Author: McKeon, Olive
Date published: October 1, 2011
Politics goes nowhere without movement it is not simply an idea, decision, or choice taken at a moment but also a transfigurative process that makes and occupies space.
-Randy Martin, Critical Moves: Dance Studies in Theory and Politics
A sledgehammer meets glass, distant shouts, sirens, the air thick with tear-gas and smoke, shards of glass sparkling on the concrete, smoldering cars, the street strewn with objects askew. Bodies running together, bodies forming packs that spread out into lines and condense again into tight swarms. Riots often employ a familiar set of compositional devices: bodies circulating in atypical pathways, the spatial displacement of objects, the breaking of brittle surfaces, the burning of combustible elements. While one can certainly give an account of these moments within a struggle as resulting from a particular calculus of social and material forces, what can one learn from an inquiry into the riot's formal dimension -its shards and ashes, its clamor and mess, its inescapable sensuality?
This essay examines the "Battle of the Camel," a street confrontation between pro- and anti-Mubarak forces that took place in Cairo's Tahrir Square ("Liberation Square") on February 2, 2011. This mounted camel charge became a spatial contestation of political legitimacy enacted on a corporeal level. By embodying social antagonism within urban space, riots such as the Battle of the Camel often fall prey to the accusation of destructiveness, a claim that overlooks the far more destructive role played by capital within social relations on an ongoing basis. Riots shift the power to disrupt urban space from capital and the state to the riot's collective body. In thinking through the dynamics and significance of the riot as a form of struggle, its embodied dimension plays a crucial role. The actions of the body add an additional layer to the coding of the riot that exceeds textual signs such as chants and posters. As an embodied set of actions, the practice of the riot produces its own logic and permissions not only for the rioter but also for urban space in general. The corporeal struggle over space and time that emerges during a riot resonates with attempts made by choreographers such as Anna Halprin to experiment with which movements are possible in a street context. The present analysis of the Battle of the Camel, and riots more broadly, attends to the formal aspects of struggle, a dimension that is often overlooked or neglected. Turning towards the body and its crucial participation in the elaboration of a political struggle makes evident a corporeal contestation of legitimacy at play in Tahrir Square, and riots in general.
My description of the Battle of the Camel is pieced together from the video footage and international news sources available from my distant location in California. In writing about such a recent and unprecedented unfolding of events in North Africa and the Middle East, I am aware that a complex politics of representation surrounds any attempt to name or describe these events. I do not wish to generate a narrative that too quickly explains and contains the uncertainty of what has and will occur within the unfolding cycle of struggles.
Beginning on the January 25, a protest encampment against then-president Hosni Mubarak occupied Tahrir Square, a prominent public square in downtown Cairo. Events on one particular day during the popular uprising, Wednesday February 2, 201 1, became known as the Battle of the Camel. A proMubarak rally convened on the morning of February 2, following a televised announcement the evening previous, during which Mubarak declared that he would not run for re-election in the fall in order to appease protesters.  Mercenaries hired by the regime, paid 50 Egyptian pounds (roughly 9 CAD) for the day, and plainclothes police officers held a rally in Lebanon Square in Western Cairo, during which camel riders and horse-drawn carts paraded in circles around the square. Around noon, the Mubarak supporters moved from the west of the city to central Cairo, approaching Tahrir Square. Gathering around the Egyptian Museum and pushing through the army tanks that blocked the street leading into the square, pro-government forces mounted on camels and horses besieged trie anti-Mubarak protesters. Carrying clubs, rods, sticks and staffs, they burst into Tahrir Square and provoked bloody confrontations as they rode directly into the encampment. Gunfire accompanied the arrival of the camel entourage, possibly the army firing upwards in order to disperse protesters. The anti-Mubarak demonstrators pushed back against the incursions into the square, causing the mercenaries to flee. The violence continued into the evening, as pro-Mubarak forces threw rocks and homemade bombs from the Qasr al-Nil Bridge leading into the square.
