CAIRO — During the 2011 protests that toppled Hosni Mubarak, one of the first targets was the Egyptian president’s party apparatus: On Jan. 28, protesters set fire to the headquarters of his National Democratic Party, a large office building looming between Tahrir Square and the Nile.
Some Egyptians are now giving their country’s new rulers the same treatment. On Monday, vandals looted and burned the Muslim Brotherhood’s headquarters in the Cairo neighborhood of Moqattam. The incident, which was the culmination of clashes throughout the night, was the most significant violence in the capital following a day of largely peaceful protests. Five people were reportedly killed at the site, while the police and the army declined to intervene.
Once inside the Brotherhood headquarters, the protesters were quick to strip it bare. Video taken by an Egyptian television station showed that the building had been gutted: The rooms were bare of furniture, air conditioning units were stripped from the walls, and windows were shattered. Outside, photographs showed Egyptians climbing on top of the burning hulk of the building, while others showed vandals hauling out its contents.
Protesters removed everything in the headquarters that wasn’t nailed down — and some things that were. Egyptian journalist Ahmed Khair, who was present at the scene, tweeted a photograph of an Egyptian carting off a wooden door. Khair also posted a photograph of a young Egyptian making off with the office sign of Brotherhood leader Khairat al-Shater, who some suspect is the true power behind President Mohamed Morsy’s government.
But for many Egyptians, the destruction of the Brotherhood headquarters is a worrying sign of what could come next. Egypt’s Health Ministry reported today that 16 people had been killed over the past several days of unrest — most, if not all, losing their lives in violence with fellow civilians, rather than clashes with the security forces. It also represents a challenge to the opposition organizers’ strategy: In an interview before the demonstrations, Mahmoud Badr, a founder of the "Tamarod" movement that organized the petition calling for Morsy’s resignation, described how opposition supporters would take to the streets completely unarmed. "We will be very careful to keep everything peaceful, which was our aim from the beginning," he said. "We will not be dragged into any violent clashes."
The Tamarod campaign has now delivered an ultimatum to Morsy: Resign by 5 pm on Tuesday, or face a sustained campaign of civil disobedience. What that will look like, and what it will mean for Egypt, is still unclear. But it seems we are soon going to find out.