28 December, 2008

Gaza protest: A massive display of genuine anger - and a show of MB-State coordination

As expected there was large demonstrations against the Israeli bombings of Gaza today. Hundreds or thousands, many of them MB-supporters, first gathered outside the parlament after the noon prayer. Later they moved to the doctors syndicate, where the protest grew bigger as more people joined and bystanders joined the chanting.

(Click the picture for a collection of photos from the protest, and see Hossam al-Hamalawys blog for more updates)

The most interesting thing about this demo (at least for someone who has never been at a MB-demo before) was the high degree of coordination between the organizers and the security forces. Despite being in the thousands, the demonstrators basically stood and behaved as the police told them. When one of the demonstrators started chanting "Down with Mubarak!" several others immediatly silenced him, and turned the crowd to less politically dangerous pro-Palestinian and pro-Hamas chants (although later there was also chants against Mubarak, like "hey Mubarak answer now, are you with us or against?" and "hey Mubarak why the silence, are you with them or what?") When the protest moved to the doctors syndicate, the crowds walked there from the parlament under silence, because they were "under orders not to chant" in the streets!

The police ignored or even acted friendly towards journalists and photographers instead of harrassing them like they usually do - probably because for once they wanted us to be there. This might be because the regime is using the "islamist threat" to put pressure on their allies in Washington and Tel Aviv, but more likely it's simply because they wanted to pretend in front of their own people that they allow expressions of anger towards Israel.

Of course this protest was a genuine expression of anger by the participants towards the outrageous agression in Gaza, which continued today and have left towards 300 people dead. But I also got the feeling that more than anything else, it was an attempt to "went some steam" by the state as well as the MB leadership. More people were still joining the protest outside the doctors syndicate, and some of the younger participants was showing signs of restlessness (they wanted to march in the streets of course), when the demo was suddenly dissolved peacefully. This might of course have been because there was a fixed time to start with - but it definitely made it look like the leadership simply didn't want to risk loosing control of the situation.

Returning from the demo, I ran into a group of leftist, nasserist and labour party activists having their own protest on the sidewalk of Qasr el-aini outside the shoura council. Compared to the MB protest there was a huge difference in police behaviour. Even though the number of protestors were not more than 50 by the time I arrived, the central security recruits were in full riot gear, with helmets and sticks, and plain-clothes officers tried to prevent me from taking pictures as usual.

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