This is what happened at the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) office in the Cairo suburb of Maadi on the night of December 6. I was there.
Contrary to some news reports:
1. It wasn’t burnt to the ground.
2. It was looted, which I regard as repugnant.
3. No-one thankfully was hurt.
4. I didn’t see any evidence this was the work of the opposition at all, nor a ‘third hand’ – seemed like a spontaneous reaction from the area.
When I arrived to check on the protest, there was already a big crowd – probably around 1000 people. I had wanted to Tweet from there, but in the midst of the crowd, it was difficult to get a signal out. Obviously too many people on Twitter or on their phones. I had passed about 8 or 9 trucks of police further down the street, near VodaFone – but they were keeping their distance. They apparently came earlier, and had left, but I wasn’t there for that.
The FJP office is, one has to keep in mind, a corner flat on the ground floor of a residential building. The entrance to the flat was on the outside of the building. Thank God for that, because it meant that no one was going into the residential building from the main entrance, and the residents were none too pleased by the commotion.
The crowd was made up of essentially three groups. The largest group was probably about 15 metres away from the office, in the grassy area between the two car lanes. A few lively arguments in the crowd, but very peaceful, and not really confrontational. The crowd was made up mostly of young men, and a few women (mostly in headscarves, but not all). They generally looked as though they were from the area, and they all seemed to be vigorously opposed to the MB. In front of the office itself were two smaller groups: one group, I believe, trying to keep the second from getting inside the FJP office. Neither of them were MB – I’m pretty sure they were all protestors, and that in the midst of them, there were Ultras.
I was getting ready to leave, as it seemed all was well. Then, I turned around, and both groups directly in front of the office itself had gone. There was someone who appeared to be an Ultra, in the street in front of the office, trying to rouse the crowd up. I couldn’t hear him, and then suddenly, a young lad kicked in the door of the office, and people started cheering. The office was then completely ransacked. It wasn’t burnt to the ground , nor was anyone hurt – I don’t believe anyone was inside. But the place was completely looted: furniture, paperwork, and anything else was taken out and hurled into the street, where it was destroyed.
Like I said: I didn’t see any opposition spokespeople there – nor were there any opposition flags. This was, from what I could tell, completely a spontaneous reaction by community residents against the FJP, spurred on by Ultras, who then escalated it. The slogans that followed (swearing at the president’s mother, for example), I’ve never heard at any opposition rally anywhere.
Former Brookings Expert
After that point, the Central Security Force (CSF) began to advance. The young men left the office and began advancing towards the CSF. The police backed down, and began to walk backwards, with an armoured vehicle. They went all the way back. What was bizarre was that as they went back, the portion of the crowd (and it was only a portion) that headed towards the CSF began shouting ‘eed wahda/one hand’. I couldn’t figure it out – were they declaring they (the protestors) were one hand themselves? Or with the police.
There was no honour or courage in any of that ransacking of the office – it should have remained a protest, without entering. Especially given this was a residential building. I can’t describe any of that looting and breaking into the office except as vandalism and hooliganism. They weren’t the opposition. It’s also not some ‘hidden hand’ or felool. These were kids – most of the ones engaged in the storming of the office not a day over 20, probably, and were just looking for kicks.
Unfortunately, after President Morsi’s December 6 speech, and as yet no opposition political leadership that the people of Egypt will support, I do not think it is the last time we see legitimate grievances be overtaken by baser motives.