In video footage of this daytime Battle of the Camel, it is apparent that the mounted joust generated a complex set of movement dynamics in the square. Groups of galloping camels cut channels through the dense crowd. A constant barrage of varied sized rocks flew like confetti in the air above the heads of those running on the ground. Huge swaths of the square began to dash as if fleeing an encroaching natural disaster, generating gaps that the pro-Mubarak contingent filled. The line between the two sides slid around the traffic circle at the centre of the square, recalling opposing football teams negotiating the position of the line between them during each play. Both pro- and anti-Mubarak demonstrators wore plain clothes, making the sides visually indistinguishable to outside observers. In waves of acceleration and deceleration, space became overturned, claimed and filled. In the attack of the square, the camel riders did not have a specific territorial objective beyond heading into the crowd and busting it up. The space of the square became abstracted from its specific functions and qualities during the attack and defense of positions in space.
The movement dynamics reflected a spatial joust for political legitimacy. The aggregation of bodies in the square had an abstract relation to the ouster of the president. The form of the struggle decoupled from its supposed ends. The square became an arena to enact a power play in which the position of bodies performed the struggle for control. Despite the abstraction of political legitimacy into space, bodies in the square could not escape the materiality of the violence - they suffered beatings, injuries to the head and deaths. Amidst the waves of back-and-forth violence, the struggle for space mediated the struggle for control of the country. The uprising in Egypt succeeded in generating a mass delegitimation of a regime that had previously organized social relations, the process of which continues to unfold with uncertainty.
Riots are characterized by an intensity that does not last. One must consider the moment after the riot when everything is a mess, the city turned into a ruin of itself. Various opponents characterize these messes as trashing the city, or selfish and selfsabotaging destructiveness. In response to this discourse on destructiveness, one must remember that capital plays an overwhelmingly destructive role in social relations and urban space. Cities remain constantly in a process of making and unmaking, as buildings become torn down, burned, and rebuilt. Construction sites, city block-sized pits of gravel, stalled building projects, and disinvestment in huge sections of a city all reflect the constant state of undoing that characterizes urban space within capitalism. The characterization of riots as social unrest assumes that the city was at rest in a peaceful state of wholeness prior to the interruption by the riot. Riots iUuminate the contingency of use- value. The self-valourizing movements of capital supersede any commitment or interest to preserve useful spaces. Wresting this power from capital - albeit largely temporarily - riots work to shift who makes decisions about the undoing of urban space.
The question of whether the mess created by the riot will remain the next day or workers will efface its traces rests upon the complex dance of legitimacy. In responding to the recent events in Egypt, Slavoj Zizek described the ability of the struggle to delegitirnize the Mubarak regime:
We all know the classic scene from cartoons: the cat reaches a precipice but goes on walking, ignoring the fact that there is no ground under its feet; it starts to fall only when it looks down and notices the abyss. When it loses its authority, the regime is like a cat above the precipice: in order to fall, it only has to be reminded to look down... 
Zizek's cartoon metaphor suggests that prior to a loss of authority, the cat walked on solid ground. A more apt characterization of political power would have the cat continuously walking on an absent precipice. If it were to fall, it would only be to land on another absent ground. As power has a nodal character, it is without centre or head, a thicket of limbs that do not connect back to a central body. From this vantage point, Mubarak stands in for a set of social relations and ordering mechanisms that ultimately have little to do with him. While the specificity of what made the occupation politically decisive remains unclear and ambiguous, one cannot abstract the delegitimation of the regime from the embodied circumstances of occupation and rioting. A sense of what is possible and permissible becomes continuously enacted within a circumstance of struggle. A hopeful reading would point to the ferocity with which Egyptians performed these struggles- their corporeal confidence and courage - that forced the cat to glance down. The decision to face death performed by the self-immolations in Tunisia spread like a wildfire of fearlessness.
A less hopeful analysis would speculate that those in power realized that they could control the situation more efficiently by letting the people have their square while orchestrating a military hand over. Whether this moment involves a regrouping of the existing relations or their successful interruption remains uncertain. If one reads Karl Marx as advocating a delegitimation of the social world, an apo-calypse of existing relations, winning may prove to be the hardest and most frightening part.
Widening the scope of inquiry beyond the Battle of the Camel, how can one understand the relation between riots and politics? The riot as a social form can swing many directions. Some riots announce themselves as "political" riots, bursting forth from a protest as the rowdy faction of a political mobilization. Other riots, such as sports riots and shopping mall stampedes, often do not have any explicit political content mobilizing them. Does one need to distinguish between a political riot and a non-political riot, or leftist and rightist modalities of rioting?
