Demonstrators, hooded and masked and dressed in black from head to toe, appeared in late January in Cairo and other provinces, calling themselves the “Black Bloc” and using the slogan “Chaos against injustice.”
Members have caused a stir by appearing at marches and demos without prior warning. They claim to be acting to defend protesters opposed to President Mohamed Mursi’s rule and reportedly model themselves on anarchist groups of the same name in Europe and the United States.
In a video posted on YouTube, the militants say they want to “confront the regime of the fascist tyrants” meaning Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood.
In photographs Black Bloc members are seen celebrating around a burning police armoured vehicle and making “V for victory” signs in Tahrir Square.
On January 31st, 18 suspected members of the group were detained, accused of “perpetrating acts of sabotage in the country.” “Inquiries have shown that the Black Bloc is an organised group which carries out terrorist actions,” said the prosecutor general’s spokesman Hassan Yassine. Citizens were urged to arrest anyone suspected of membership in this group and hand them over to the army or police.
The prosecutor also decided “to appoint a judge to investigate a complaint lodged by a lawyer who accused the Black Bloc of torching Muslim Brotherhood offices, and of links to opposition and media figures, Yassine added.
A member of the militant group allegedly suspected of planning to carry out Israeli-directed acts of sabotage, was also detained, the official MENA news agency reported. Israel firmly rejected the notion of its involvement in any such plot.
Elsewhere, another suspected Black Bloc member was arrested after placing an order with a clothing factory in the city of Mahalla, north of Cairo, for black masks and outfits for the group, the prosecution said.
Authorities have not provided much detail about the group whose Facebook page had more than 36,000 “likes,” or supporters. Some doubt the existence of an organised Black Bloc network.
The group emerged in the wake of protests that began in late January with the second anniversary of the revolt of 2011. At least 56 people were killed and hundreds injured in the last week of January.
Many worry that the group could spark Islamist retaliation. Some Islamists have threated to attack the so-called “enemies of Islam,” Al Arabiya reported. The tension may create a spiral of violence between “rival militias.”
And it now appears that a potential Black Bloc rival could emerge from the Muslim Brotherhood government itself. “The first reaction from the Muslim Brotherhood is that they’d create the ‘White Bloc’ in order to respond to pressure from the Black Bloc. Both of them would be deemed illegal groups if that happens,” Political activist Ahmed Naguib told RT.com.
Arming the Police
As the wave of violence continued inside Egypt and 21 rights group within the country claimed on February 21st that police brutality was as bad – if not worse – than under Hosni Mubarak, news emerged that low ranking policemen are now to be armed with pistols. A security source revealed that Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim had agreed to import 100,000 pistols after police had held protests demanding weapons and better work conditions amid the spike in violent crime.
Police officers and some conscripts are equipped with side arms and sometimes assault rifles, but the lowest ranking policemen are unarmed.
A report in Egyptian broadsheet al-Masry al-Youm said that the Interior Ministry had purchased 140,000 US-sourced teargas canisters in January at a cost of £E17m . Letters between Interior Ministry and Defence Ministry officials revealed that the order was made to address the country’s shortage of teargas after the months of violent clashes between police and protesters.
An Interior Ministry Spokesman, quoted by MENA on February 24th said that the order was made three months ago “within its annual arming plan to protect State’s vital facilities and private property.” It was “the lowest degree of arming in security bodies all over the world, he said.