Black Bloc anarchists emerge

Members of the Black Bloc are seen during the protest in Tahrir Square in Cairo on 25 January
Image caption,
Members of the Black Bloc have pledged to "continue the revolution"

The Black Bloc, a new Egyptian anarchist group, made its first appearance last week, on the eve of the second anniversary of the 25 January 2011 revolution. With a declared aim of fighting the Muslim Brotherhood, it has drawn a lot of mainstream criticism.

The group appears to be drawing inspiration from European Black Bloc protesters, using the same tactics first seen in Germany in the 1970s and more recently at anti-globalization protests.

Internationally, Black Bloc members dress all in black, concealing their faces and often resort to violence.

On 29 January, Prosecutor General Tal'at Abdullah said the group engaged in "terrorist" activities and its members should be detained. He subsequently clarified that arrests should only be made if Black Bloc members are caught red-handed, the Egyptian news agency MENA reported.

A number of people suspected of belonging to the Black Bloc have since been detained.

The size of the Black Bloc in Egypt is not clear, but the group appears to have forged links with other Egyptian revolutionary groups, including the "Ultras", who are hardcore fans of Cairo's al-Ahly football club.

Members of the group appeared in Tahrir Square on 25 January, banging drums and saying they would "continue the revolution" and "defend protesters". Others were reported by the al-Ahram news website to be blocking tram tracks in the northern city of Alexandria.

'Bringing down tyrants'

Facebook pages have been set up, attracting thousands of subscribers. They feature violent rhetoric against the Muslim Brotherhood and instructional videos on street fighting.

The Black Bloc describes itself as a group that is "striving to liberate people, end corruption and bring down tyrants".

"We had to appear officially to fight against the regime of the fascist tyrants, the Muslim Brotherhood, and their military wing," the group said in an online video.

Filmed at night, the short video shows men wearing black clothes and black masks. Some hold the Egyptian flag while others carry black flags with an "A" sign - an international symbol of anarchism.

In a statement published on its Facebook page on 25 January, the group claimed responsibility for an arson attack on the office of the Muslim Brotherhood's official website and a famous restaurant in Cairo believed to be owned by a Muslim Brotherhood figure.

"We declare our revolution today in Tahrir Square until Egypt and its people get their rights back," it added. "We are not thugs or saboteurs, but rather we defend Egypt against the criminality of the Muslim Brotherhood."

One of the Black Bloc's founders, Sharif al-Sirfi, has said the group has adopted the slogan, "Vengeance or Revolution".

On 27 January, he told the al-Watan newspaper: "We seek to get the rights of martyrs, and this can not be achieved except through fair revenge, which is the execution of those who are found guilty of killing the martyrs."

Another member of the group, speaking to the al-Yawm al-Sabi news website on condition of anonymity, said its members included Ultras, activists from the leftist 6 April Youth Movement, and unaffiliated young people.

Wave of criticism

The Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated TV channel, Misr 25, reported on 26 January that the Black Bloc was "part of the alleged revolutionary movements, such as anarchism and the [Egyptian Trotskyist] Revolutionary Socialists".

"These movements reject the existence of a political, judicial or parliamentary system at all. They call for societies without the state. In order to achieve this, they adopt all forms of violent and barbaric acts, such as killing and burning," the report said.

"These anarchic sabotage groups are not revolutionary groups. Rather, they use the revolution as a cover to cause chaos."

The methods the group uses have sparked a wave of criticism in the mainstream media. Some commentators describe it as a "terrorist group".

"It is a group of young extremists who adopt anarchic ideas, copying the Western terrorist movements calling themselves the Black Bloc," Hani Salah-al-Din wrote in al-Yawm al-Sabi.

State-run Nile News TV has reported that the group attacked President Muhammad Morsi's house in his hometown of Zagazig in al-Sharqiyah governorate on 25 January.

It also said a number of group members were arrested during clashes with security forces near Tahrir Square on the first day of their demonstrations.

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