Egypt: The "Black Bloc" myth

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ASyndicalist
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Feb 26 2013 16:14
Egypt: The "Black Bloc" myth

Egyptian society tries to resist the regime triumphed as a result of a "revolution" that toppled the dictator Mubarak: the government of clerical-fascist movement of the “Muslim Brotherhood”. Alas: the fight against the results of pseudo-revolution goes under the banner of their defense. For the legacy of this coup d`etat, a grave fight between the ruling Islamists and the oppositional liberals started. On the side of the latter, different youth groups continue to emerge, often declaring himself "anarchist" or perceived as such.

They are at the forefront of violent street clashes with clerical-fascists and the police, and so they are noteworthy. However, you should understand how the red-black and black banners raising by them are really consistent with the program, ideas and the nature of these groups? In other words, why they can be considered in fact anarchist?

Judging by what is written in blogs and other media, the situation of these groups is not yet fully clear. The symbolic and external attributes they have, of course, are borrowed from the world of anarchism. As for the ideas ... It's all still "in a fog."

First of all, it is striking that the experience of pseudo-revolution seems little has taught young rebels. They still continue to refer positively to the coup against the dictator opening for the clerical fascists the way to power- - despite the fact that the then movement against Mubarak was not accompanied by any clear social demands or slogans or attempted redistribution of property in favor of the poor classes. What's more: these "leftist" radicals seem to be ready to repeat past mistakes. As then, in 2011, they do not act separately from the bourgeois factions and cliques, with their own social themes and motifs. Just then they were "shock extras" for bursting clerics to power, now they works – also without understanding it - for the liberal bourgeois opposition led by ElBaradei.

A closer look at the ideas and statements of some Egyptian "anarchists" also causes wonder and suspicion. Of course, they reflected the "leftist" political position. But the "left" - does not necessarily mean "anarchist" and social-revolutionary.

An important issue in which some Egyptian "libertarians" manifest themselves as "leftists" and not anarchists - is related to the inter-imperialist, interstate conflict in the Middle East. Here they are, like other "leftists", moving away from the position of genuine internationalism, which suggests that a revolutionary should not stay in such conflicts on any of the fighting nationalist sides, but must oppose them with the class solidarity of the workers in a common struggle against all states and capital. The point of view of these Egyptian "anarchists" is quite nationalistic: “Suez has special value in every Egyptian heart. It was the centre for resistance against Zionists in 1956 and 1967. In the same district that fought Sharon's troops back in Egyptian-Israeli wars, Mubarak police carried out a massacre”, a member of the" anarchist "affinity group "Black Flag" said in an interview (http://libcom.org/library/egypt-unrest-interview-egyptian-anarchist). In other words, this kind of "libertarians" is firmly on the side of "their" state in the war between the Israeli and the Arab nationalisms!

The Mirages of "Black Bloc"

During recent clashes with Islamists and the police, a new movement came to appearance, which calls itself the "Black Block". According to reports, this is a very heterogeneous formation. "Among the black-masked people who blocked the streets of Alexandria on the second anniversary of the revolution and marched through the city center with Egyptian and black flags with signs of anarchy, there were also "ultras" (football fans), as experts of the scene say. Hardened in street fighting fans of Cairo soccer club Al Ahli have made a decisive contribution to the fact that the police Mubarak regime could be threw back during the revolution. But the Communists and Socialists also belong to "black block". Like all revolutionary movement, the new group has a very loose structure", consisting of groups of 3-5 people – a correspondent of "Frankfurter Allgemeine" reports from Cairo (http://uprising.blogsport.de/2013/02/03/schwarzsehen-schwarz-tragen/). All this seems not so much to the anarchists, but rather to "leftists" who have decided - for whatever their reasons or unknowingly - to raise anarchist symbols. And the "leftists" in "Arab" countries are mainly nationalists.

