After being pushed out by force, and following the arrest of hundreds of protesters at the Ministry of Defense sit-in last Friday, I was shocked to see the negative reaction by pro-revolution activists. It felt like SCAF had successfully infiltrated dozens of twitter accounts. I couldn’t help but feel disturbed that the majority of those opposing the MOD sit-in had never in fact been there. Sounds surprisingly similar to how apathetic Egyptians develop negative sentiments towards the revolutionary movement without ever coming into contact with it.
I speak as an individual who was very supportive of the sit-in, expressing the compassion through regular visits, and experiencing the clashes with the army and thugs from start to finish. I hereby give you the list of the sexiest seven pointers built on falsehood that were unfortunately sold to many revolutionaries.
- It was an Islamist sit-in
Following the frustration of their candidate’s disqualification, a group of Salafis, some of which dub themselves ‘Hazemoon’, took Tahrir square in protest. As many are well aware of, very little can now be gained from Tahrir sit-ins and therefore the small group marched towards the Court of Justice a few blocks away downtown. By then, their chants were against SCAF and therefore, quiet naturally, attracted many of those in the neighborhood to join. Later, they decided to take it upon themselves and march all the way to the Ministry of Defense where they would be able to directly protest against the leaders of the counterrevolutionary forces.
By the time the march got to MOD, the dynamics had been changed. The original Islamists were diluted, those who did not want to face SCAF were weeded out, and many of those ready to pounce on any revolutionary opportunity were already on board. In fact, April 6th movement and the Revolutionary Socialists had officially declared support by April 28th. If that’s not enough, only days into the sit-in, Hazem Salah Abou Ismail distanced himself from those taking part.
Moreover, and much more importantly, by the time the clashes against the hired thugs took place, bearded men (for lack of a better indicator of who are Salafis and who are not) only made up 30-40% of the people there – and that percentage dropped the following night as the numbers grew. Not to mention that some of them might not be Islamists to start with, but even if we were to take the Islamophobic approach and superficially count heads, then the Islamists of all sects were a significant minority at best.
Those who claim otherwise have obviously never been.
- The protesters were armed
I have spoken with dozens of people at the sit-in right after the clashes with SCAF’s thugs, and while some assured me that there were armed Islamists at the time of battle, not a single person has seen it himself or herself. It’s shocking. So many of those around me were sure of armed protesters, yes that majority have never even been to the sit-in, and those who have, none have seen anything indicative first-hand.
If we were to gather rumors and consolidate it into inaccurate information that would still be assumed legit, then it seems that, at the height of the fight near Nour mosque, at roughly 2am, and following the news that a handful were already killed, a small group of bearded men pulled up in a car of their own and took matters personally. Perhaps three to five in total were carrying arms and engaged in battle. By 3am at most, they had disappeared. No one saw them, but you know what people say about what others say: facts.
Even if we were to assume that this scene did take place, it is till not an armed protest. The sit-in was peaceful from start to finish. It was tense, fights broke out, there was a wave of paranoia, but it wasn’t violent. Following the clashes early Wednesday morning, and for a period of about 4 – 6 hours, there were a group of bearded men ‘investigating’ some ‘suspects’ and going as far as punishing them. It was disgusting. It was sad. But it was in no way an armed encounter. Even that tension was quickly released and by the time I returned Wednesday night, the Tahrir vibes were in the air. It was beautiful to see people debating and arguing on every corner, tens of thousands roaming, and a truly diverse group of revolutionaries from every part of the political spectrum (except for the Muslim Brotherhood, of course).
- The Abbaseyya residents hated the protesters
How many of those making the claims spoke with anyone, whether the residents of Abbaseyya, or the protesters who were actively part of the sit-in?
On the very first night there were small clashes by Nour mosque, and some Abbaseyya residents were involved – that much is true. However, shortly after, a few of them visited the sit-in and spoke with the protesters. It was necessary to clarify a lot of misunderstandings. SCAF had successfully launched an intensive media war that had even the revolutionaries falling for it.
