Originally published at majalla.com, April 12, 2011
It was one of the chants which defined the Egyptian uprising—“The army and the people on one hand.”
Not any more it seems. At the very least, if the military and the masses ever did fit into one glove then the relationship will need some serious work after this weekend’s violence.
On Friday, central Cairo played host to the biggest demonstration since former president Hosni Mubarak’s ousting in February.
A few thousand protesters lingered on in Tahrir Square after the main rally, but the army was not in a particularly tolerant mood.
At least one person died in the crackdown that followed. Protestors put the tally at three—including, they said, some of the rebel officers who had joined the demonstration in spite of threats by the top brass to court martial any soldiers who attended the march.
The daytime rally, which drew tens of thousands after midday prayers, was intended to pile pressure on the ruling military council, which some believe has been too sluggish in its pursuit of former regime criminals.
But it descended into violence as hundreds of soldiers moved in on the square soon after 2am, peppering the night sky with shots and rounding-up protesters.
A spent cartridge I picked up in Tahrir the following morning is currently perched on my mantelpiece. The military said it was not fired by them as no live rounds were used during the operation.
Nonsense, according to many of the demonstrators who were in central Cairo on Friday night.
“I saw bullets ricocheting up from the ground,” said 47-year-old filmmaker Ibrahim El-Batout. “I feel betrayed. The army’s job is not to shoot at us.”
Another demonstrator held a spent round in his palm as he recounted what happened during the night. “The army surrounded the square at around 3am,” said PhD researcher Mohammed Nabeel. “Then they started firing. I feel awful.”
Amal Sharaf, a spokesperson for the April 6th Youth Movement, one of Egypt’s most influential activist groups, said that many Egyptians were unhappy with the sluggish pace of the prosecution process.
She said: “People don’t trust the army anymore. The longer we leave these prosecutions the more time we give Mubarak to escape from his crimes.”
Sali Moore, a senior member of presidential contender Mohamed El-Baradei’s campaign team, agreed that people were disgruntled with the “illegitimate” ruling military council.
But she added it was important to distinguish between the council and the rest of the army.
“In the streets we said ‘the army and the people on one hand’,” she said. “We still believe that because we see the difference between the army and the council.”
The ruling military council will be hoping she is right. During Friday’s march chanting protesters made clear their disdain for the military top brass, comparing interim leader Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi to Hosni Mubarak and calling on him to resign.
If these sentiments gain traction—and morph into a widespread mistrust of the army—then Egypt’s uprising could be in for stormy weather.