A ‘Black Bloc’ Emerges in Egypt

From NY Times (blog) - By Colin Moynihan

While using Twitter to narrate events in Tahrir Square on Friday, people in Egypt described tires burning in the street, protesters blocking traffic and hurling rocks, and police officers launching tear gas in an effort to break up crowds that had gathered to protest against the Muslim Brotherhood and the country’s new Islamist president.

Many of the actions described on Friday appeared to hew to a script that has become familiar over the past two years, but some in the crowds of protesters appeared to be using new tactics, dressing from head to toe in black, covering their faces with bandannas or kerchiefs and brandishing black flags as they skirmished with security forces.

“Asked one of them who they are they said we don’t talk to media but we are black bloc,” wrote ‏the British-Egyptian journalist Sarah Carr, adding that a member of the group had “mentioned anarchism.”

An article filed on Thursday by The Associated Press reported the presence of a “previously unknown group calling itself the black block.” The article continued, “Wearing black masks and waving black banners, it warned the Muslim Brotherhood of using its ‘military wing’ to put down protests.”

Although largely new in Cairo, the term “black bloc” has been used for years in the United States and Europe to describe a tactic commonly used by anarchists and anticapitalists during large-scale political demonstrations that occasionally devolve into street fights with the authorities.

Participants in the bloc typically dress in black to foster a sense of unity and to make it difficult for witnesses to differentiate between individuals. Members of the bloc often blend in with larger groups of protesters, then break away, linking arms as they rush down streets.

In the United States, at least, black bloc members usually eschew violence against people but have few compunctions about damaging property.

The tactic received attention during the 1999 protests in Seattle against the World Trade Organization, when youths dressed in black broke windows and spray-painted graffiti on buildings.

In St. Paul, during the 2008 Republican National Convention, black bloc members roamed through the city smashing bank windows and using hammers to batter a police car.

It is unclear whether there are any connections between American and Egyptian black bloc participants, but the site anarchistnews.org posted a message about occurrences in Cairo, quoting the blog Even If Your Voice Shakes.

Last night, anarchism left the graffitied walls, small conversations, and online forums of Egypt, and came to life in Cairo, declaring itself a new force in the ongoing social revolution sparked two years ago with multiple firebombings against Muslim Brotherhood offices. Later, the government shutdown the “Black Blocairo” and “Egyptian Black Bloc” Facebook pages, but they were soon re-launched.

The site went on to say that Egyptian anarchists had firebombed the Shura Council.

As my colleague Robert Mackey reports, an Egyptian journalist, Sarah El Sirgany, wrote on Twitter, “Vendors tell me it was the Black Block group that attempted to storm the Ikhwan Online building sparking the fight.”

Later, she added, “Now those who had continued the fight are heading to Tahrir, flag of Black Block flying high.”

Opinion on the black bloc in Egypt was not united. In a place where sexual assaults and gropings have become common, one Twitter user, Ghazala Irshad ‏@ghazalairshad, seemed to sound an admiring note: “Egypt’s new Black Bloc (self-proclaimed anti-MB militia) has female members too — just saw one running wearing niqab & angle-length skirt.”

But the activist bloggers Gigi Ibrahim ‏and Adel Abdel Ghafar were more skeptical.

This week a man named Ahmed Ibrahim, who has previously posted YouTube videos that appear to be from Egypt, posted a video titled “Black Bloc Egypt.”

Accompanied by driving music the video shows masked people marching while holding aloft black banners, a black flag with an anarchy symbol and an Egyptian flag.

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Comments

The Socialist thinks it's bad for the revolution and the ex-pat professor thinks it's a bunch of kids playing video games. This sounds familiar.

Yeah, total bull. I feel ya. So, wanna grab some coffee or something, as in before the next major clash! My treat!

Meh, this clash, that clash. It's the internet, there's no coffee here.

I'm just amazed that the NYT is reporting this stuff. And amazed that NIMBY is hella a thing in Egypt.

and hella is only a thing in california

Well, if you find yourself around the third or fourth relay router around Amsterdamn, just off the big data center to the west, I hear there's a great restaurant serving nothing but the finest delicatessens the world has to offer using the excess energy of the wasteful data center powering stations.

Not only that, the whole menu is written in hex.

Talk like that must get you almost perpetually laid!

obviously the point! your judgement of character and application to the real world is really impressive.

Was only a thing in CA. And by CA I mean the east bay.

And by only I mean 'not only'

Hella is a thing in upstate NY's Hudson valley

I dedicate this to all the people who said that the black bloc is dead and has no chance of generalizing...

