The battle of competing narratives: the revolution and the army

The events that have unfolded since April 8th have left many struggling for some perspective or a firm grip on reality. This has probably been the most befuddling week since the start of the revolution. The events have been unfolding at a dizzying pace and the mainstream media (apparently egged on by the army) seem to present a narrative that is at odds with what many activists and those in Tahrir were seeing.

Background to a major clash
Several coalitions and groups associated with the revolution have called for a massive demo on Friday the 8th the was named the Friday Judgement and Purification. There was a growing sentiments the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) was dragging its feet vis-à-vis putting on trial Mubark and his coterie.

Those delays were interpreted by many as a sign of complicity. Adding fuel to that theory were two videos released by ex-army officers. The officers put forth a theory that the the head SCAF, Marshal Tantawi was behind the counter-revolution and was Mubarak's loyal servant. That theory was gaining a great deal of traction, as many could not find a rational explanation as to the SCAF was taking its good time bring the key figures of corruption to justice.

It also didn't help that there were widespread reports that the army was detaining and torturing protesters since late February, several of whom where unjustly sentenced as thugs. The violent breakup of the sit-in in Tahrir on March 9th further added credence to the theory that the army can not be trusted and that old state security practice of employing thugs to do their dirty work was alive and well. There were further reports of detentions and torturing, by specially outrageous were reports that the army subjected female protesters to forced virginity checks. The pain and ensuing shock of the particular incident even inspired a poem.

However, at the army strongly maintained (and still maintains) that all who were sentenced were either criminal thugs or counter revolutionaries. This view seems to be maintained even across the whole hierarchy of the army.

The clash on April 9th
On Friday's demonstration, many were surprised to see several uniformed army officers join in. The officers presented a case to the demonstrators that the SCAF and specially its head were working hard to kill the revolution. Most of those in Tahrir were very uneasy with the situation. However at the end of the day a few decided to sit-in either to protect the mutineering army officers, or because they felt that they had to put further pressure on the army to move ahead with demands of the revolution.

The fact that the army seems to had done little to prevent this situation from occurring in the first place was squarely blamed on the SCAF. There was a great deal of confusion with the regards to what transpired as the army attempted to break the sit-in and capture the mutinous officers. The official report is the one of the protesters was killed by an unidentified sniper(s) and that over seventy were wounded. Several accounts by eye witnesses seem to suggest that many more were killed and that the army account's is inconsistent. Also several human rights groups strongly condemned this precedent by the army.

The army put forth the a statement that on the businessmen cronies of Mubarak, Ibrahim Kamel, was behind the sit-in and held responsible for "thuggery" that had come to pass in Tahrir. However, that argument did not gain much traction amongst many commentators.

Kamel was widely believed to be a major player in the bloody events of the 2nd of February. It seemed puzzling that is took the army over two months to put him on trail. The army's narrative was leaking to say the least.

Several protesters later regrouped on Saturday morning and started a sit-in in Tahrir. Many were calling for an immediate trial for all the symbols of corruption, and some went as far as calling for Tantawi to step down.

Mubarak's speech
There was massive outrage when Mubarak's prerecorded speech was aired. They theory that the SCAF or Tantawi was complicit seems to gain further ground. Many bloggers felt that the army must act immediately or lose all credibility. The sentiment was succinctly expressed by the respected blogger Sandmonkey in the following tweet:
Dear SCAF , go get mubarak from sharm el sheikh and throw him in tahrir now. Its him or u at this point. ACT
On an interview on private channel ONTV representatives of SCAF laid the blame on not putting Mubarak and his cronies on trial on Egypt's chief prosecutor. They were essentially making the argument that handing out justice to such high ranking figures was not their department. However, handing out summary justice to protesters, thugs and more recently a controversial blogger is squarely their responsibility.

In the interview many were shocked to see Major General Etman categorically deny any wrongdoing by the army. He denied all accounts of torture, virginity tests, or brutality. Shortly afterwards news spread that Etman had send out letters to all Egyptian media outlets, informing that that nothing regarding the army should be published without being first check the military censor. To many this reeked of an air of Orwellian media control. Goodbye democracy, hello ministry of disinformation.

Mubarak, his sons, and many of his cronies have been incarcerated in the past two days. Tahrir has been opened for traffic after some negotiations with the sit-inners. Egypt seems to be a celebratory mood. The army seemed to managed to averted what could have been a major standoff with Egypt's revolutionaries.

However, mass arrests of the protesters in Tahrir were carried out with the help of army informants. There is a great deal of uncertainty with regards to how personals freedoms will be respected going forward. Faith in the credibility SCAF has suffered a tremendous blow. Many find their language and presentations of facts unacceptable. Its quite hard for high ranking generals to subject to public scrutiny and criticism, yet they will have to either get used to it or faith the wrath of Tahrir. The foundations of democracy can not be established in an environment that abhors openness, accountability, and freedom of expression.

It is clear to many the SCAF is feeling the strain of political leadership. Their attitude is increasingly becoming defensive to the point that their narrative is growing less rational and believable. However, the Egyptian revolution should never be force for fomenting divisions within what is perhaps that last bastion of order in the land. We have to maintain pressure unrelentingly, but I hope that awareness spreads with regards how to do it while avoiding outright confrontation with the SCAF.

Labels: ,