CAIRO — A man stands in Tahrir square selling black masks. Several hundred meters behind him, youth and police exchange rocks and Molotov cocktails in what has become a regular occurrence. The full-face masks could be used as protection from the police’s teargas, and on that day late January more people were buying them instead of the cheaper and more common surgical masks.
A group calling itself the Black Bloc had released a video earlier announcing the launch of its activities. It’s difficult to verify who made the video or who is an actual member of the group. Still, there was instant interest in it. On that day and the weeks that followed, many bought different variations of that black ski mask, hoping to affiliate themselves with the group and its proclaimed attempt to use more organized violence, whether in defense or offense, under a banner of anarchism.