“I did not expect the idea to be disseminated this way all over Egypt in just six days.” With this statement a founder of the Black Bloc in Egypt started his conversation with me, showing his surprise at how the idea was well received by youth groups.
The movement began with calls for demonstrations on social networking sites, and evolved as the group decided to take to the street on the eve of the Jan. 25th revolution’s anniversary in order to protect protesters, as they said.
News outlets successively reported the movement’s participation in different events, such as clashes on Qasr al-Ainy and Sheik Rihan streets, and the fire incident at the Muslim Brotherhood’s website headquarters and a restaurant that allegedly belongs to the Brotherhood. This is in addition to the movement’s participation in other events, some of which were associated with violent acts, clashes with security forces, and disruption of metro services and road traffic.
These events introduced conflicting information about the Black Bloc. The facts that more than a single Facebook page is titled “Black Bloc” and that its members abstained from appearing in the media have probably complicated the situation.
However, while some have considered them thugs aiming to vandalize and steal, and others see them as a tool employed by former the state security service or current national security agency to terrorize citizens, their supporters among youth groups and on social networking sites have grown in number, taking even the masterminds behind the concept by surprise.
About the Black Bloc
The Black Bloc or Black Revolutionary Group is not an Egyptian phenomenon. It is an international tactic for protests that goes back to the 1980s. This tactic emerged for the first time in West Germany, in Berlin and Hamburg, during protests against the establishment of a nuclear power plant and the repeated attempts by the police to evict a number of residents and squatters of vacant property. After that, the Black Bloc moved to the United States, protesting in front of the Pentagon on Earth Day in 1989, and against the World Trade Organization in Seattle in 1999. The movement emerged again in London, protesting against the government’s austerity policy in 2000.
These movements are based on the idea of hiding their members’ identity, by forming separated cluster groups that are not familiar with each other. Each group consists of members ranging from 10 to 100, which depends on the ability of each group to promote the idea and attract new members.
In the protests, the groups use defensive tactics, such as misleading police forces, spreading ways to resist gas, treating injuries and securing protests. They also use offensive tactics to pressure the government, such as vandalism, destructing big capitalist firms’ property and looting shops.
The group is of an anarchist ideology, which is known as “anarchism in political philosophy.” This is not reflected in making chaos in general, but rather in the possibility of organizing the society without the state, which they usually oppose.
Outside the incompetent state institutions
The emergence of the Black Bloc in Egypt coincided with the anniversary of the revolution. However, the idea was developed in November of last year, when demonstrators — protesting against presidential policies in the vicinity of the Ittihadiya presidential palace in Cairo — were beaten by groups allegedly affiliated with the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood denied any relation with these members who appeared during these events that have come to be known as the Ittihadiya events.
Members of the Black Bloc said that they wanted to protect protesters from Brotherhood militias, «so that they feel safe and their numbers increase.» A founder of the movement, who wished to remain anonymous, said that the Black Bloc was not a political group, but rather an idea that is not monopolized by anyone. He added that their number is very small, but as soon as they announced that they would take part in any protest, they saw a large number of participants waiting for them and wearing their outfit. They are hoping each person becomes a member of the Black Bloc.
He added: “Our goal is to overthrow the state of tyrants, terrorism, poverty, ignorance and underdevelopment. … Our goal is to overthrow the incompetent state.”
Academic studies show that the emergence of such movements, which are based on collaborative efforts, usually result from the fact that the state — with its various institutions, whether national or opposition — does not include the movement’s members. For this reason, they form these types of protests, usually characterized by new tactics that society does not accept.
In Egypt, another reason can be probably added in this regard, represented by the generational gap and the state and elites’ failure to fulfill their demands. It is important to note that it is not the first time that Egypt has witnessed the emergence of movements such as the Black Bloc. In 1934, two similar movements emerged. The first was the Green Shirts, founded by the Young Egypt Movement, and the second being the Blue Shirts, which was formed by the Wafd Party. In contrast, Hassan al-Banna formed the Khaki Shirts, or what were known as Explorer Teams or scouts, and Al-Tanzim Al-Khaas, according to some historical references.
The common denominator between all these groups and the Black Bloc in the two different periods is probably the fact that the state — with its various institutions — failed to attract and protect individuals, which has contributed to the emergence of such groups.