In exploring the presence or absence of political ambition in riots, I juxtapose two examples of rowdy behaviour with ambiguous political content: unrest in contemporary Tunisian soccer arenas, and the riot following the Canucks loss in the Stanley Cup final game in Vancouver this year. In a recent lecture on the Tunisian revolution, Sabra Webber argued that soccer played a key role in fomenting the popular movement that ousted the regime.  She noted that soccer arenas functioned as one of the only public domains in which crowds openly chanted slogans denouncing the former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. Webber noted, "As far back as 2005, dissatisfaction with the Ben Ali regime boiled to the surface at soccer matches. Fans shouted anti-Ben Ali slogans during the Tunisia Cup final that year and insulted the Tunisian leader's son, forcing him to leave the match prematurely."  In the Tunisian example, football hooliganism was complicit with what became a popular political uprising.
One can contrast the role of sports fans in the anti-Ben Ali struggle with the riot that erupted in Vancouver following the Stanley Cup final game this year. After the Canucks* 4-0 loss to the Boston Bruins on June 1 5, the crowds leaving the game erupted into a riot which lasted for approximately four hours. Crowds hurled bottles and trash at large television screens and the police. During the unrest, rioters set seventeen cars - including two police cars - on fire, broke the windows of dozens of stores, and looted merchandise. Sending in riot squads and officers mounted on horses, police arrested over one hundred people during the events, and used tear gas and flashbang grenades designed to disorient the crowd with smoke and a "bang" sound. In a press conference the following day, Vancouver Police Constable Jim Chu blamed the riots on a small group of "anarchists and thugs" who came to the game prepared to hijack the crowd's energy.  National Post columnist Brian Hutchinson counters this narrative, claiming that thousands of people participated actively in the riot or encouraged the mayhem from the sidelines.  A motley group of "garden-variety youths" comprised the 1 1 7 people arrested, not simply a small group of anarchist-types with a criminal record.  A letter to the National Post editor reports that early in the first period of the game, one could hear groups chanting "Let's Go Riot," suggesting that the game's attendees had an interest in raucous behaviour regardless of the game's outcome. 
The political content of the riot remains ambiguous: does identification with the Canucks stand in for a set of solidarities amongst disgruntled Vancouverites in the midst of an economic crisis and an accompanying high unemployment rate, or does it obscure these political interests in favour of a sense of belonging and triumph easier to achieve on the hockey rink than in class struggle? Given the chanting early in the first period, the riots decoupled from the outcome of the game, indicating a desire to riot that moved beyond any response to the Stanley Cup. Unlike the Tunisian soccer crowds that morphed into a revolutionary ouster of the president, the Canucks riot did not extend into a mass social movement. One could interpret the riot as a pseudo-nationalistic identification obscuring classed and racialized social relations, or the coding of these tensions into the Canucks as an empty signifier. In either case, a distinction between political and non-political riots obscures the ambiguity of what occurs in these examples.
A method of interpreting or reading struggles may help to address the ambiguity of riots. Political philosopher George Caffentzis proposes such a method by reading events as struggle even when they may not announce or understand themselves as such. In discussing what he terms "struggle literacy," he argues that one must approach struggles in light of what they do not reveal about themselves: "Struggles cannot be taken at 'face value' for two reasons: (a) their self-definition is often (either deliberately or unconsciously) mistaken; (b) an enormous amount of struggle is not identified as struggle at all (e.g., in housework, on the streets, in schools, in factories and offices)."  One must read a riot as well as participate in it, as those involved may not recognize the political content of their riot as they move within it. For Caffentzis, class struggle pervades every facet of life: "It is the 'dark matter' of social life that accounts for the fact that not all goes well for the ruling classes even when there are neither formal strikes, nor rebellions nor revolts."  If one accepts this conception of class struggle as going on continuously, even when its forms appear too infinitesimal or invisible to recognize, one would dispense with any distinction between a political and a non-political riot, and instead, read what is habitually considered a non-political riot as keeping its politics strategically covert.
As a mode of political struggle whose content one can understand and interpret through reading, riots punctuate a particular struggle - or, in a broader sense, embody the antagonisms that pervade social relations. I turn now to the specific form of the riot and the relations it generates between bodies and spaces. As opposed to the occupation or street barricade that contest modes of circulation and structures of permeability within the built environment, the riot travels through space in a moving assemblage of bodies and objects that interfaces with a terrain, leaving traces of its presence upon the space itself.
