Lorenzo Trombetta – Anti-regime protesters and loyalist forces in Cairo. A dialectical confrontation

Event Date: 1 December 2011
Royal Holloway University of London
2 Gower Street
London WC1E 6DP

City/ State/ Resistance: Spaces of Protest in the Middle East and Mediterranean

Interdisciplinary workshop from Royal Holloway University

Sponsored by The British Academy

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Lorenzo Trombetta (Independent Researcher, Beirut)
Anti-regime protesters and loyalist forces in Cairo. A dialectical confrontation

Discussant: Laleh Khalili (SOAS)

From the last days of January to early February this year, the urban landscape of Cairo became the battleground for anti-regime activists and government forces. Underpinning the bloody street skirmishes, which claimed hundreds of victims in just a few days, was the use of techniques by the young protestersí, new to the local context, by which they succeeded in taking by surprise the prevailing system of government control. The immediate reaction of the latter was to employ traditional methods of repression, followed quickly by an attempt to adapt its strategy to that of the activists. In this article, I intend to illustrate the dialectical confrontation which took place between January 25 and February 3 in some of the Cairo suburbs (in some of the peripheral/outlying areas of Cairo) and in the heart of the city, between the leaders of the revolt and the regime, represented in those ten days by the Ministry of the Interior. The first mass demonstration which threw the traditional system of repression into crisis took place on January 25. During the night of February 2/3, the army sided definitively with the protesters, ready to protect them from the armed loyalist gangs and plain-clothed security forces, who had replaced the regular uniformed police withdrawn from the streets from January 29. The objective of this paper is to analyse the modalities of confrontation and the dialogue implicit between the two opposing forces and to demonstrate how both sides studied the methods of the other, readjusting their approach accordingly in an attempt to outwit each other. At the heart of the confrontation was the Internet, defined by many as the Deus ex machina of the Arab uprisings: the use of the Internet was without doubt a determining factor, but its suppression by the regime brought to the fore the use of traditional means of communication (i.e. relying on family, friends and communiti networks) by the protesters which have their roots in microurban contexts. This reconstruction, which avails itself of detailed maps and video footage of four key episodes that happened in four different areas of the city between January 25 and February 2, will highlight the role of the army: both player and arbitrator during those days, emerging subsequently as victorious political actor.

Lorenzo Trombetta is specialized in Arab studies with a particular focus on contemporary Syria. A professional journalist, he has lived in Beirut since 2005, where he works as a correspondent for Ansa News Agency and the geopolitical magazine LiMes. He also writes for Italian and international newspapers. His degree thesis dealt with an analysis of Syrian propaganda from 1970 to 2000. He defended his doctoral thesis at Paris Sorbonne (2008), dealing with the structure of the al-Assadsí system of power from the time of Hafiz father to his son Bashar. Last January and February, he covered the Egyptian Uprising in Cairo for Ansa, LiMes and other media outlets.

Laleh Khalili is a senior lecturer in the Politics of the Middle East at the School of Oriental and African studies.  She is the author of Heroes and Martyrs of Palestine: The Politics of National Commemoration (Cambridge 2007) and Time in the Shadows: Confinement in Incarcerations (Stanford, 2012 forthcoming), the editor of Modern Arab Politics (Routledge 2008) and co-editor (with Jillian Schwedler) of Policing and Prisons in the Middle East: Formations of Coercion (Hurst/Columbia, 2010).  Her current research interests are in colonial warfare, counterinsurgencies, and militarism.

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