The main "fighting" forces of "Black Bloc" in Egypt are, apparently, "ultra", football fans. In general, they are young people from poor or middle-class part of the population, leading by her despair and lack of chances in the modern society of exploitation. But that does not make them bearers of social liberation values. In the minds of these "rebels", a most explosive and incompatible mix can reign. During the protests against Mubarak in 2011, these young fans were ready to fight in the streets until the end, but they did not think about any possibility to challenge the authority of liberal and Islamist leaders of "Tahrir". In February 2012, the clashes between the fans of Port Said club "Al-Masri" and Cairo's "Al-Ahli" and subsequent street battles with police claimed more than 70 lives. Of course, there was no social revolutionary background - only the explosion of hopeless blind desperation. Now, the announcement of the death penalty for the Port Said`s fans (in the background of protests against Islamic constitution) caused the real uprising of their friends and relatives.

Commenting on the composition of the "Black Bloc", the German newspaper "Junge Welt" (sympathetic to “blocists”) said: "Inside the Black Bloc, along with a lot of young people deprived of any perspective – there are first of all members of various left-wing factions of Egypt, who have found in it a form of joint action, an "idea that everyone can learn from", as one activist said" (http://www.jungewelt.de/2013/02-05/035.php).

In addition to football fans and members of various left-wing parties, there are many liberals and activists of the "April 6 Movement" in the Bloc. According to “Wikileaks”, the "April 6 Movement" cooperated with U.S. political elites in the preparation of protests against Mubarak, and in 2011 initiated the protest at Tahrir (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/egypt/828...). One of the leaders of the "Black Block" confirmed the presence of the participants "April 6" to internet news channel "Al-Yawm Al-Sabi" (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-21228852). The bourgeois liberals not only patronize the "bloc", but actually often help him, seeing him as a "strike force" and their "storm troopers". Thus, the administrator of the old, 60000 strong page of "Black Block" was a supporter of the liberal opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei, the former director of the IAEA, which has close ties to economic elites of the world (http://www.vice.com/read/we- met-some-members-of-egypts-black-bloc? utm_source = vicetwitterus). There are even "moderate Islamists" among dressed in black! (http://www.vice.com/read/egypts-black-bloc-arent-interested-in-making-an...).

The views of young Egyptian "protesters" are highly questionable, from the anarchist point of view. As a Egyptian blogger justly observed, “I do not know but we are speaking a new anarchism if it is truly anarchism in the first place”. After reviewing two Facebook blogs of "Black Bloc" (Black Bloc Egypt and Revolution Black Bloc), this blogger discovered on one of them the quotes from the Koran, and on the other – some popular conspiracy theories spread by Palestinian "Hamas", an offshoot of the same "Muslim Brotherhood "! (http://egyptianchronicles.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/blackbloc-and-its-enigm...)

It is no longer possible to checking this information, because, since the beginning of February, the "Black Block" complained that Facebook removed his previous pages. But in the new English-language blog, "Revolution Black Bloc" (http://www.facebook.com/BlackBlocEgyEn), you can see a lot of interesting things. For example, images of such anarchist people as Che Guevara, or repaint of the famous painting "Liberty on the Barricades" with the Palestinian national flag in the hands of Liberty and the text "The inevitable return". Another picture shows a policeman attacking a child: "They want to kill the future of our nation", the text say. It is very anarchistic to protect “the future of our nation”, isn`t that so?

The activists of the "Black Bloc" do not hide their nationalist beliefs in their interviews. "We do not want to destroy our nation. We sacrifice our blood for our nation", they say (http://www.vice.com/read/egypts-black-bloc-arent-interested-in-making-an... friends). And they raise not only black but also Egyptian national flags.

Like other Arab nationalists, the "Black Bloc" people have nothing against possibility to spark off a new imperialist slaughter in the Middle East. The Interior Minister of Islamist "Hamas" regime in Gaza denied that the Egyptian "Black Bloc" formed his own group in Palestine. However, according to the "Arabs Today", the Bloc has issued a statement on the establishment of such a group, training members in “street fighting, climbing tall buildings and the use of weapons” in order to “challenge the Israeli occupation and Palestinian divisions”. He called on the Palestinian security forces in the West Bank and Gaza to show commitment to the national unity! (http://en.arabstoday.net/20130206251792/gaza-denies-black-bloc-inside-bo...)

