Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

Cook examines developments in the Middle East and their resonance in Washington.

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The Frankenstein of Tahrir Square

by Steven A. Cook
December 20, 2011

A protester runs with a petrol bomb towards the cabinet office, as other protesters set a part of its building on fire, during clashes with military police in Cairo (Asmaa Waguih/Courtesy Reuters)


This article was originally published here on on December 19.

CAIRO — Tahrir Square smells like piss. It is no surprise. After all, people had been living there in a tent camp for weeks. Yet the stench is also fitting for Egypt’s current impasse. Egyptians — soldiers, police, activists, soccer hooligans called “ultras,” and others — have abused this ostensibly hallowed ground at various moments since Hosni Mubarak’s unexpected fall almost a year ago.

The latest affront to the revolutionary promise of Tahrir came this past weekend, just to the south of the square on Qasr al-Aini Street, where Egypt’s parliament and cabinet buildings sit. There, military police and protesters engaged in a pitched battle using rocks, glass, metal, truncheons, and Molotov cocktails. At one point, an Egyptian soldier standing on the roof of the cabinet building literally appeared to urinate on the protesters below. (The symbolism was lost on no one.)

The proximate cause of Cairo’s current spasm of violence was the military police’s ill-advised effort to clear a relatively small number of protesters from in front of the cabinet building. The clashes, however, have revealed a deeper, more profound problem afflicting Egypt. The country has retreated from the moment of empowerment and national dignity that the uprising symbolized and is now grappling with a squalid politics and the normalization of violence.

What is perhaps most disturbing is that the weekend’s battle, which left 10 dead and hundreds injured, didn’t seem to have a point…

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by Imran Riffat

    The Egyptian security establishment and the general public seem to have badly mismanaged each other’s expectations. The recent events are cause for great concern as they dampen hopes for a better future for the country.

  • Posted by Arab American

    Once again,great insights and analysis. Thank you for finally explaining the lack of an effective leadership of the revolution.

  • Posted by Rime- down with your american-funded military

    this is the most ignorant piece I’ve read on december clashes. it’s very arrogant of you to talk with such authority while you take your info from military news. your condescending description of people who are willing to die to fight military dictatorship as indecent hooligans just show how messed up foreign policy experts are, talking from their ivory towers about political pragmatism and sound politics and having no idea whatsoever what it’s like to be the very easy target of a brutal army, getting tortured and beaten to death, or getting incarcerated for years for speaking up… and then you blame them for pissing in the garden of the square! by the way the historical treasures you lament were burnt by the military and protesters risked their lives to save some books. don’t get your news from the killer than talk of “the real 25 january youth” like general emara!!!

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