The dramatic entrance staged by a group of masked protesters on Friday at Ettehadiya Presidential Palace was quickly followed by a less than dignified exit after they were berated by women who'd been chanting in front of the palace since the morning.
At around 5 pm on the second anniversary of the 25 January revolution, dozens marched towards the presidential palace in troop formation, covering their faces in black masks. As soon as they reached the gates, they were entangled in minor altercations with Central Security Forces, after which other protesters turned them away.
"Why don't they want us here? We're here to protect them," one of them told the other as they walked away from the crowd.
This reporter, along with a few other curious protesters, followed the masked group, assuming they’re the elusive Black Bloc we’ve been bracing ourselves for.
“We’re not the Black Bloc, we’re the Eagles,” one of them told me, before he was interrupted by another member, “Eagles! Let’s go, we’re saying too much.”
It was clear the Eagles were working very hard to maintain an air of ambiguity. Along with the masks that concealed their identities, everything else remained a mystery.
“How many are you?” I asked one of them.
“That’s not important.”
“Are there others in Tahrir?”
“That’s not important.”
Moving on then.
As we walked, one of the Eagles ran into a friend and for a split second forgot he was in disguise and called out his name.
“I don’t know who you are, your face is covered,” his friend replied.
“Never mind then,” he said, quickly turning away.
The group of guys was joined by two girls, both showing their faces. When I inquired for the reason she told me, “Because I’m not scared of anyone.”
“None of us are,” one of the guys interrupted, “We just want to keep our identities secret.”
The Eagles disassociated themselves from the infamous Black Bloc, but said they’re “all one, all fighting for freedom.” They were also keen on making the distinction between them and the Green Eagles, the Al-Masry ultras’ Port Said arm, “because we don’t want to upset the ultras.”
Another masked Eagle, who said he was still a high school student, said they’re not leaving until they enter the palace. “Haven’t you always wondered what it looks like from the inside?” he joked with his friend.
He also told me the Eagles were only formed today and that they’re a group of friends who decided to take to the streets.
Our conversation was interrupted again. “Eagles! That’s enough talking.”
A few minutes later, another group of protesters tried to pull away the barbed wire sealing off the palace gates. Some bottle and rock-throwing later, the area surrounding the palace was overtaken by tear gas and disarray.
The first round of tear gas succeeded in scaring most of the protesters away, allowing the masked Eagles to strategize and prepare for a series of brief battles with the CSF who were guarding the palace’s gates on Ahram Street.
The Eagles sporadically hurled Molotov cocktails and rocks at the CSF, who would retaliate with rounds of tear gas. Other protesters who were caught in the middle repeatedly gestured at the masked protesters to stop but to no avail.
Somewhere in the middle, a group of around 15 boys who looked no more than 12–13 years old covered in white and pink paint marched into the area, chanting vulgar slogans.
I was introduced to another obscure adolescent group: the White Pink.
Bystanders told tales of White Pink’s recruitment methods, claiming they were a branch of Zamalek's White Knights.
“They would see who can withstand tear gas for 45 minutes. If you don’t pass out, you’re in,” one bystander told me.
He then advised me to leave the area because “things are going to get serious.”
To his disappointment, the teenagers hurled a few rocks at CSF, chanted more crude slogans, then left and were probably home before bedtime.
Clashes continued between CSF and the Eagles, as they came at them from side streets chucking rocks and Molotov cocktails – one of which set a tree on fire.
The clashes at the presidential palace on Friday were confusing and bewildering for the CSF and the protesters alike. What started off with tens chanting peacefully against the Muslim Brotherhood ended in brief altercations with CSF soldiers, who seemed disoriented and at one point changed their formation over three times in a span of five minutes, not knowing from where to expect the next attack