The immediate “program” of the “Black Bloc” is far away from any real anti-capitalism. The member of a "Black Bloc" group in Alexandria announced the list of requirements: “revolutionary trials for members of the old regime, a raise in average wages, reform of the Interior Ministry and other government institutions, job-creation projects, and “punishment” for “crimes” committed by subsequent governments since 2011” "(http://www.vice.com/read/we-met-some-members-of-egypts-black-bloc). A "clean" government, a "clean police"... It is unlikely that such things can be formulated by any activist of anarchist movement, or the "Black Bloc" in Europe, America or Asia.

It is worth mentioning that the Egyptian "libertarian socialist movement" has already stated that it does not consider a "Black Bloc" in Egypt an anarchist movement.

The Anarchism in the eyes of "Society of the Spectacle"

All this, of course, has nothing to do with anarchism. Why these young "revolutionaries" dress in the colors that are usually associated with anarchists and use anarchist symboliсs? The former administrator of a Facebook page of Bloc explains: “After the palace events, we saw that the Brotherhood were very organized… We had to organize ourselves. Basically the idea is to defend the revolutionaries”. Activists had seen videos of European black blocs on the Internet, he said, and began to spread the black bloc idea on Facebook in early January (http://www.vice.com/read/we-met-some-members-of-egypts -black-bloc).

A representative of Egyptian "Black Bloc" confirmed in another interview that they hadn`t contacts with the European proanarchist movement of the same name: “…We weren’t really looking for it… Yes, we did watch their videos. We don’t specifically share common principles or beliefs and our ideological orientation might be somehow different. We mix between their ideas and others while always renewing from our techniques” (http://consciouslifenews.com/egyptian-black- bloc-exclusive-interview/114 ...)

So, in this case, we are not dealing with a truly anarchist movement (proletarian, class, social-revolutionary) but with a variant of youth leftist-liberal and nationalist protest. We have a wild assorted variety of ideologies, or even their absence in a package of the "Black Block" or "anarchism". This is the a result of modern virtual "society of spectacle": people in a mass has very little knowledge about anarchism, which is understandable, given the decades of domination of authoritarian tendencies and the almost complete absence of the anarchist tradition and continuity (and not only in the Arab world, but also, for example, in many countries of Eastern Europe). Obviously, "leftists" and the young liberals simply adopted an image of "anarchism" which was most available to them: the appearance that the media cultivated for decades, but not contents of Anarchism. For the media, and in the same time for all blind fans of Arab pseudo-revolution, all of this, of course, is “anarchism”. It is hardly to imagine a greater damage to the anarchist cause...

Now more than ever, we need a clear understanding for what should be fought on a global scale: for the workers movement, organized without parties and bureaucracy, for a society without the state and capitalism - for anarchist communism!

http://aitrus.info/node/2740

Harrison
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Feb 27 2013 02:48

Thank you for posting this, and i am truly grateful for your research and intention to clarify a misunderstanding.

But (since i understand you are an observer of the situation, and not someone in the midst of it) wouldn't a better way of engaging with people in the middle of a high stakes and volatile political conflict, be something like the contents of the text i have quoted below?

The reason i think this is the adoption of the loose anarchist aesthetic might be a fertile breeding ground for libertarians to eventually develop a lot more influence in egypt.

Whilst I think it is fair to clarify their faults (ie. their non-libertarian aspects), as (Egypt's) Libertarian Socialist Federation have done, i can't help thinking it is important to avoid denouncing their faults and to see their street fighting against clerical fascism as of great material importance, and aim to use the small amount of influence their adoption of our symbols gives us to persuade to real anarchist positions those elements amongst them that show interest, by expressing sympathy whilst re-stating libertarian principles. As a region whose class is currently in a state of unrest, and possesses massive strength because of it, it seems really important to be diplomatic and avoid alienating potential eventual sympathisers.

