In Mostafa Mahmoud Square on Tuesday, a roaring man went up to another man and started slapping him across the face.
There was that moment of hesitation as the accosted man processed what was going on. He looked at the woman he was standing with, looked back at his assailant, looked at his assailant’s palm as it struck him again. Then he started slapping his assailant back, and there followed the sort of grappling men who don’t know how to fight engage in, that unedifying spectacle of clothes-pulling and misaimed kicks.
The man who had started the fight was a youth, perhaps in his very early 20s, wearing jeans and a dark hooded top (The international menace of the hoodie!)
He strode up to the couple with a singular sense of purpose and raised his hand to slap the man as if he was about to shake the hand of a long lost friend. As he did this he bellowed, “emshy men hena yebn el metnaka! El balad deih balad 3askar!” [Get out of here, mothafucker, this is the army’s country].
An older man in a baseball cap carrying two empty bottles interceded, at which point it became apparent that the young man was not an impassioned solo lunatic, but part of a gang of lunatics, out to defend the Egyptian army.
Earlier that afternoon a group on Facebook called “I’m sorry, President” had announced that a group of activists planned to “incite against the army” in Mostafa Mahmoud Square and encouraged the residents of Meet 3o2ba (a working class area nearby) to do the necessary.
And this is what hooded man and his companions seemed to be doing. For the next 15 minutes or so hooded man strode up and down in Mostafa Mahmoud Square (which is to the I’m Sorry, President crowd what Tahrir Square is to the pro-revolutionaries), his erratic movements silhouetted in the mist of the feeble light cutting through the evening’s gloom.
A handful of anti-SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) protesters gathered. An old woman started shouting at them, kept going on about the April 6 Youth Group. Men in suits – seemingly bystanders but who knows – politely encouraged the youths to move away from the Square to avoid problems.
And suddenly hooded man reappeared having disappeared for a while, possibly to masturbate quickly over a tank, who knows. This time he really meant business. He immediately jumped on the hood of a car and started giving a speech, the usual shit about people trying to cause problems between the army and the police and he will fuck anyone up who does this and April 6 are all dirty bastards. The speech in all its blue glory was delivered to the soundtrack of the call to prayer emitted from the mosque behind him, as a bystander pointed out, somewhat timidly. Hooded man continued.
Dr Moftases stood underneath and watched him and then gave him a slow clap, saying bravo bravo. Hooded man returned the slow clap and snorted the loudest, longest snort from his nose I have ever heard, you could practically see the catarrh roiling up inside him like lava.
Then a man appeared carrying cables with exposed wires, shouting, “who wants some electricity???” while another built like a bull took his top off and put a wrestler’s ski mask on, completely obscuring his face, and the man in the baseball cap banged his bottles together with a strange exuberance and the older woman screeched SETTA ABREEL SETTA ABREEL [April 6, April 6]. It was at this point that I realised how very delicate most of the protesters were, by which I mean that alas not many of them looked like they had a history of taking on wrestlers in ski masks or men offering to electrocute them.
This was borne out in the moments that followed this. Hooded man got on a different car to exclaim – in English – that he was “ready to fight” anyone. Then he and his motley crew started charging, pushing and shoving anyone who refused to move, ski mask man clenching his fists and going grrrrr, thus showing no originality whatsoever.
The protesters were slowly driven back by the gang. I noticed that bystanders joined their ranks and declaimed against April 6. Moftases was hit on the head lightly with a bottle, Noov had her hair pulled, another protester was set on by four of them but luckily escaped with a few bruises.
Despite the menace of it all, there was something a bit pathetic about this troupe and the spectacle they put on. They were unpleasant bastards, but didn’t cause any physical harm despite having ample opportunity to do so. Moftases said he saw the man in the ski mask attempt three times to use a bottle of Pepper Spray while restraining a protester, pausing in between each attempt to shake the bottle, and failing. He says the blow he got on the head with the bottle wasn’t hard enough to cause pain.
Looking back there was something of the slapstick about it all, although it didn’t feel like it at the time. There was a sort of timidity about them (apart from hooded man), as if despite their big talk actually nah, they’re a bunch of pissants and aren’t really kings of any yard and they know it. The anti-SCAF march went ahead, though not quite from Mostafa Mahmoud Square itself.