Egypt’s Black Bloc —An Exclusive Interview
All afternoon last Thursday, demonstrators in Egypt were tearing chunks from a concrete wall on Cairo’s Qasr Al-Aini Street, hurling the stones at riot police who attempted to disperse them with tear gas. The wall had been built by police to keep such protests contained to Tahrir Square, but now it was providing the protestors with ammunition. Suddenly, two youths wearing black ski masks, black sweatshirts, and matching black Adidas athletic pants sauntered up to the wall, carrying lit Molotov cocktails. The pair moved with an odd air of casualness as they scaled the barrier, hurled their fiery payload at the police, then rejoined the crowd.
The attack was one of the first appearances in Egypt of the Black Bloc, a protest formation, long used by anarchists in Europe and North America, involving the use of black masks and clothing to conceal protesters’ identities and project an image of ominous unity. No Western media groups have been able to talk to Egypt’s black bloc—but on a visit to Cairo last week, we scored an interview.
This new mutation in the protest vocabulary instantly triggered a spiraling debate in the streets, on the Internet, on talk shows and in the pages of Egypt’s politically diverse newspapers. Depending on who you ask, the black bloc is either a serious response to state repression of protests, a violent menace to public order, or an exercise in adolescent silliness.