With violent demonstrations again roiling the country, the black blocs also provided the government and its allies with a convenient new scapegoat. Muslim Brotherhood officials and state-backed media have already blamed the groups for all manner of mayhem, from exchanging fire with security forces to attacking Brotherhood offices. On Tuesday Egypt’s chief prosecutor ordered the arrest of anyone participating in a black bloc, with a spokesman calling the blocs an “organized, terrorist group.” The state news agency announced the arrest of 18 alleged black bloc members on Thursday. Local media also reported that Salafis were forming a “white bloc” to combat the newcomers. The hardline Islamic Group announced that it was prepared to “kill, crucify or cut off the hands and feet” of black bloc members, if so ordered by the president.
Egyptian activists and protesters have been well-versed in the tactics of street clashes since well before the 2011 uprising, and demonstrators have been covering their faces for decades, so what will the black bloc do differently to defend protests? Hassan wasn’t exactly clear. His response suggested that the black costumes are at least in part a sort of street theater. “It’s a new face for the defense of the revolutionaries,” he said. (...)
The fact that the black-clad demonstrators appeared in multiple cities on the same weekend after, however, indicated that there was a concerted effort at a nationwide rebranding. How much coordination among groups, and who is behind them, however, remains a mystery. One of the bloc’s axioms, borrowed from their European counterparts, is “anti-media” and masked protesters routinely wave off requests for interviews on the street.
The Egyptian black bloc also has a burgeoning online presence, including dozens of Facebook pages, a “Black Bloc” rap song, and video communiqués recorded by masked demonstrators. These social media fragments, however, have added to the confusion about whether the black bloc is simply a tactic or an organized group. In one YouTube clip, a masked youth claiming to represent Black Bloc in Alexandria proclaims that the bloc is a group of individuals, with no connection to opposition leaders like ElBaradei. He then presents a list of the group’s demands: revolutionary trials for members of the old regime, a raise in average wages, reform of the Interior Ministry and other government institutions, job-creation projects, and “punishment” for “crimes” committed by subsequent governments since 2011.