Anarchists in the West get pretty touchy about the usage of the phrase "black bloc". While the mainstream media has co-opted the term to christen a supposed new movement of furious, state-destroying bank smashers, the anarchists gripe that all it really refers to is the tactic of wearing all black to help preserve your anonymity at a protest or riot.
In Egypt, however, they seem less concerned with the terminology. Modelling themselves on the anti-establishment ideals of their Western counterparts, the Egyptian Black Bloc share the same tactics and uniform, but have adopted the name with its capital letters intact: Black Bloc as anti-Islamist movement, rather than lower-case anti-CCTV strategy.
Young Egyptians claiming affiliation with the group have been turning up to protests in their hundreds to skirmish with pro-government forces. They have no qualms about using violence and have claimed responsibility for the recent firebomb attack on the Muslim Brotherhood’s HQ and the temporary closure of Alexandria’s tramway.
Photo by Alexis Gravel
Understandably, this has terrified the Muslim Brotherhood and President Morsi has vowed to crack down on the Black Bloc. Attorney general Talaat Ibrahim has cited them as a terrorist organisation, ordering the police and army to arrest anyone suspected of being a member.
Islamist groups such as Jama’a al-Islamiya haven't taken their emergence too well either, releasing bafflingly vague statements like “the Black Bloc must die”. A counter-movement of Islamists calling themselves the “White Bloc” has also been initiated, but despite all this, the group is growing quickly in numbers, its ranks swollen with plenty of young people who talk about their own deaths in collateral terms.
I managed to get an interview with one of the guys running Egypt's Black Bloc. He wasn't exactly Aaron Carr: chatty man, but I guess he's got more important business to attend to.
VICE: What does the Egyptian Black Bloc represent, ideologically?
Anonymous: The Egyptian Black Bloc hold several different views and doesn't adhere to one specific ideology. There's obviously a resemblance in appearance with the European black blocs, and we share some of their basic ideas.
Do you guys have any kind of relationship with Anonymous?
There isn't one, no.
Does the group have any desire for future involvement in Egyptian politics?
We are indeed already involved in Egyptian political life because we are the youth of the revolution.
How did the group form?
It was formed after one of the attacks that took place against people holding a sit-in at the El-Ettihadia Palace, in which activists were targeted.
How have the general public reacted to the group?
In the beginning, the public was afraid of us but after we protected and defended them our intentions became clearer and people who liked us started appearing. It's got to the point where people have started defending us.
What is your relationship like with the Egyptian media?
There is no relationship or communication between the Egyptian media and us.
How the group is structured?
We have a general leader named Cabo Zero as well as a few leaders of smaller branches.
Egyptian state media is claiming you are an armed rebel group, what is your response to that?
These are the same accusations that every fascist regime accuses people of. We wonder what the official state media's current stance is on the Hazzimoon Group, or the Muslim Brotherhood militias, or other extreme Islamic right-wing movements.
What is your relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists like?
They are our enemies.
How far are you willing to go to reach your objectives?
We are willing to go to the furthest extents, even if it costs us our lives.
What is the group’s ultimate objective?
We seek to overthrow a corrupt and tyrannical government, cleanse the judicial system and the police force, punish those who have the blood and money of Egyptians on their hands. Beyond that, we also believe in the creation of a minimum and maximum wage and establishing social justice.
What is the relationship between the Black Bloc and general religious ideology? Are you a secular organisation?
Our members hold different ideas. There are liberals, there are secularists and there are also moderate Islamists.
What do you have to say to Jama’a al-Islamiya's assertion that "the Black Bloc must die"?
How are we to answer those whose hands have been tarnished with the blood of innocents?
Is there any message you wish us to convey to the public on your behalf?
Our message to the entire world is that we do not seek to make enemies of anyone. We wish to lift the Egyptians out of injustice and corruption and establish social justice and human rights and protect them from religious fascism. Our message to our countrymen is “We are your children, we do not seek to destroy our nation, we sacrifice our blood for our nation and we will not stay silent in the face of injustice and corruption.”
Who are the White Bloc and what is your relationship with them like?
The White Bloc is an organisation created to destroy us, comprised of members from the extreme right.
Is it possible to tell us about some of the things you have done together as a group?
We decline to answer that question.
How do you guys work together at a protest? How does an average day go?
How do you plan to enact the changes you want to see in Egypt?
We shall keep on escalating our endeavours.
Can you tell us about your personal pasts and how your experiences motivated you to get involved with Black Bloc?
Some of us were arrested in 2008 and many of us are activists from before the revolution, some who got started during it. We have been involved in many altercations since the 28th of January, 2011 and we are still keeping up the struggle.
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