If a young egyptian starts to self-identify as anarchist, and raise an anarchist flag, there is a high chance that sooner or later they will look around for some classic anarchist texts or even the wikipedia pages - most of which affirm anti-state, anti-national and anti-capitalist views.

Quote:
Obviously, "leftists" and the young liberals simply adopted an image of "anarchism" which was most available to them: the appearance that the media cultivated for decades, but not contents of Anarchism. For the media, and in the same time for all blind fans of Arab pseudo-revolution, all of this, of course, is “anarchism”. It is hardly to imagine a greater damage to the anarchist cause...

This may be true, but the solution is not simply found in writing a denunciation, it is found in trying to influence those who do flock to the media image, in the direction of real anarchist politics. This is not done by telling them they are fakes and frauds.

Similarly whilst i can understand what you mean by 'pseudo-revolution', it could very easily be mis-read by egyptian protesters as an insult, and i think there are better forms of language to describe how deviously the Egyptian state asserted a counter-revolution.

Anyway, below is a US text adressed to the egyptian 'black bloc' that i approve of, which I found surprising given the source.

Quote:
We hoped this would connect us to the rest of society, but connections that
depend on us hiding our values are meaningless.
Other times, anarchists have acted as though we could accomplish our
goals on our own, winding up in a private grudge match with the state that
everyone else assumed had nothing to do with them. Certainly, we can’t wait
for mass consensus to begin our project of revolt; we can only find others in
revolt by rising up ourselves—but the point is to find others. Over and over, we’ve
thought our own dreams too wild to propose, only to see other people enacting
them spontaneously. In fact, the time is ripe for us to advance our proposals:
capitalism is in crisis around the world, and soon billions will have to choose
between totalitarianism and the kind of freedom no government can provide.
If it is true that the state cannot solve our problems, all who wish to wield
its authori! will discredit themselves once they assume power. "e sooner all
the Muslim Brotherhoods of the world associate themselves with the state the
better: this will clari# things for those who do not yet understand why anyone
would be an anarchist. When the opposition parties join the rulers in telling
everyone to get out of the street and the streets remain full, this suggests that
people are catching on. In this situation, anarchists could help turn regime
change into social revolution, a full-scale transformation of everyday life.
"e US government needs Egypt to have a government with whom to
coordinate the resource extraction necessary for global capitalism. "e black
bloc scares them because it is not legible in their conception of politics—it offers no one to negotiate with. "ey want to bring all the political parties into “dialogue” in order to map everything in their structures of power; we want
to take the struggle out of the hands of political parties entirely, establishing
dialogue among people rather than with parties or governments. We seek to
spread struggles in which we communicate with and inspire others directly,
as you have inspired us.
We will continue this dialogue in the most meaningful way we can—by
continuing to challenge the power structures here in the United States, which
underpin those in Egypt and elsewhere around the world. But if any of you can
send us reports from your struggles, or translate materials between English
and Arabic, we would be glad to hear from you. May we meet in the streets
of a stateless world.

http://cloudfront.crimethinc.com/pdfs/egyptblackbloc_english_imposed.pdf

Foristaruso
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Feb 27 2013 07:20

I agree that it is reasonable to contact people in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) who are interested in anarchism without understanding the content yet. But it seems unrealistic that the Egyptian Black Blovc movement as such or in it majority can evolve toward the anarchist position because the "system of values" and the "motivation" of peole there is very different. Some people - they can develop, of course, but not the "movement" as such. And the reading of "good books" itself is not necessary usefull (for example, the far right in Russia published book with collection of some antisemitic phrases of Bakunin for demonstrate that the "anarchism is nationalist", and there are also "national-anarchists" in the West and also in Russia). So an interest in anarchism is good but it is not enough, and the motives of people is more important.

I think, for now, the Egyptian "Black Bloc" is more like to some no-anarchist and no-class antifascism. It is good that there are resistance against the clerical fascism, but it is not a social revolution / social emancipation movement as such. And it is extremly important to explain to people in the MENA region what anarchism is. This can make possible an evolution of some people from this antifascist resistance to the anarchist positions. For this purpose, it is necesary to tell them the truth. Also when it is distressing.

