Regardless of the chaos, there are some certainties in Egypt and that is at least once a month an armed personnel carrier will bear down on a group of protesting Egyptian citizens, like some squalid, mechanical bull run. On Sunday night I happened to be one of them.
I had gone to the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in Moqattam to have a look at the protesters demonstrating against the attack, by Muslim Brotherhood members, on protesters the previous day in the same place. One female journalist was slapped on the face so hard by one of these heroes that she was knocked to the ground.
Moqattam is on a mountain overlooking Cairo, and the MB headquarters is itself at the top of a small hill, and the multistorey villa housing it is taller than its immediate neighbours, like the organisation itself, attempting to be lofty and isolated and above it all and failing. There was a small group of protesters outside its gates when I arrived milling about and demanding the removal of the supreme guide and the regime and such like. Every so often they would all point to the top of the building and demand that the “sheep” they had spotted peering out of one of the villa’s mirrored windows withdraw inside.
A man with prayer marks on both his forehead and the bridge of his nose gently encouraged a woman not to graffiti the headquarters wall and was reprimanded by another man with hearing aids and a giant voice who warned him not to “lay a finger on her”. The first man responded by saying that he had asked her to stop because he “wouldn’t be able to stand seeing another girl or a man or anyone beaten up”. The back and forth continued and ended with both men accusing each other of being Ikhwan.
Further up the road was the usual garrison of Central Security Forces. A middle-aged police officer in full uniform including decorative ribbons and a slightly younger balding man in plainclothes watched the protest dispassionately and we went to talk to them. The police officer’s sunglasses were so opaque and so black that we could see ourselves clearly in them, and his moustache moved up and down underneath them like a ship moving under a night sky on a rocky sea.
The Interior Ministry was there, the officer announced, to “protect lives and property, in that order” and as usual it sounded like a threat. “Look after yourselves,” he said when we took our leave.
Round the back of the headquarters is a huge open area that has been commandeered on one side by even more CSF vans and troops, trying to make the time pass by shooting the shit and horsing around and doing marching drills. Meanwhile, a stream of men entered the headquarters, the majority of them between 18 and 30 with the lightly bearded, sensible trousered look so beloved of this group. Senior or perhaps just richer members alighted from expensive cars dressed in suits and open-necked shirts with no ties.
Two MBers we spoke to were extremely friendly in the programmed, on message way typical of the group. Lots of smiling (think: El-Beltagy) with very occasional and fleeting references to religion – a relevant Quranic verse, say. Much sympathetic inclining of head and jocularities (think: El Erian) and agreeing but actually disagreeing (think: all of them). They are like human automated telephone menus where every number you hit gives you one very polite response and that it that you are wrong.
Sudden CSF activity indicated that things had heated up at the front of the headquarters. The number of protesters had increased, as had the number of TV crews. Two APCs had assumed position some 20 metres away. Demonstrators began removing circular green MB logos affixed to the headquarters’ wall which is when the police officer’s “lives and property” mantra kicked in and they went to the rescue of the property by playing with protesters’ lives.
It was only a mini charge because this was a short street and the driver showed incredible restraint by not killing anyone or even squashing them non-fatally. We asked a copper why the Interior Ministry has this insistence on going Ayrton Senna on protesters and with a straight face apparently because he took us for complete fucking simpletons he replied that the vehicle was moving down a descending slope and thus this kind of speed was inevitable.
The Interior Ministry still uses a pre-revolution tactic of using avuncular, senior citizen officers to shoo away troublesome female/elderly citizens refusing to leave a protest area. A group of about five women were altercating with such an officer who was showering them with affendams and 7adriteks in an attempt to get them to move off. In the end he resorted to announcing that they were about to deal with the protesters down the road “with a new tactic” – i.e. teargas – and the women moved away while one of them roared that the Interior Ministry are “whores who will sleep with anybody”.