It’s three years to the day that the 25th of January Revolution began. Also, a faction of the 6th of April youth movement - the Democratic Front - had warned us only a few days ago to be prepared for the third revolution. But the big event everyone was bracing for yesterday was to have been a massive nationwide Muslim Brotherhood demonstration, to be staged a bit prematurely (by 24 hours) in honor of the first revolution and most defiantly against the second (June 30, 2013).
But in the end the few demonstrations the Muslim Brotherhood did manage to launch yesterday were - for all the usual confrontational ambience, ever-diminishing numbers, and inevitable violence - far overshadowed by the wave of bombings here in Cairo, which clearly targeted the police.
The Salifist-Jihadist Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (“Partisans of the Holy House” - meaning Jerusalem) has taken credit for the first attack which was the most devastating - a suicide bombing against the central Cairo Security Directorate, that killed at least four people and wounded 76 and left a huge crater in front of the heavily damaged building.
It has a similar footprint to an even more deadly attack a police HQs last month in the northern city of Mansoura which the Ansar took credit for. This latest attack - very much in the heart of Cairo - followed only one day after masked gunmen riding motorcycles had killed five Egyptian policemen manning a checkpoint just south of the capital.
Getting it wrong
So perhaps the April 6 Democratic Front youth movement got it wrong and the 3rd Revolution has been underway for months - starting the day after President Mohammad Mursi became former President Mohammad Mursi. If not yet recognizable as a revolution, it is clearly revolutionary terror presumably to undermine authority and bring about a most radical Islamist state.
But what is most interesting is that right after the overthrow of Mursi, Ansar’s activity escalated and attacks were directed almost entirely against the policeAbdallah Schleifer
The Democratic Front is of course for democracy not radical Islamism - the only thing they have in common with Ansar is that the police are the enemy. The Democratic Front wants the police to stop arresting and manhandling demonstrators. The Ansar - and whoever else may be in on this, since the Ansar did not take credit for the drive-by killings on Thursday - wants them dead.
The Ansar (which reportedly includes Palestinians from Gaza within its ranks) emerged following the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. Initially its operations were in the Sinai and its targets diffused - sometimes the police, but more often the army and on at least two occasions attacks on Israelis - firing two Grad rockets (which could only have come, one way or another, from Hamas) at the Israeli resort of Aqaba and skirmishing with an Israeli border patrol.
The government accused the Muslim Brotherhood of responsibility for the Mansoura bombing. The Muslim Brotherhood denied the charge and the government has yet to provide evidence to back up its claim. But what is most interesting is that right after the overthrow of Mursi, Ansar's activity escalated and attacks were directed almost entirely against the police and only occasionally against the army; not only in Sinai, but in the Suez Canal City of al-Ismailiya as well as Mansoura.
Equally intriguing - their one successful targeted assassination to date was the gunning down Lt. Colonel Mabruk of the National Security Service, who was in charge of investigating the Muslim Brotherhood.
Ansar’s most high-ranking target in a failed assassination attempt was the minister of interior, who runs the police and other security forces In their ongoing rhetoric the Brotherhood denounces army chief Gen. al-Sisi because he is the one who ordered the military intervention that deposed Mursi and named the interim President who replaced Mursi.
But their deep hatred is for the police and the security forces who have been battling the Muslim Brotherhood on and off for 60 years, and whose forces, not the army, were the most responsible for clearing the Muslim Brotherhood out of the Rabiya al-Adawiya sit-down last August, at a heavy loss of Brotherhood lives.
But back to the Democratic Front! They threatened a “third revolution” because six of their members were arrested in front of a metro station earlier this week for distributing leaflets calling on the people to rally on Jan. 25. But it turns out the six were released without charge nine hours after they were arrested,
Procedures - be they of the police or other state organs - always move slowly in Cairo. But considering that there is now a law on the books that makes protest demonstrations held without advance notice to, and permission from the Interior Ministry illegal, one can understand why an edgy police, aware of Muslim Brotherhood threats of mass protest demonstrations on the 24th and the 25th collared the six leafleteers.