First rule of insurrectionalism: dont seperate yourself from the rest of the anonymous crowd.

Why would you try and stand out in a situation where there is allready a mass rebelion unless, ofcourse, you are trying to sell The Anarchy Party to people? Sorry, but this sounds like a bunch of politicos to me.

"What power fears most is anonymous, generalised rebellion. The media image of the ‘terrorist’ works hand in hand with the police in the defence of social peace. No matter whether the citizen applauds or is scared he is still a citizen, i.e., a spectator."
-ADD

ugh this is probably troll bait, but you know that you don't make rules for anything or anyone, right?

Yeah... I feel what you're saying. In Egypt is there the same level of CCTV surveillance that makes NOT using black bloc very risky? Or could anonymity be just as easily achieved through changing from one set of random clothes to another? What is the point of separating oneself or one's group from the larger group of insurgents? Is the point to publicly introduce Egyptian anarchism? What is the strategic utility? Is this a collective declaration of liberation/distance from traditional Egyptian value systems?

Just some questions...

Oh, and I see someone has answered several below...

Yeh why'd we want to spread anarchist ideas to other ppl rather than hiding in the anonymous crowd, our actions only known to us our friends and the police crime blotter? Crazy huh?

Long live the Egpt BLACK BLOCK!!

Yeah thats right. Focus on the semantics instead of the criticzism.

The commenter "serious critizism" is raising a point that ive heard several folks make since this news came out. I wonder if sometimes its out of just cynicism or contrarianism, eager to burst the bubble of good news coming from cairo, but i think it raises a really good point nonetheless: namely, why form a black bloc to achieve anonymity in a crowd of thousands of already-masked, already-semi-anonymous people who are already willing to attack?

I can think of a few answers, some more deserving of criticism than others...One, the images we see often of thousands of egyptian youth rioting arent fully characteristic, that many of the protests have recently been small or pacified, or heavily surveilled. In that context i can understand a black bloc serving a similar function as to what it attempts to serve in north american and european protest situations - kicking shit off on its own, or in such a way that conflict generailzes with the entire crowd. All the paradoxes and pros and cons that we have with this here would exist there as well.

I can see another reason, the one im leaning toward, that people might use the bloc, even when already surrounded by youth already masking up and fighting back: to establish a clearer political line between such streetfighters and the highly fascist, misogynist muslim brotherhood and Statist liberals that will also send people into the street. Imagine if people saw anarchists masked up in the US and immediately assumed we were christian fundamentalists - what would we do to visibly distinguish ourselves? One can argue that this undermines the primarily tactical funciton of the black bloc of anonymity, and they would be correct, but in the context of egyptian politics right now, our anarchist comrades over there might feel that the symbolism and visible representation of an explicitly anti authoritarian and anti religious current is a more important consideration than anonymity. They may be choosing the bloc for very different reasons than we do. (Though more than our fair share of north american @s seem to choose it at protests for little reason other than identity and aesthetics, also....)

Of course, rendering oneself visibly distinct at protests has numerous disadvantages, from undermining the aforementioned tactical intent of the bloc itself, to more insidious problems like turning streetfighting, conflict, or for that matter anarchist politics into a specialized identity that can be "changed into" and out of like a hoodie with a scarf...Eventually, the anarchists there need to find additional ways of engaging with the public and rendering the anarchist idea visible and present, outside of a just a street aesthetic that has little deep substance.

For me, what is extremely exciting about this development is not the use of the black bloc itself, which in some ways it seems like the egyptian people have already transcended anyway, but rather the presence of an explicitly stated anarchism (black flags, communiques against religion and the state, etc.) that is connected to the streetfighting already going on, as well as internationally tipping its hat to other struggles (greece, the US, etc.). In a country where liberals' democracy has brought a right wing autocratic muslim fundamentalist party to power, one of the only remaining "options" starts to look something like anarchism - so its high time some people already involved in nieghborhood councils, attacking cops and soldiers, and seizing public space claim their politics explicitly. If the black bloc represents for them their best shot at accomplishing that right now, then despite acknowledging the risk of it becoming a mere "identity" or losing its tactical role, i say go for it.

