Posted 29 June, 2011 by Christopher Wilson

Back to the Square

There have long been calls to reignite the revolution, but it appears now that it may actually be happening. Enraged by the failure to prosecute security forces for civilian deaths during the Egyptian uprising, Martyr families took to the streets yesterday, igniting a violent reenactment of the early days of the Egyptian uprising. The widespread dissatisfaction, and the brutal response so far, indicate that this might be another watershed moment for Egyptians.

Families’ rage is understandable (with police allegedly threatening victims’ families with further arrests if justice is pursued). But tensions have generally been high for some time, and the SCAF has not done a good job of cooling things down. Several commentators have already remarked on how protests today and yesterday have recalled  the early stages of the uprising in January. There are obvious cues for this association, as riot police and tents are both back for the first time in quite a while. And then there is the widespread conviction that despite the departure of Mubarak, nothing has changed.

Indeed, much in these protests is the same as when it all started, only more so.

The immediate antagonism and threat of violence seems to have swelled in recent and relative calm. Riot police have returned to Tahrir in rare form, reportedly with especially base taunts and slurs, (“we will kill you! you deserve death ya awsaakh!”). This antagonism bodes ill, especially in light of speculation that the SCAF had given riot police a last chance to execute effective crowd control, and now that they have failed, will move in tonight with force. The video below is especially evocative.

Against this backdrop it is especially disappointing to see heavily telagraphed symbols of the US also delivering more of the same.  Tantawi met Wednesday with the US Deputy Sectretary of State–on US investments during the transition, there did not appear to be much democracy promotion involved. This kind of diplomacking resonates in the street, especially in the fertile ground of tear gas cannisters produced in the US. (Recall that US-produced tear gas used by police in the initial uprising had experation dates of 2008. It is easy for protesters to read the new expiration dates of 2015 as a sign of continued supply.) It will take a lot more than a US Center on Democracy and Rights in the North Africa to patch that one up. Probably for the best.

Protesters, for their part, have been using familiar tactics.  The chants are the same as in Jan/Feb, for example, but with Tantawi (head of the Military Council) substituted for Mubarak. The uncertainty and anxiety that accompany gunshots and rumors of impending violence are familiar. But there may be more subtle differences as well. There may be a political and technical savvy that did not exist in January, and which was built on previous protest activity. Classic protest media were certainly in play, and as I have argued before, the machinations of digital protest coordination is a trick that the Egyptians have down fairly pat.

A larger question is how developed skills impact the efficacy of network activity in protests.  It is worth noting that among the tents up in Tahrir, one is clearly marked to the April 6 group, the first organisational presence as far as I know. It is tempting to read this as a move towards better coordination among revolutionaries, and that this will provide some safety as well as results. Of course, neither the sign nor tweets make the tent bulletproof.

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