Talaat Abdallah, Egypt’s public prosecutor, has called for an all-out war on the masked, black-clad protesters known as Black Bloc who have been held responsible for a large part of the violent protests against President Mohamed Morsi’s administration in recent days. Abdallah has urged police and military forces and even members of the public to seize “anyone suspected of belonging to the group and handing them over to the nearest judicial officer.” The escalation of rhetoric by the Morsi-appointed prosecutor, who even went so far as to accuse Black Bloc members of participating in terrorist activities, signals the administration’s alarm at the wave of violence and political action taking place in cities throughout Egypt — and their fear of the virulently anti-Muslim Brotherhood nature of these protests.
Black Bloc, which shares a name with similarly-attired Western anti-globalization protest groups, has only recently emerged on the Egyptian protest scene. Before the wave of protests that erupted on the second anniversary of the uprising against former president Hosni Mubarak, little was known about the group aside from its mission to target the Muslim Brotherhood. The group’s Facebook page takes pains to highlight that objective, posting offensive comments about various Brotherhood members ranging from Khairat al-Shater, the Brotherhood’s powerful former deputy chairman, to Mohammed Morsi himself — as well as photos of “martyrs” killed protesting Morsi’s Brotherhood government. Because of the group’s insistence on remaining anonymous (typically covering their faces with black masks or scarves), its membership’s general profile and size remain unclear.
Opposition groups politically allied against the Brotherhood, such as the National Salvation Front and the Strong Egypt Party, have taken care to distance themselves from the anarchistic Bloc and to disavow the violent tactics they favor — most prominently the alleged arson attacks on the Brotherhood’s Ismailia headquarters. Peaceful political protesters are understandably worried that such methods could undermine their own cause. The state of emergency provisions that have been imposed (and flagrantly violated) in three Suez Canal cities show that the government is eager to crack down on protests immediately, with military leaders such as army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi issuing ominous warnings about “the collapse of the state.”
Abdallah’s announcement is just another part of this crackdown. It’s also a convenient frame for a systematic effort to quash widespread protests while giving the impression of only targeting one allegedly “terroristic” group. Indeed, the broad license now given to virtually any citizen to stop any protester on the mere suspicion of being affiliated with the Bloc is problematic for the protest movement as a whole (black, after all, is not an uncommon color for clothing and it forms, as well, an important visual element in Egypt’s national flag) — which means, perversely, that the Bloc may prove less of an enemy to Morsi and the Brotherhood than to their fellow opposition members. Divide et impera, as the saying goes.