In short? If the bloc comes to be seen as equivilent to anarchism in egypt, then it will have failed, and possibly made the situation worse. But if it is seen as a mere symbol that anarachist ideas, present throughout many aspects of the revolution and capable of being generalized further, are now declaring themselves openly, then the bloc might be able to smash through the current constraints of the Egyptian uprising, and let a little fresh air onto the currently impoverished discourse of liberals, the muslim brotherhood, and old mubarak loyalists. Erecting a new pole of activity and discussion in this context, completely against these other positions and refusing to even dialogue with state forces, would be a tremendous achievement - turning that pole into a specialized protest tactic "owned" by certain youth in certain clothes would be a tremendous disappointment.

u smart

To add a sort of footnote, in response to the ADD quote from the earlier commenter (remaining a citizen, a spectator), form what ive tracked down about the blocs role in the days around the anniversary this past week, it sounds like this was transcended. Others not in the bloc joined in when they were trying tear down barricades surrounding tahrir square, joined in streetfighting, etc. So while its poignant to warn against this, its not necessarily whats going on. Truthfully, as an american who hasnt been to egypt, i have really very little idea how other streetfighters and anti morsi protesters are going to react....As spectators, or as comrades? This bloc is emerging in a place where people are already familiar with the tactics and at least some of the political inclinations - a far cry from trying out the black bloc in a small american town that s never even had a rowdy protest, where its destined, at least for awhile outside of some larger shift in national discourse (occupy...), to be little more than a spectator sport.

There's also the Ultras connection and the possibility that the use of the term black bloc is intentioned to convey a certain idea to Europeans and Americans as Egypt being more militant, and situating their movement there within a wider movement. Or even just grandstanding in a way, although the points you brought up in your previous comments are very important as well.

This.

Words, so many words that no one will read

fuck you, i read them, and welcome the contribution.

the tl;dr attitude, in cases such as this, is for people who dont give a fuck.

i give at least two fucks.

A wild Black Bloc appears!

Black Bloc uses Smashy!

Its Super Effective!

The State uses Harden!

They've increased their defense!

I hope this isn't some kind of joke, or at least is accurate reporting. Some people in the U.S. would really love to see anarchism and black bloc tactics explode all over the middle east. Women are so oppressed there. They could really use some freedom by acting without permission in an organized fashion. It would have to be a social explosion where everybody revolts and not just some flare up that gets put down like Occupy. Egyptian history really shows the potential for a genuine revolt. If we could have revolt we could have anything. We could have total freedom, freedom from religion, freedom from the state, freedom from police and freedom from western capitalist domination destroying lives and the planet it self. With the power of revolt we can have anything we want because when this nightmare ends on nobodies terms but ours, we can aim for the sky and make that the limit to what is possible and how to live. Sound nice? Not quite.

Something tells me, most people are not ready for that and most people would not know how to use it even if they had it. I speak of human corruption. Oh, no. Not the "c" word. Nevertheless, western authority is so global, advance and out of control that anything falling short of total swift rebellion is completely useless to stop the madness of global structural oppression. But people still need to change before we can have any true freedom like as described. People with racist tendencies have to be reformed for mass convergence to work. People with cravings for power have to decide that collective work is better than a life of "I got mine, not go out and get yours" mentality. Greedy people need to see the light and discover that when everyone prospers equally everyone does better.

It's not just the government that needs to be overthrown everywhere but the oppressive mentality of the masses must be overthrown all together. Us humans have to evolve socially/mentally before anarchy is possible. With out any of this happening, it won't work and I'm telling you, it would fall apart like an occupy encampment falling victim to disputes that never get anything done, rapes by rapists and needles everywhere from junkies and fights and murders. Too many problems for self-governance to take place and so we are not ready for self governance. We are not educated and anarchists are not educating anybody but their own base. I wouldn't even say we are ready for education. The general public is not very bright and doesn't want to be educated and would rather live on a coach drinking beer eating potato chips watching football.

The Middle East is not ready. America is not ready. The closet thing to ready on the planet is Greece and even that is not enough. We need more time. Maybe in a hundred years people will learn, If the music is still playing by then.

Definitely not a joke. These folks are refering to themselves as the Black Bloc and are dressing the part.

"I wouldn't even say we are ready for education."

you might want to consider suicide.

OR, individualist acts of revolt. Good luck

In other words, people who say "black bloc anarchists will ruin the revolution" are really saying they don't want freedom and change but more of the same old regime where the old boss is replaced by the boss.

No thanks. I prefer my freedom where no one tells me how to live.

old boss replaced by the NEW boss. -edit

Anarchist carrying a national flag. hmm.

i thought that too but it's not important. they'll eventually give that up.

Yeah, street-fighting tactics proliferate faster than abstract theory. Especially when people are shooting you, go figure!

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