for solutions and compromises rather than allowing disputes to descend into violence.”

 

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