All year, secular liberals have accused the Brotherhood --
the most powerful political party in the country -- of playing footsy with the
military. Finally, however, the Brothers broke with the military over the legal
role of the armed forces, rather than, as many expected, over whether Egypt
would be defined as a secular state.
Demonstrators from across the spectrum stayed on script on
Friday, all demanding that the military honor its promise to leave power. Fringe
elements, like the jihadis who waved photos of Osama bin Laden, were jeered
even by fundamentalist Salafist protesters. When some zealous Islamists chanted for
sharia, they were silenced by their peers.
"It only feels a little bit like Kandahar," joked secular
activist Rami ElSaid, from the April 6 movement. "I am happy about today."
At nightfall, that unity frayed and snapped: the Islamists
packed up and went home, leaving only a small number of secular activists to
sit in overnight in the square, still demanding that the military agree to
surrender power to an elected civilian president by April 2012.
Police smashed into a corner of the square on Saturday
morning, beating the protesters that remained. The group was so small it wasn't
even impeding traffic, and it was attracting almost no attention. The police
response did, however, and by midday Tahrir was a war zone. On Saturday
evening, the police cleared the square after a day of shooting people with
rubber pellets, often in the face, blinding several, and enveloping the entire square
in tear gas. Within an hour, the crowd had reoccupied the square. On Sunday,
the military joined the charge, clearing the square in concert with police just
after nightfall. Again, within an hour, demonstrators had retaken Tahrir.
The toll as of Monday morning, according to the Ministry of Health: at least 2,000 injured, a minimum of 20 dead according to the Health Ministry, and Egypt's parliamentary elections in jeopardy.
These clashes have felt different, however, from others
since Mubarak's resignation.
For starters, the police were clearly aiming at people's
faces, unleashing a constant barrage of rubber bullets and pellets along with
the more customary tear gas. Doctors said they found live ammunition in many of the dead, despite government denials that its security forces are using real bullets. Unlike previous clashes, the military and police
worked together to fight the demonstrators, most obviously in the Sunday
evening assault on the thousands in Tahrir. And a potent mix of people were
willing to fight the increasingly nasty police: poor kids and rich kids,
seasoned activists and people who'd never been to a demonstration before,
bearded Islamists and secular women.
The determination of the crowds is unlike anything I've seen here since the
original uprising, when wave after wave of demonstrators overpowered riot
police and subsequently stood firm under an orchestrated attack by gunmen and
cavalry on horses and camels.