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Friday, July 26, 2013

Tahrir Taken, Some Egyptians Look for a ‘Third Square’ to Resist Islamists and Army

As hundreds of thousands of Egyptians crammed into dueling rallies in different parts of Cairo on Friday, responding to calls for support from rival political factions around the army and the Muslim Brotherhood, activists who mistrust both groups were left wondering how best to register their disgust with the military and the Islamists.

With Tahrir Square packed with flag-waving supporters of the defense minister, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, and the rally across town, outside the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, calling for the reinstatement of Mohamed Morsi, the deposed Islamist president, many dissenters avoided the streets and mocked both sides from afar online.

The activist filmmaker Aalam Wassef, who made subversive Web videos during the Mubarak era under the pseudonym Ahmad Sherif, released a bleakly comic music video, which showed him sitting out Friday’s demonstrations at home, doing his laundry in front of a banner with a single word on it: “Resist.”

“Resist,” a music video commentary on events in Egypt from Aalam Wassef, an activist filmmaker.

The song’s lyrics summed up the topsy-turvy sense of a world turned sideways and then upside down, scrambling the positions taken by three groups during Egypt’s 2011 revolution â€" the revolutionaries, the “felool,” or “remnants” of the Mubarak regime, and “the Couch Party,” made up of citizens who watch political disputes unfold on television. “Today the revolutionaries are members of the Couch Party,” Mr. Wassef’s collaborator Mariam K. sings, “The Brotherhood are felool and the felool are playing revolutionaries.” And that, Mr. Wassef chimes in, is “the surreal story of Egypt.”

Another dissident, Omar Robert Hamilton, a leader of the Mosireen media collective that grew out of an effort to document the 2011 revolution, wrote on Twitter that he visited Tahrir Square to collect five minutes of footage for the archive, but found “the blind uniformity of this nationalism,” extremely depressing.

Mr. Hamilton also drew attention to ironic contrasts he noticed on the streets on Friday, like Egyptian soldiers deployed next to a mural dedicated to the activist Mina Daniel, who was killed by troops during the notorious Maspero massacre of mainly Coptic Christian protesters in late 2011, when Egypt was under direct military rule.

Volunteers from Tahrir Bodyguard, a group set up to protect female protesters from sexual assault during demonstrations in the square, posted an alert on Twitter saying that they would not be present on Friday.

A small number of activists did take to the streets, however, displaying banners in Sphinx Square with red lines through the faces of both General Sisi and Mr. Morsi.

As the Egyptian-British blogger Sarah Carr reported for Mada Masr, an English language news site, the dozens of protesters in Sphinx Square, “refer to their movement as “The Third Square.”

In a leaflet distributed in the protest they describe themselves as “a group of Egyptians who protested on January 25 against the corruption of the Mubarak state… protested against [former head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces Field Marshal Hussein] Tantawi’s men, who gave the army a bad name during the transitional period, and protested against Morsi and religious fascism in order to call for early elections.”

The leaflet says that they are protesting today against the army playing a role in politics and against “the defense minister calling for an authorization to kill Egyptians on the pretext of fighting terrorism when fighting terrorism does not require a mandate because that is the duty of the Armed Forces.”

One protester, Marwa Ibrahim, told Ms. Carr: “I refused the June 30 coup not because I loved Morsi but because it was a violation of revolutionary legitimacy. We want a civilian president.” She added that her main priority was getting justice for all of the protesters killed since Jan. 25, 2011.

Other bloggers and journalists who were in Tahrir Square for the uprising that drove the former air force commander, Hosni Mubarak, from office, registered their dissent or noted with amazement the scenes of pro-military fervor on the streets of Cairo on Friday.

Others drew attention to the paradoxical fact that the American-financed Egyptian military seemed to be drumming up support by casting itself as a bulwark of defense against the United States. Some posters drew on the widely embraced conspiracy theory that the Brotherhood was secretly supported by the Obama administration.

As the political commentator Bassem Sabry noted, some well-printed banners displayed on Friday even referred to American government’s decision this week to hold back delivery of new fighter jets to Egypt after the defense minister called for a popular mandate to “fight terrorism.”

Outside the main train station on Friday morning in the city of Alexandria â€" where there were violent clashes between supporters and opponents of the deposed president later in the day â€" supporters of the military underscored their hatred of the United States by hanging a huge poster of Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, alongside one of General Sisi. The words above Mr. Putin’s image read: “Bye, Bye, America.”