In Egypt today, violent clashes between the pro-Mubarak thugs and the pro-democracy protesters continued throughout the day. According to Al Jazeera’s online producer in Cairo:
“The battle for downtown Cairo on Thursday has taken on an almost medieval quality, with protesters erecting makeshift barricades and building homemade catapults to launch rocks at each other.
“Close-range combat ensued for several hours, with hand-to-hand combat near the barricades erected by pro-democracy protesters. Both sides threw hundreds of rocks back and forth.”
The army did make an effort today to separate the two sides and things are apparently calmer now that it’s evening there.
While the anti-Mubarak protesters have managed to hold on to Tahrir Square, doctors that are running makeshift hospitals there are saying that 10 people have been killed and more than 1,200 injured in the violent clashes that began yesterday.
As Sharif Abdel Kouddous told Democracy Now! today:
Tomorrow, Friday, is going to be a decisive day. Of course, Friday is the day for Muslim prayer, and they expect hundreds of thousands to come to Tahrir. And they want the ouster of the Mubarak regime, and they demand nothing less.
From the protesters that I’ve heard interviewed, there still seems to be little discussion of what comes next if the protests aren’t successful in the near future.
In an email exchange last night with Jack DuVall, the president of the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict, about the problems that the pro-democracy demonstrators face with those instigating violence, he told me that:
…protest leaders in Cairo would like to know of ways they can readily distinguish themselves as nonviolent actors, and how to make the media see disruptors not as principled backers of Mubarak (as half the mainstream media today was saying, ignorantly) but as the trucked-in, rent-a-thugs they were. The strategic problems are (a) how to prevent one’s own hot-heads from fighting with disruptors, which is what the regime wants, and (b) how to differentiate one’s people from violent actors so the media can see the differentiation and recognize the motives of violent actors by seeing the pattern of the disruption. The strategic opportunity is to use this recognition to discredit the regime.
I agree with this assessment of the problem that I wrestled with in a post yesterday and worry that the violence on the part of the anti-government protesters in Cairo, even though it appears to be in self-defense, threatens to tarnish their movement.
Unfortunately, I fear that the only way to decrease the likelihood of protesters fighting back would be through much more widespread training of demonstrators before something like this happens and having a greater general awareness of the dynamics of nonviolent conflict among the population that will only come through education.
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