If politics makes for strange bedfellows, then it’s anybody’s guess what who waking up next to whom in Cairo these days. Cloudbursts of tear gas hang low over a third day of violent protest, where political activists, Islamists and a unique brand of Egyptian soccer hooligan known as “the Ultras Awlawy” have battled the state’s Central Security Forces (CSF) — a paramilitary force supervised by the parochial Ministry of the Interior.
According to the Health Ministry, 23 people have been killed and more than 1,500 injured during reinvigorated protest movement that has prompted suggestions that Cairo may be cresting on the verge another revolutionary wave. The CSF have assumed the role of state-sanctioned head-crackers, and they seem to enjoy their work.
In more peaceful times, the CSF protected embassies and public infrastructure, while assisting with traffic direction and crowd control. Since their formation in 1977, the organization has swollen to 300,000 members following Mubarak’s emergence as dictator-in-chief. The government had hoped that the CSF would counterbalance the conscription military’s people power, but the force never served such a function.
That is, until now.
During the excitement that followed the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak back in February, Egyptian protesters cheered the military as it took control. “The army and the people are [united in] one hand,” they cheered. Soldiers were handed flowers as they pulled children onto their tanks to pose for photographs.
But the CSF cannot be understood as anything resembling “people’s army.” Rather, they’ve demonstrated they’re the hammer swung by the ruling military cabal.
In media res, three American students studying at the American University in Cairo injected themselves into the fray…and found themselves detained, and publicly accused on state-controlled television of destabilizing military order.
However amateurish, their experience is informative. This isn’t our revolution. When soccer hooligans are pitting themselves against shadowy paramilitaries and political cabinets resign bi-annually, it’s clear that there are forces at play in Egypt that we cannot be expected to understand or wrangle, effectively.
After securing the release of these slapdash revolutionaries (who really ought to have kept their noses buried in the books) it’s important that the administration maintain a low-profile. Having witnessed the Arab protest movement firsthand, I can assure you that simmering antipathy for American meddling is at an all-time high.
Of course, we all want to see liberal, democratic candidates emerge victorious in free and fair elections that marginalize Islamist forces. But as this Arab Spring v2.0 heats up, we’d be wise to engage it unobtrusively.
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