"Some were shouting ‘Allah Akbar!’ (‘God is great!), adding fuel to the fire"
Mohannad Galal is a 27-year-old computer scientist living in Cairo.
Since the start of the revolution, I have been trying to film everything I see. That evening, I arrived in Maspero from the road where the Interior Ministry is, and I found myself, by accident, in the middle of a group of ‘baltagias’ that were joining security forces (in Egypt, militias known as ‘baltagias’
, often made up of young men recruited in poor neighbourhoods, were used by authorities to clamp down on protests and dissidents under Mubarak’s rule. They would wreak havoc in demonstrations to justify the police’s intervention.
They were dressed in plainclothes and armed with sticks, knives, long blades and even bricks. What is strange is that some were shouting ‘Allah Akbar!’ (‘God is great!’ for Muslims), a way of adding fuel to the fire but also of making the clashes look like yet another inter-religious conflict which required the army’s intervention (video at 00'46'')
Shortly afterwards, the group began targeting an individual just because he was Christian. In the video you hear the persons attacking him shout “He’s a Christian! He’s a Christian!” (video at 01'50'')
In a neighbouring street, near the Hilton Ramses hotel, I came across another group of ‘baltagias’. I heard a man on the phone, in front of a shopping precinct, say: ‘he is telling them to send out the Christians inside.’ Then the group began mercilessly beating up two Christians. One of them fell head first to the floor, and he continued being beaten by soldiers, police and men in plainclothes as he lay on the ground. You can hear one of the men in plain clothes shout ‘Stop! Come on guys, we don’t want to be caught on camera.’ (video at 04'55'') Luckily, in the heat of the moment, no one noticed that I was holding a small camera.
Later still, when the army charged the protesters, they were once again clearly accompanied by ‘baltagias’.
I believe that the army, backed by this militia, deliberately caused the demonstrations, which were initially peaceful and attended by both Christians and Muslims, to turn violent. It wants to control the situation – it’s still the same system as under Mubarak. You add fuel to the fire, and then pose as a ‘protector’ who is indispensable to the nation.
It is possible that the state television’s call to ‘defend the army’ (click here to watch the video of Egyptian television
accusing Copts of killing at least three soldiers in clashes) may have incited some Muslim citizen to join the riots and attack Christians. But as far as I could see, most of the Civilian men beating up Christians were working with security forces and weren’t there by accident.”