Written by Ashraf Ramelah
Egypt's Black Bloc grew out of their struggle for liberation from an authoritarian system, only after non-violent civil efforts had failed. Ironically, the U.S. Black Bloc and Egypt's Black Bloc are on opposite sides of the political struggle – one, in the U.S., a friend to the Muslim Brotherhood and doubtless trying to gain prestige through their nominal association with international fighters; the other, in Egypt, an enemy to the Brotherhood, and fighting for democracy and legitimate government.
Clad in black, faceless in black ski masks, the nameless Black Bloc soldiers lock arms to create a human shield in defense of pro-freedom protesters -- the Black Bloc's number-one priority -- in the streets and squares of Egypt. Expert in martial arts and ostensibly military-trained, Black Bloc warriors only recently surfaced in Egypt to safeguard fellow freedom-fighters from their arch-enemies, the foes of democracy: President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood-Hamas militia.
Originating out of a plan to protect women protesters from sexual assault, this huge band of men and women numbering in the thousands (the exact number is not known) form a dedicated and determined corps of combatants divided into local groups of 30-50 individuals in Egypt's communities. Self-described as "anti-Muslim-Brotherhood," and generated out of disgust toward years of police and military brutality, the Black Bloc is, for modern Egypt, a completely new phenomenon.
As participants in this well-organized system for safety and preservation, the secret members of the "elite" Black Bloc guard first appeared in the streets of Cairo this January, when revolutionaries commemorated their two-year anniversary with protests in Tahrir Square. Now everywhere the Egyptian opposition stages protests, the rank-and-file Black Bloc, whose leaders remain unknown to them, dutifully move in to police the area on behalf of fellow protesters.
Deemed "terrorists" and "outlaws" by the Morsi regime, the shadowy Zorro-like heroes refer to their network as the "United Ghosts Revolution" and represent a just cause in the ongoing rebellion against Egypt's Islamist government. The Black Bloc mission is to ensure that no more assaults, kidnappings, and torture occur from Morsi's security forces [the Muslim Brotherhood militia] and so-called law enforcement, and that a "camel gazwa," [invading crowds on galloping camels] as in the early days of the revolt, never takes place again. Many Black Bloc members carry firearms, most likely acquired through the illegal networks smuggling weapons from Libya and Gaza.
If the best defense is a good offense, the forceful Black Bloc has aggressively expanded its scope beyond the scene of gathered protesters and their protection. With a physical presence in more than eight cities across Egypt, the anonymous soldiers have claimed responsibility for ransacking at least eight separate Muslim Brotherhood Freedom and Justice Party offices.
At first, the shrouded Black Bloc raised the fears; the public saw them as terrorists. This wrong impression, however, was soon dispelled as their image as guardians took shape. Appearing first in the social media, the Black Bloc now has the moral support of more than 57,000 Facebook members for the purpose of countering Islamic supremacy and brutality.
Their core concern is to facilitate the pursuit of Western-style democracy. Its members claim no affiliation with existing political parties, as the group states that it "aims only to stand against the Muslim Brotherhood and any group exploiting religion to achieve political goals." As pro-democracy secularists using slogans such as, "Our mess prevents chaos" and, "We are confusion that prevents confusion," their challenge to the Muslim Brotherhood has prompted a new crackdown by President Morsi and his Prime Minister, Hasham Kandil. The state now targets opposition protesters who wear black, tracking those who do and conducting investigations. By mid-February, Morsi began arresting members of Black Bloc and its sympathizers.
Running under the banner of "Allah, Country, Revolution," the "outlaws" have been accused by Islamists of having Israeli backing and connections to Western funding. Further, rumors charge them with burning the rear building of the scientific complex in Cairo, and of involvement in attacks upon city infrastructure, including damaging government buildings, paralyzing traffic, and obstructing subway transportation. The Black Bloc flatly denies participation in these crimes and blames the Muslim Brotherhood for tarnishing their image and credibility.
The group does fully admit, however, to targeting Brotherhood locations in the following Cairo incidents: burning the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in the Sixth October area, storming the media offices of "Brothers Online," torching the Freedom and Justice Party newspaper headquarters and targeting more than one Moomen[Believer] Brotherhood-owned restaurant.
In keeping with their mission statement, Egypt's Black Bloc members claim they have nothing against state institutions per se, "but against control by a particular system, the supremacy of a certain group." They further contend that "the best thing is to hit the existing system and its economy by sabotaging the system's institutions and not ones belonging to the public." Despite this, a U.S. "Black Bloc" attempts to connect its mission against America and governmental power structures to the cause of Egypt's Black Bloc.
Egypt's Black Bloc grew out of the chaos of President Morsi's actions, which necessitated a course correction – such as the use of security, weaponry and attacks -- for freedom-fighters in their struggle for liberation from an authoritarian system. Although tactics similar to the U.S. Black Bloc anarchists are used, Egypt's fighters do not seek anarchism. Furthermore, the Shariah religious state is contrary to the western democratic state, and the roles of their respective revolts find their meaning and identity by way of the system they fight, not the tactics and strategies they use.
U.S. Black Bloc vandalism is class-warfare, a staple of the progressive political agenda of some in America who opportunistically seem to have intertwined themselves with Muslim Brotherhood goals. While actions by the U.S. Black Bloc ultimately favor the short-term goals of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's Black Bloc interrupts the Muslim Brotherhood's power structure with material and moral losses. Ironically, the U.S. Black Bloc and Egypt's Black Bloc are on opposite sides of the political struggle – the one in the U.S. a friend to the Muslim Brotherhood; the other, in Egypt, an enemy to the Brotherhood.
Nonetheless, the U.S. Black Bloc has appealed to Egypt's Black Bloc in a Feb 9th open letter to initiate intercontinental dialogue. The naive U.S. Black Bloc views tactics and strategies on YouTube and mistakes them for "consensus" – then seeks the thrill of joining hands with Egyptians, and using these tactics as a more "generalized revolt." They are hardly, as the letter suggests, fighting the same "stable power structure." Egypt's revolt reached the point of violence only after non-violent civil efforts failed and were no longer an option for achieving democracy.
The U.S. Black Bloc members, in advancing their "project of revolt," are doubtless trying to gain prestige through their nominal association with international fighters, and probably see their dream being "enacted spontaneously" in a full-fledged, high-stakes revolt on the brink of civil war in Egypt. The Egyptian freedom-fighters, on the contrary, aim unequivocally for democracy and legitimate government. "We want to take the struggle out of the hands of political parties entirely," states the U.S. Black Bloc; but Egypt's Black Bloc struggles with the hope of the rise of new political leadership and a real democratic party.
The U.S. Black Bloc, according to its letter to Egypt, wishes to have the Muslim Brotherhood in governments around the world, to "clarify" the global power structure and then assert Black Bloc tactics uniformly worldwide to defeat the state. Egypt's revolutionaries, fighting for freedom within the heart of political Islam, would not take any chance with such a sinister plan.
Ashraf Ramelah is on the Advisory Board of SION (Stop Islamization of Nations) and president of Voice of the Copts, a human rights organization. In 2010, VOTC sued the Mubarak regime, which refused to change the religious ID card of a Muslim convert to Christianity.