Some words about "Egyptian revolution". About what kind of revolution we speak? There are no simply revolution without adjectives. It was not a social revolution because the social relations remain the same. It was not a "bourgeois" revolution because the relations in Egypt are capitalist... So... In the countries of Latin America, there were many movements and even uprisings against dictatures for the "democracy", but the anarchists there don`t call them "revolutions". May be, the more correctly is to call the movement of 2011 against Mubarrak "uprising" or "revolt", as the libertarians in Tunisia make in respect to overthrow of Ben Ali dictatorship.

Chilli Sauce's picture
Chilli Sauce
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Feb 27 2013 07:45

I'm slightly worried that I just upped a post that favorably contained the entirity of a Crimethinc text eek wink

Harrison
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Feb 28 2013 20:51
Chilli Sauce wrote:
I'm slightly worried that I just upped a post that favorably contained the entirity of a Crimethinc text eek ;)

Haha, yes i was very surprised as to how sensible the content is.

Quote:
But it seems unrealistic that the Egyptian Black Blovc movement as such or in it majority can evolve toward the anarchist position because the "system of values" and the "motivation" of peole there is very different. Some people - they can develop, of course, but not the "movement" as such.

I think should the conditions change there is possibility for their overall motivation to develop. Possibly all it would take is for a liberal/leftist regime to take power and start repressing them, for the emergence of a small amount of anti-statism (but then again neither me nor you are actually in egypt and do not know the situation fully).

My only real comment is that i think we should analyse the situation carefully, be supportive of their fight against the muslim brotherhood and be as diplomatic as we can, whilst encouraging the development of anarchist politics.

jolasmo
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Feb 27 2013 14:07

Am I missing something here? Surely the thing about "the black bloc" is that it's a tactic and not a group, so it can't really be judged on those criteria (i.e. as if it was a group of people with particular motivations and political goals)?

~J.

R. Spourgitis
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Feb 27 2013 16:24

Hmmm, well, a petition, rally or even workplace strike are tactics too. By comparison, a black bloc however has a fairly specific origin and is employed by a relatively specific group of people. I think it's kind of off, and even sort of disingenuous, when people, usually anarchists defending black blocs, employ the rhetoric that it's purely a tactic. While I would agree that it's not purely an anarchist thing, I think politically speaking it is not exactly true to say it's "just a tactic." Also, there's quite a bit in the article indicating that it's more than dressing up in black and masking up that folks are making such links.

To me the more interesting parts of this piece are the fact that it says things I've seen from others who know more about Egypt on the ground, but have yet to see the criticism/unveiling of on-the-ground politics in a substantive and public way. I mean, if you follow the various stuff coming out of there, it seems apparent that this is not the sort of (left)libertarian/anarchist/rad left contingent we come to expect from black flags and black blocs. I also think it's highly interesting that it spread through watching youtube clips of riot porn, spreading organically through media rather than the slower, methodical spreading of politics by individuals moving there and interacting with, developing the ideas. Probably good and bad to this, but it seems credible as it lines up with things I've read from others.

The crimethinc letter is irritatingly condescending and lecturing in tone, I think. And the comparison of their, our, "adverse conditions" to Egyptians being shot in the streets with live ammo is almost laughable.

Harrison
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Apr 4 2013 00:41
R. Spourgitis wrote:
The crimethinc letter is irritatingly condescending and lecturing in tone, I think. And the comparison of their, our, "adverse conditions" to Egyptians being shot in the streets with live ammo is almost laughable.

It may be little bit, but really its just re-stating anti-statism and anti-capitalism whilst praising their struggle, which i think is exactly the right comradely thing to do if we are confident in these values and want to encourage them amongst people adopting anarchist symbology/identity.

I wouldn't defend it as perfect, and don't get me wrong I have read some shit stuff by crimethinc in the past, but i think their idea of an open letter of support that restates principles, is better than writing a critique.

Mark.
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Jun 29 2013 18:38

Meet the Black Bloc: Egypt's most talked about radical opposition group