In one of the more surprising and symbolically powerful moments during Egypt's mass protests on Sunday against President Mohamed Morsi, military helicopters circling overhead dropped Egyptian national flags on the crowds gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square. A video of the moment, embedded above, shows the TV journalist reporting from Tahrir visibly surprised.
The crowd cheered at what was taken as a show of support. A spokesman for the Egyptian armed forces told Reuters that it was meant only to promote patriotism and not as a show of support for the popular movement, which is calling for Morsi to leave office.
A massive anti-government protest seems like an odd moment for the military to decide to promote patriotism, particularly given that the Egyptian military helped usher out President Hosni Mubarak after similar protests in February 2011. Some members of the opposition have increasingly called on the military to intervene again, this time against Morsi, who has curtailed some of the military's once-vast power.
Of course, dropping some flags on a protest is not the same as deposing a president or even expressing a desire for him to step down. As far as gestures go, this was not the clearest. But it does seem to at least wink at the military's support for the protests. "The military is positioning [itself] just like it did in January 2011," Steven Cook, an Egypt expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Abigail Hauslohner reports that the Egyptian police are more openly embracing the anti-Morsi protests:
The police, once a symbol of Mubarak’s repressive tactics — and some of whom have publicly refused to protect Morsi and his backers in the Muslim Brotherhood — remained conspicuously absent from the streets around the presidential palace Sunday, even as anti-government activists planned to convene mass demonstrations around its walls by the evening, the independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm reported.
The police association, an elected body that says it represents Egypt’s police force, posted a statement on its Facebook page Saturday that appeared to indicate the police would side with the anti-Morsi protesters. “Police of Egypt, deal swiftly and firmly with any assaults against the Egyptian people in the anticipated political movements of June 30,” the statement read. To the protesters, it added: “You are of us as we are of you.”
We'll be watching the protests closely so please check back.