Reaping the Whirlwind

January 24, 2014

“Violence begets violence, I was taught that when I was a kid in a state-run school”.

My interviewee spoke in gasps as we tried to hear each other over the chaotic sounds of street clashes that engulfed us.

Gun shots, smoke bombs, Molotov cocktails. Blood stains, sling-shots, raucous screaming. But the media didn’t care. They were preoccupied with the “festivities” in Tahrir Square.

My interviewee, the boy of probably no more than 18 whom I was shadowing, was part of a group avowed to “defend the demonstrators” from the police. He wore a scarf over his face and carried two backpacks.

The one on his back contained the regular knickknacks of a hardened “revolutionary”: a couple of surgical masks, swimming goggles, a sprout-tipped bottle filled with a yeast solution, a bottle of pepsi, a pair of scissors, a clean towel that doubles as a gauze, food rations, and a can of insect repellent he can use to “burn” gas bombs.

The smaller backpack he carried on his stomach held two thick textbooks he thought would help him against birdshots and bullets.

He wore shin guards on his legs and forearms, and was armed with a pocket knife, a stick, a slingshot, firesticks, and whatever stones he could get his hands on.

“From now on we attack them anywhere, anytime”, he said referring to the police. In the vicinity, many more like him stood their ground for hours before deciding to head back home to prepare for another day.

Nothing was particularly strange about my young companion. For the past three years he and his ilk were the vanguards of the revolutionary movement; those who continuously taxed the state for the impunity of its security forces. The fact that this year’s batch was of a certain ideological slant—supporters of, or sympathizers with the ousted Muslim Brotherhood—makes little difference in the grand scheme of disgruntlement over unwarranted police brutality and complete lack of accountability.

Youth groups like these will form the backbone of disruptive militia that will challenge state authority for some time to come, and will be the recruitment pool for the more radical and violent groups now sprouting across the country.

Having come down hard against student protests in the past few months, and with the resurgence in arbitrary detention as well as a lack of any reconciliatory approach in sight, the state seems set on a path of pushing fervent youth towards a hard choice between total submission or violent radicalization. Many students will inevitably choose the latter, to the delight of the groups that genuinely wish to undermine the security of the country.

The “conspiracy” always spoken of is that of external elements sowing the seeds of sedition. The real  “conspiracy” being shushed is about a handful of state institutions so hung up on control that they fail to see the consequences of their actions, or that they do so knowingly, and with the conviction that insecurity can only further their grip and their power.

The multiple explosions on January 24th, not only mark a continuous ineptness of the agencies vying for power, they also mark a distinct entry into a long period of insurgency that will be impossible to subdue militarily or by mere force. Those who mention that the state was able to control the wave of terrorism in the 1990s through force are mistaken. That was not the case. And force will fail today as well.

As for the country’s youth, the more they are denied political space on campuses, and the harder they are denied freedom of expression and association, the more they will revert to underground groups, lawlessness, and violent vengeance.

Violence begets violence.

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