Presumably the authorities figured out that leafleting was not a demonstration, and calling on people to come out on the anniversary of the Jan. 25 revolution was not an endorsement of the Muslim Brotherhood, since everybody in Cairo these days, including the Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim, have also called upon the people to come out – in the case of the Minister to counter the Muslim Brotherhood’s attempt to turn today into a day of chaos.
Difficult to grasp
That the six were released - not jailed and referred to court for trial and sentencing - makes it difficult to grasp how and why, according to the Democratic Front (addressing the interim government and the police) declared: “A third revolution is on its way because of your actions…your oppression of the youth for merely distributing leaflets”
Perhaps the Democratic Front is trying to match the drama unfolding around Ahmed Maher - founder of the April 6th Movement and presumably not a member of the Democratic Front faction. Ahmed Maher and two other Tahrir activists were arrested for violating the new protest law by demonstrating without three days prior notice.
But that demonstration was quite consciously done in violation of the new law, and I am sure Maher and his colleagues clearly understood that the consequence of breaking the law is arrest. One can do that to make a political point but one cannot claim oppression. Maher made no such claim - he was simply protesting what he considered to be an unjust law by openly violating it, and neither he nor we know what would have happened if he had given prior notice.
Straight to the top
Indeed, in the United States, one of the quite conventional ways a law can be challenged as unconstitutional is for someone to symbolically violate the law and then appealing his or her arrest all the way to the Supreme Court which then determines whether the law that justified the arrest was constitutional or not.
The problem here in Cairo is not really the protest law. No country saves those in the grip of anarchy, fails to set legal limits to public protest and has no security forces anywhere. Even the most restrained will tolerate for too long Molotov cocktails thrown at them, at their patrol cars or at public buildings. What is disturbing here is a sense of increasingly indiscriminate repression that tends to lump liberal critics of the interim government and the security forces with either the Muslim Brotherhood or “foreign forces.”
But as for the Democratic Front, the question remains – how can there be a third revolution when there was neither a first or second one?
In 2011, after 18 days of massive, nationwide demonstrations, the armed forces staged a “soft” coup d’etat against Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak – “soft” because there was no resistance, no organized protests – the ruling party held together by the vast patronage stemming from the power of the president simply collapsed. Its last secretary general resigned his office only hours before the coup, because Mubarak had not resigned the previous day as he had apparently promised either the party or the armed forces, or both, that he would do.
The same for the second, the “June 30 revolution” - massive demonstrations that constituted a popular uprising demanding the end to the reign of then President Mursi and the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood. But when night fell and the demonstrators made their way home, Mursi had not packed his bags and fled; he was still president and he would go on television to insist upon his legitimacy. His rule only ended on July 3, 2013 when the military again intervened.
For those who still care about the political climate (and by now most Egyptians just want to get on with life) there is tension in the air.
Every party, ever movement that comes out to rally today, including the Muslim Brotherhood, will see itself as the agency that empowered the Jan. 25 revolution. But if the Ansar “come out” it will not be to celebrate or protest. Beyond that, all else is very complicated.
Abdallah Schleifer is Professor Emeritus of Journalism at the American University in Cairo, where he founded and served as first director of the Kamal Adham Center for Television Journalism. He also founded and served as Senior Editor of the journal Transnational Broadcasting Studies, now known as Arab Media & Society. Before joining the AUC faculty Schleifer served for nine years as NBC News Cairo bureau chief and Middle East producer- reporter; as Middle East corrrespondent for Jeune Afrique based in Beirut and as a special correspndent for the New York Times based in Amman. After retiring from teaching at AUC Schleifer served for little more than a year as Al Arabiya's Washington D.C. bureau chief. He is associated with the Middle East Institute in Washington D.C. as an Adjunct Scholar. He was executive producer of the award winning documentary “Control Room” and the 100 episode Reality- TV documentary “Sleepless in Gaza...and Jerusalem.”