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Middle East and Africa

If things are carried too far

Cairo, 17 January: our taxi is stuck in the traffic in the Doqqi area. A young man approaches us and throws a leaflet into the car. It is a manifesto fervently inviting people to go to the court on the day of the Port Said massacre sentence. It seems like a question of little importance. In reality the sentence, delivered on 26 January, has triggered a wave of riots extending from the Suez area to the capital.



The protesters pour into the streets, the black block make their appearance in Cairo, the curfew is imposed in three governorates, the stock exchange crashes, the Egyptian lira loses ground, the united oppositions in the National Salvation Front bitterly attack the (increasingly precarious) Qandil government and President Morsi, who for his part calls for dialogue and to put Egypt in first place. But the opposition poses a review of the electoral law as its condition in view of the formation of a new parliament. The Defence Minister – a general – speaking two days ago at the military academy makes a clear warning: ‘The challenges and political, economic, social hardships and problems of security that Egypt is facing today represent a true threat for the security and cohesion of the country. If this scenario were to continue with no intervention from the parties involved, this would lead to serious consequences which would negatively influence the solidity of the fatherland and the recovery of stability’.



How is it that a clash among extremists sparked off such a chain of events?


The fact is that the massacre at the Port Said stadium on 1 February 2012 was not just a clash between ultras. At the end of the match between Ahly (the most popular of the two football Cairo teams) and Masry (local team) there were 73 dead and a thousand injured. With its judgement the Court of Assizes imposes the death sentence (barring a pardon by the Mufti of the Republic) for the 21 accused but does not clarify the dynamics of what happened.



The Ahly fans represent an imposing organised power and they had a determining role during the revolution in resisting the orchestrated attacks by the Mubarak regime. Therefore one of the hypotheses put forward from the very start is that the massacre is to be blamed on deviant services of the fallen regime, which took revenge on their opponents in this way. In an interview with the opposition newspaper al-Yôm as-Sâbi’, Tahani al-Gebali, former vice-president of the Constitutional Court, reopens the question though. The massacre – she maintains – was the work of professionals and the outcome was to throw discredit on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Furthermore, the former constitutional judge foresees a judgement of unconstitutionality for the new electoral law. This had already been seen when the parliament was dissolved owing to a flaw in the electoral law, but which could throw the country into chaos.



Two facts clearly emerge from this: on the one hand, the confusion reigning at institutional level. ‘The Muslim Brothers are strong but weak to lead the country’ Gamal al-Banna had declared last December to Arab West Report and until now the facts seem to demonstrate that one has to agree with the elderly intellectual, yesterday passed away, younger brother of the founder of the Muslim Brothers, but oriented on liberal standpoints.



In the meantime however the economic situation is getting worse. The latest clashes have brought negotiations to a standstill for the International Monetary Fund loan, which Egypt absolutely needs. ‘People are tired’, is what many are saying. The daily life continues at its usual pace, almost alongside the protests, but things cannot be carried on like this for ever.