That’s not to say that the Abbaseyya residents loved us. But just like some were against, some were supportive. The majority couldn’t care less and just wanted to get on with their lives, and the sit-in only got in their way when the thugs attacked pulling out the protesters by Nour mosque and the edge of the Abbaseyya neighborhood. Otherwise the protesters were tucked in the large stretch starting from the small tunnel (the entrance), all the way to the barbed wire in front of the army personnel.
The area where the people camped out and sang songs had no shops, no intersections, no residential building, and nothing that could in anyway clog the production wheel.
Friday afternoon, as we were being chased by the army and ambushed by their thugs, hundreds of us took the narrow streets throughout Abbaseyya (near the cathedral), and thrown at us were water bottles, juice boxes (even though there were kiosks to buy from), and salutes accompanied with smiles. Those ‘thugs’ obviously ‘hate us’.
- It was dangerous for anyone to take part
When was it not? If you and two of your friends are in a public space, you’re breaking the law. If you’re holding up a sign that doesn’t freshen up Tantawi and co, you’re at risk of being detained. The risk factor at the MOD sit-in was in no way higher than any other protest confronting the army.
The difference this time around was that the assumption that with a high presence on a Friday afternoon you’re safe from any military force was flawed. This was not the first time, nor will it be the last, that the army aggressively and violently deal with tens of thousands of peaceful protesters with legit demands. That’s what revolutions are made of.
- Some of the protesters wanted to break into the Ministry of Defense
Very true. We also charged 50 euros and settled for no less than two KFC meals daily.
The Ministry of Defense is a large complex with dozens of building. The barbed wire, backed by a couple of hundreds army personnel, was so far out, you couldn’t even see sky high walls surrounding the ministry. No one was interested in ‘breaking in’ or getting anywhere near it. The people, with all sorts of backgrounds, were fed up with SCAF’s rule and wanted to send a direct message to the enemy of the revolution. Claiming that an ‘infiltrated’ bunch had other plans is speaking on behalf of Channel 1. And we already have Channel 1.
- No gains were made
This defeatist approach is beyond me. Since the referendum in March of last year, the revolutionary forces were devoid of any Islamist presence who were dragged by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi Sheikhs onto the counterrevolutionary platform. Now, some of the Salafis are coming on board with the fight against SCAF. They’ve politically matured, and gained enough awareness to be a threat, no only for SCAF, but also for their leaders who have long benefited from manipulating them.
I am proud to see ‘bearded’ men and women with niqabs stand by me side by side as we receive rocks launched at us from the military police. Just like the stones do not differentiate between us, neither should we. Yes we might have different approaches to everyday things. Yes we have separate ideologies. But that’s the beauty of it. We have different future plans, but our path is one and the same: the revolution.
If that’s not a major gain, then I have no idea why we’re still partaking in this revolution.
- It was an overall failure
The sit-in was in nobody’s way except for SCAF, we’ve recruited Islamist revolutionaries who strengthened us and weakened the counterrevolutionary forces. We got the entire country talking about the sit-in and even the media have refrained from asking people to sit at home like they used to, and now say that we should only protest in Tahrir.
The Abbaseyya sit-in is only a failure to those who are clueless about it. What better way to be misinformed than make judgements based on the propaganda machine of the very entity you’re fighting against? It was SCAF that kicked us out by force, and they didn’t do it because they have free time on their hands. They did it because they were scared. The very thought that the revolutionaries would occupy a free space in the hart of Cairo that is an exclusive property of the Armed Forces is something that would keep the generals up at night. There were times when we spent weeks in Tahrir and SCAF left us implode. This time, they were fully aware of the threat.
And so are we. That’s why we’ll be back very soon.
The next time you make an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’ I’ll be sure to tune in to Egyptian public radio and believe everything they say against the revolution. That would surely benefit us all.
Or we can take the easy way out and get off our couches and take the streets to see what people are saying and why. You might fully disagree after that, but at least you’ll know what you’re talking about.