Black Bloc Emerges in Egypt, Escalates Street Riots
(MintPress) – As thousands of Egyptians continue to riot against President Muhammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in Port Said and other cities across Egypt, protests have begun to take on a new, more confrontational approach with the emergence of Black Bloc tactics challenging Egyptian security forces.
Despite calling a state of emergency last month, more than 60 people have been killed as Morsi’s government tries to restore a semblance of calm across the country.
The latest round of rioting began in the impoverished city of Port Said when an Egyptian court delivered a death sentence against 21 people in a case of deadly soccer rioting last year.
The recent emergence of the Black Bloc, an anarchist group previously involved in violent protests in North America and Europe, has signalled an escalation in the violence across Egypt.
The Egyptian Black Bloc first appeared in late January, warning President Muhammad Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood against using its “military wing” to crush protests. The group warned that it would “go down to the streets and never come back,” if Morsi’s government didn’t allow protesters to demonstrate against government policies.
Historically, Black Bloc has appeared during major protests, most recently infiltrating peaceful Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011 and protests at the Republican National Convention in 2012, turning them more confrontational and violent as they challenged police. Members typically wear all black and have used destruction of public and private property as a means to protest government policies.
Black Bloc in Egypt appears to follow this same pattern, with their facebook page claiming more than 66,000 members.
Egypt’s Black Bloc has already claimed responsibility for attacks on the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood and a fast-food chain known to be owned by the Muslim Brotherhood. Police brutality and violent suppression of street demonstrations remains a source of anger for thousands of protesters all over the country.
Protests hit a fever pitch last week after a video surfaced showing police assaulting a nude protester named Hamda Saber outside the presidential palace in Cairo Friday. The protester later claimed that fellow demonstrators beat him, a statement that contradicts the footage released this week. Individuals close to Saber believe the statement was coerced under police threats.
It is unclear how many have taken to the streets in recent days. However, protests are clearly widespread as local sources report “thousands” demonstrating in Port Said, Alexandria and Cairo.
While the court’s conviction may have sparked the latest round of violent protests, many suspect that there may be other underlying causes. Levels of unemployment and poverty remain elevated since Morsi’s historic win as the first democratically-elected head of state in Egypt’s history. Just over half of young Egyptians are living in poverty, according to Egypt’s Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics.
At times, Morsi has drawn the ire of millions for making unilateral decrees that harken back to the hegemonic rule of his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak. Morsi issued a presidential decree in November, temporarily suspending democratic rule of law by granting his office sweeping powers. The decree was later annulled after widespread national opposition.
Morsi’s government has tried to present an organized front to the press, assuaging fears of security breakdowns and political disunity in Egypt.
One important test will come this week as the The North African state prepares to host a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).The meeting will bring together representatives from dozens of majority Muslim states Wednesday for meetings regarding trade and security.
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