In Cairo, a mob of armed pro-Mubarak “demonstrators” attacked the crowd in Tahrir. In Alexandria, where I went, things were a little calmer — lots of counter-demonstrations that appeared to number in the low hundreds, and some tense moments, but as far as I am aware, no violence.
In addition to deploying baltagiya, the government clearly has dialed up its rolodex of groups who can be bussed in vote for NDP candidates, and ordered them to form up for pro-presidential demonstrations: baltagiya, government employees in certain tightly-controlled firms, etc, plus a few new faces like the camel riders who charged Tahrir. However, it’s also possible that a fair number are responding to advertisements on state television to show up and march for stability and the president. Going up the Cairo-Alex road, I found a fair amount of people in the rural stretches of highway between the towns who basically bought the state media narrative — Mubarak was a strong, honest leader, it was the ministers who were corrupt, the demonstrators were plunging the country into anarchy, etc.
The government has been extremely skilled in undermining sympathy for the protesters, first by plunging the country into chaos and then finding scapegoats whom everyone likes to hate: foreign journalists in general, and al-Jazeera in particular. This may explain why a lot of reporters are getting attacked.
I doubt that the pro-Mubarak organizers will ever bring a quarter million sincere supporters of Mubarak to Tahrir square, but I don’t write all of them off as “criminals and bitches”, as one veterinarian in Alex told me today — presumably meaning petty criminals on the payroll of the police.
Which brings me to another issue: class. “There are rich people and there are poor people. The poor have to eat,” one anti-demo kiosk owner said a couple of days ago. By this he meant, the rich people are in the square demonstrating. This is not exactly true — the Tahrir crowd was a pretty diverse mixture of unemployed youth, professionals, and everyone else in between. But if you haven’t actually been there to look around, it’s easy for the state to propagate the idea that young dilettantes with enough money to afford rising food prices are the ones protesting, while the poor folk are forced to pay the price. I’ve spoken to a couple of self-declared ex-anti-Mubarak protesters who want the demonstrations to end: Mubarak says that he’s going and the country has had enough of the unrest, so why continue?
I haven’t watched state TV since last evening, but very likely you’ll get scenes of molotov cocktails and shooting without any explanation that the protesters were the ones attacked. A fair amount of people still watch mostly state TV.
The undermining of the uprising is crude and cynical, but effective.