The ‘Black Bloc’ movement stormed Egypt’s political scene on the second anniversary of the January 25 revolution. According to the conventional wisdom, the Egyptian Black Bloc models itself on anti-establishment, anarchist groups in Europe and the U.S. that go back to the 1970s. In tactics, slogan and outward appearance, the former shares much in common with the latter. Nevertheless, the Egyptian version of Black Bloc is different in terms of ideological orientations and objectives.
Black Bloc most radical
Egypt’s Black Bloc demonstrates a wide array of ideas ranging from anarchism and liberalism to Trotskyist Marxism. The group represents the most radical elements among Egyptian revolutionaries. It includes different kinds of activists, who share a common objective; they are anti-Islamists. In their “official video” posted on YouTube, on January 24, the masked youths declared their mission to fight “against the fascist regime, the Muslim Brotherhood, and their armed wing,” and to protect protesters from security forces and Islamist militias.
Like their Western counterparts, the Egyptian movement are anti-regime and seek to overthrow the ‘incompetent’ state, but they are not anti-capitalism.
This might explain why the Bloc drew supporters from liberal groups and sympathizers from liberal and leftist parties and human rights activists.
Alliances made with other international groups
The Egyptian Black Bloc appeared to have forged links with different movements inside and outside the country. It is possibly in connection with other anarchy groups around the world. Egyptian activists carry black flags with an “A” sign, an international symbol of anarchism. The site ‘anarchistnews.org’ posted a message about occurrences in Cairo.
In addition, the Black Bloc’s members allegedly included Ultras, fans of Cairo’s al-Ahly soccer club, activists from the liberal 6 April Youth Movement and the Trotskyist Revolutionary Socialists.
Egyptian authorities detained a Black Bloc member suspected of attempting to carry out an Israeli-directed sabotage plan. Iran-based FARS news agency claimed that Egypt’s Black Bloc is linked to Mossad. Of course, Israel denied any involvement in such a plot.
The Black Bloc is proudly willing to use violence against the security forces and the allegedly ‘military wing’ of the Muslim Brotherhood. In fact, the group involved in violent acts, clashes with security forces, disruption of metro services and road traffic and looting shops. However, that wouldn’t have a big impact on the spread of violence and the turn of the demonstrators to the use of armed force against the government.
Three combined factors could increase the spiral of violence in Egypt. First of all, the reaction of Salvation Front to the emergence of Black Bloc was sort of ambivalence. They condemned using violence by both supporters and opponents of President Mohammed Mursi’s regime. However, some of their leaders’ statements might be read as justification for the violent actions taken by the Black Bloc. In fact, some claim that the Black Bloc is the result of the oppositions' rhetoric ‘or even active encouragement.’
In addition, the Black Bloc could spark Islamist retaliation. Some Islamists have threatened to attack these “enemies of Islam.” This might create the potential for a spiral of violence between rival “militias.” The Jama’a al-Islamiya has also issued threats. More important, the continuance of general lawlessness and the chaotic world of Egyptian politics would contribute to the spread of violence in Egypt.
Ayman el-Dessouki is an assistant professor of Political Science at the American University in the Emirates and Cairo University, Egypt. Before that, he worked for the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research, a think-tank based in Abu Dhabi, from 2008 to 2012. Prior to coming to the UAE, he held several research and teaching positions in Egypt and the United States. He pursued his Ph.D. in International Relations at the University of South Carolina and Cairo University and received the degree in 2008. He earned his B.A and M.A. in political science from Cairo University. His research interests are in the areas of Egyptian affairs, the international politics of the Middle East, with an emphasis on the GCC, paradiplomacy and ethnic minorities, particularly the Kurds. Dr. el-Dessouki has recently published many papers and chapters on democratization in Egypt, Middle East politics, Kurdish affairs, intergovernmental relationships in Iraq, and Human Rights in the Arab World. His current research project focuses on comparative sub-state diplomacy.