The riot entails a set of corporeal maneuvers that act upon the city and also upon the bodies that exert them. By physically engaging with the bodies of others and the contours of the city, the riot reciprocally pushes back and moulds the body of the rioter. One does not know what it feels like to walk in the middle of the street with a large mass of people until one does it. The physicality of the riot reshapes an understanding of what is possible within social relations. The city pushes back, and praxis reverses its direction, doubling back to change those engaged in a struggle. The riot generates a mass or crowd-body, enveloping or drawing individual bodies into an amoebic, collective corporeality. Bodies run, throw, condense and swarm in a multiplicity irreducible to particular or discrete subjects. In a riot, the body converges with a habitus that discovers its logic, capabilities and contours as it moves through space.
The collectively generated body of the riot interfaces with witnesses, spectators and enemies. The presence of these figures raises the question of interpretation during the immediate circumstances of the riot. In an effort to avoid the anxiety of this hermeneutic question, those involved in protests or demonstrations associated with a riot often use signage to contain and explain themselves. Without posters, banners, placards or flyers to explain what the bodies mean, one sees groups of people, perhaps clumped together, perhaps moving in a formation. These corporeal formations do not bear any particular reference in themselves to a political aim or content. The signs must do this work, turning people walking around a building or a circle of people holding hands into a political struggle. Yet, the bodies are in no way incidental or expendable. An action with too few bodies, a situation in which the posters outnumber the people, falls short, lacks force and becomes an embarrassment. A struggle produces two texts simultaneously: the language provided by the signage and the movements of bodies. One does not represent the other; the bodies do not act as signs representing the political content, and the signs do not represent the aggregation of bodies. Riots often entail a double coding, literal signs and disposition of people in space as a signifying structure.
One must look beyond rallying around a textual signifier to the signification of rallying, to the meaning produced by collective bodies, by social movements as such. In interpreting the riot, one must ask the basic question of dance analysis: what are the bodies doing? Between the texts dropped on banners, and the official statements made in response to a struggle against an employer, a city official, or another representative of the ruling class, a volley of corporeal gestures takes place. Police may enter the scene, moving in formation, hurling gas, firing bullets. Especially in the case of the Battle of the Camel and the Vancouver riot, the bodies became a primary means of communication as very few participants in these instances held placards or signs. This corporeal register not only functions as a signifying structure, but it also becomes a key domain in which the struggle occurs. This volley and exchange of moves becomes a struggle for the spatiotemporal position of bodies: who can circulate where, and for how long?
The dance generated by this struggle for space and time within the immanent conditions of the action itself demonstrates a play of antagonisms one step removed from the specific content of a given demonstration - working conditions, unwaged labour, or tuition hikes, for instance. As a necessary detour away from these political ends, a contestation of legitimacy mediates between the content of a struggle and the corporeality of its articulation. In reading the bodies involved in a struggle, one can observe the action and its repression as a complex joust for legitimacy, played out on a corporeal level, as the Battle of the Camel exemplifies.
A riot operates on different registers simultaneously, the collective aggregation of bodies, a strategic material task, and an intervention into a broader scheme of mediation and power. As the form of a riot exceeds direct intervention and generates a collective performance with an abstract or symbolic connection to its political content, its analysis must move beyond a material calculation of its success or failure. While certain struggles may emphatically profess their goals - in recent memory, the defense of collective bargaining, the roll back of tuition hikes, or the self-abolition of the working class - these remain distanced from the particular site of struggle or praxis. A broad set of processes intervenes between the moment of struggle and the professed goal. One must consider the significance of a struggle in a frame wider than whether or not it achieved the professed ends: did we or did we not roll back the tuition hike? Did we or did we not abolish ourselves as workers or as women? From a broader perspective, the significance of a particular moment of action emerges from the second-order struggle over legitimacy played out amongst bodies in space.
The riot presents a form of struggle that collapses the distance between the struggle over a particular content and the struggle over legitimacy. The riot generalizes struggle in whatever direction, engaging with whatever it encounters as it moves through space: not this particular window or car, but whatever window, whatever car. One must attend to the participation of the body in the choreography of the riot and the temporality of its storm and stress. Groups congregate in the wrong space, displacing objects, smashing certain things, exploding others. Police functionaries come from inside and out to grab, tug and control the circulation of bodies. Riots in their spatial and temporal maneuvers within urban space perform the struggle for legitimacy. As power operates in the assemblages of nodes that collectively produce social relations, the dance of the riot involves each body witnessing and enacting a sense of what is permissible and possible within the duration of the action. A struggle's aspirations for performativity (as theorized by philosopher J. L. Austin, performativity is the power to act in the world) rest upon the ability of body to perform and contest the regimes of legitimacy that back any particular circumstance of exploitation and domination.
