A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Mixed Signals in Cairo?

With so much attention focused on Libya, it's worth a moment to note the curious events of last night and today in Cairo. Last night the military police — that is, uniformed representatives of the ruling military, not the hated security police — broke up the strikers in Tahrir Square and also dispersed demonstrators around the Parliament and Cabinet building, who have been seeking the ouster of Prime Minister Ahmad Rashid. Protesters were also set upon by masked men as well as uniformed military police. Some were tasered, others hit with sticks or short whips. (No shots, thankfully.) People were vowing to come out in strength today, fearing the military had decided to shut the demonstrators down despite backing them in the past. And then, today, the Army apologized. It said the attacks were unauthorized, and no order had been given or will be given to attack the protesters, and that all those detained would be released.

Al-Ahram Online in English here. Blogger Zeinobia with firsthand accounts, photos, and video here. The Higher Military Council continues to post its communiques on its Facebook page, (but only its communiques: don't look for a list of members, still somewhat mysterious); the key apology communique is here (in Arabic).

At this point I don't know how to read this. A division within the Military Council? A rogue military police commander? A misunderstood order? Something more sinister? It's worth watching as the apology seems very unusual, and its contrite tone puzzling if reassuring.

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