The sheer amount of evidence is astonishing; the violence, shocking. There's the now globally iconic "blue bra girl," the poor young woman who was savagely beaten, stomped, and dragged down the pavement by multiple soldiers while her black abeya is pulled up over her head.
That video alone in most countries would prompt an independent fact-finding commission, mass firings, and a round of national soul-searching. But it's just Exhibit A in a long list of brutal acts committed by the Egyptian army in its increasingly bitter and personal struggle with the country's activist forces.
There's video footage of army soldiers -- despite repeated government denials that this ever happened -- firing handguns directly at unarmed protesters. There are multiple videos showing a wolfpack of baton-wielding soldiers beating down civilians who are either curled up in fetal position or have long since gone limp. There's footage of soldiers in uniform hurling rocks onto protesters from on top of the Parliament building.
It might even be unfair to compare the situation to the Rodney King beating -- which, after all, was merely one incident conducted by officers who didn't realize they were being taped. What happened this past Friday and Saturday was closer to the assault by the Chicago Police Department on anti-Vietnam War protesters during the 1968 Democratic Convention -- if only that attack had taken place during the age of Twitter and YouTube. The Chicago assault was later described by an independent committee as a "police riot"; the Egyptian military's actions last week may one day be remembered as an "army riot."
The fallout from the violence, which started Thursday night, has been dramatic. At least 13 protesters have died and hundreds have been injured. The Parliament building, despite protesters' best efforts, remains standing, but two nearby government buildings have been set ablaze -- including the Egyptian Scientific Institute, home to thousands of rare books and manuscripts.
The cause of this latest spasm of street anger remains a subject of speculation and varies depending on whom you ask. Military officials claim one of the protesters, who had been camping for more than a week outside the Parliament building on the outskirts of Tahrir Square, attacked an officer. Protesters claim one of their number was savagely beaten by soldiers on the Parliament grounds. Whatever the spark, the long-standing bad blood ensured an instant escalation. By Friday, enraged protesters were attacking any government building in sight, while a group of plainclothes and uniformed men were hurling rocks, bottles, and allegedly kitchenware and office furniture from a fifth-floor roof onto the crowds below.
Among the activist forces, there has been a hardening of wills, a belief that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) must be dealt with exactly as Hosni Mubarak was -- forced immediately from power with no exceptions and no grace period. Egyptian novelist and activist Ahdaf Soueif captured this sentiment best in a column in the Guardian newspaper, describing the current fight as a final showdown with the unreformed heart of the Mubarak regime. "Now our revolution is in an endgame struggle with the old regime and the military," Soueif wrote. "The message is: Everything you rose up against is here, is worse. Don't put your hopes in the revolution or Parliament. We are the regime, and we're back."
Judging from the attitude of the military, it seems like the SCAF is equally fed up. This was not a dispassionate or professional security operation; there was genuine malice and animosity in the soldiers' behavior. The two sides in this conflict seem to hate each other, and it's hard to envision either side backing down at this point.