What would it mean to view forms of struggle in these terms, framed not by a specific political content, goal or ends, but as a second-order struggle over legitimacy? One would not look for an external political goal such as the removal of Mubarak from office, but at the movement of bodies within the dynamics of an action. Rather than connecting rising food prices or the tripling of university tuition to smashing a plate of glass, populating and holding a space, or overturning a car at random in the street, the analysis turns to these movements, the tasks performed by the body understood as a danced sequence of movements.
In connecting riots and works of dance, one can turn to choreographers whose compositional impulse resonates with the action of rioting. The rioter resembles a dancer performing a task-based choreography such as Anna Halprin's Parades and Changes (1965), in which dancers move objects decisively around the stage and tear up rolls of butcher paper to no specific end. One could view the riot as Parades and Changes transposed into life, without the framing or contextualization of the event as art. Halprin often explored the city as a choreographic site of play: "What we were really trying to build up to was a dance throughout the whole city."  In her work, Automobile Event (1968), her dancers used cars parked on the street as an environment for movement, akin to the rioter's interface with cars. While Halprin understood her work as transformational choreography without an explicit political content or ambition, she and her dancers found themselves interfacing with the police: "This became a political issue because we found ourselves getting arrested over and over again. It became a political issue regarding the right of using the street territory. When were we obstructing the peace? We were behaving in a way people were unfamiliar with and people would get irritated about it."  This description could easily describe a riot as much as one of Halprin's dances. The resonance between Halprin's dances and riotous actions indicates that a dance occurs during the riot regardless of the arrival of any activist marching bands, the street theatre troupes, or art as such.
In this investigation of the form of struggle, corporeal movements mediate between a specific political content and the contestation of legitimacy within the immanent conditions of an action. Rather than designating certain riots as political or nonpolitical, one can read the political content into any instance of struggle. Attending to the operations that take place at the level of bodies and groups helps to understand how struggles emerge and what they achieve. The popular uprising in Egypt successfully ousted Mubarak from office, but mass protests and days of action have continued through the spring and summer against the failure of the military government to live up to the political hopes inspired by the year's earlier events. A reoccupation of Tahrir Square began on July 8, although armed forces forcibly ended the sit-in on August 1 . "Winning" the revolution in February soon meant a usurpation of state power by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, a military junta far from Utopian. If utopia or communism can be thought not as a concrete set of socio-institutional relations but as a process, one must not ask if a particular struggle finished in victory or defeat but how to swing the unfolding circumstances in an emancipatory direction. As Marx called for the descent from the sphere of exchange to that of production, one must make the descent from the exchange of tactical gestures to their corporeal production, which is to say, to dance.
 "Mubarak supporters strike back," Aljazeera, February 3, 2011.
 Slavoj żizek, "For Egyptj this is die miracle of Tahrir Square," The Guardian, February 10, 2011.
 Sabra Webber, "Surprise: Non Sequitur: Revolution" (paper, Mapping and Remapping the Tunisian Revolution, University of California, Los Angeles, May 20, 2011).
 Jeff Lee, "Vancouver mayor and police chief blame Stanley Cup riot on anarchists," Vancouver Sun, June 17,2011.
 Brian Hutchinson, "Organized 'anarchists' were not behind the Vancouver riot," National Post, June 16, 2011.
 Bethany Lindsay, ""Anarchists' not the only rioters," CTV British Columbia, June 20, 2011.
 Paul Russell, "Today's letters: Who's to blame for the riots?," National Post, June 18,2011.
 George Caffentzis, "Reading the Struggles: Notes on the contemporary crisis" (paper, New York Anarchist Book Fair, New York, April 11,2009).
 Anna Halprin and Rachel Kaplan, Moving Toward Life: Five Decades of Transformational Dance (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UniversityPress, 1 995), 11.
Olive Mckeon is a Ph.D, student at the University of California, Los Angeles. She writes on the intersections between dance studies, Marxism and feminism.