For five days a battle has raged across downtown Cairo between the central security forces (CSF) and unarmed protesters. At least 40 people are dead. Thousands are injured. There are seven field hospitals and hundreds of doctors at work in Tahrir Square.
It has centred on Mohamed Mahmoud Street, the road leading from Tahrir Square in the direction of the hated Ministry of the Interior, whose jurisdiction the police forces fall under. For 110 hours revolutionaries and the CSF have fought for its control. The revolutionaries aiming for the ministry; the CSF aiming for Tahrir. The revolutionaries armed with rocks ripped up from the pavements; the CSF armed with shotguns, rifles and CS gas acquired from around the world.
I have seen shotgun shells and bullet casings from Italy, China, the US, Libya and the Czech Republic; tear gas canisters from CTS in Pennsylvania and Chemring in Hampshire. And their supply is seemingly unlimited. Egypt bought 32,000 units of tear gas from the US in 2009 alone. At least three people have died from asphyxia.
This violence has sparked part two of our revolution, and the pressure on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to step aside to democracy is intense. For each body carried away from the front line to the field hospital, another 20 arrive the next day. Monday’s proposed elections have lost any glimmer of legitimacy they had. While Tahrir is in action, Tahrir is democracy.
But there are key parties with a deep investment in these elections: SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood. And yesterday they set about working to strangle our renewed revolutionary vigour.
Though the Brotherhood has repeatedly declared itself to be part of the revolutionary forces, it explicitly refused to join this renewed wave of protest when the call went out for a millioneyya (million-person protest) on Tuesday. And when the square pulsed with Mubarak-level numbers they were left looking irrelevant, self-interested and disconnected from the will of the people.
So on Thursday the army and the Brotherhood joined forces to build a wall across the battle lines. The army enforced a ceasefire, moved in with a bulldozer, a crane and cement blocks. The Brotherhood dispatched dozens of mid-level members and sheikhs from al-Azhar to cheer them on and push people – against their will – away and into the square. When it became clear that violence wasn’t scaring people away, that it was only emboldening them, they decided it had to end.
The elections must go on.
So now there is a wall. For the second time since taking charge, the SCAF has taken its cue from our neighbour to the east. This is how they end violence. Not by controlling the police. Not by listening to people’s demands. Not by stepping aside to democracy. But by trying to strangle their will. For as much as this revolution believes in peace, it hates the police. The police who beat people to death on the streets, the police who fire shotguns into crowds of civilians, the police who torture people before asking them a single question.
But this fake peace will not be enough. The army and the Brotherhood continue to think simplistically. When they find violence won’t keep people away, they try peace instead. They think that if we stop seeing people’s bloodied bodies on television, people will go back to being herded towards these elections.
But, as usual, they are wrong. Today is going to be huge. There will be tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people out across the country unified, once again, in their demands: for the SCAF to step down; for a civilian transitional council to take full legislative power to take us to real elections; and for us to begin to live in the freedom that over 1,000 people have died fighting for.