Egypt Aflame Over Protests
Late this evening, President Mohammad Morsi declared Emergency Law in three provinces around the Suez Canal that are ablaze in protests. He frankly conceded the government was losing control.
The strategic area around the Suez Canal earns the country five billion dollars a year according the Egyptian Maritime Bank. So, this was an incredibly embarrassing admission.
Nonetheless, there is absolutely no doubt that both the military and the Muslim Brotherhood government were caught completely off guard by angry, increasingly intense protests, immediately following what were already massive anti-government actions in Tahrir Square and elsewhere on January 25, the second anniversary of the 18-day revolution that ended the 29-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak.
It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Elections of a new Parliament, a new president and the writing of a new constitution were supposed to appease the population.
Quite the opposite. The undemocratic nature of all the political initiatives of the military and Muslim Brotherhood have inflamed the population. And, this anger is inflamed further by the absolute lack of progress solving the economic problems of the vast majority.
“Nothing has changed for me, in fact, it has gotten worse,” is a common refrain in news reports and from ordinary people on the street.
All of these factors came together in the last twelve months in dramatic events that played out in Port Said, a city of 600,000 north of the Suez Canal that is currently the main target of the Emergency Decree curfew.
Here is how it happened.
Last year, at the Jan. 25, 2012 first anniversary massive assembly in Tahrir, I observed palpable tension between the Muslim Brotherhood’s stance of ending protests and oppositionists defiantly proclaiming that “the revolution is not finished.”
There was some minor shoving and pushing here and there but no serious breech flared out into the open. It was probably accurate to say that even after one year had gone by, the majority of Egyptians were still willing to give the military and the Muslim Brotherhood alliance a chance to put things back together again in the uncertain post-Mubarak era.
However, that all quickly changed a few days later on Feb. 1, 2012.
A deadly massacre occurred in Port Said’s soccer stadium leaving 74 people shot and trampled to death. It was commonly believed to be orchestrated by the military government and police in collusion with Mubarak leftovers still in power.
Why? Because soccer games are televised live for all to see.
As witnesses told me, “we could see on the TV, police standing by doing nothing as thugs, [purportedly fans of the Port Said soccer team] began physically assaulting unarmed Cairo soccer fans.”
Later investigations revealed that the expansive huge concrete exit doors were shut, perhaps with chains, leaving many of the victims to be crushed against thousands desperately trying to escape the onslaught. There was so much compressive force that the concrete doors buckled.
For millions of Egyptians, the Feb. 1, 2012 murderous attack on Cairo soccer fans, Ultras, was obviously orchestrated as revenge against this same club that so courageously beat back the notorious police-inspired “Camel assault on Tahrir” on the exact same date of February 1, one year earlier in 2011.
No coincidence. People were outraged, with growing suspicions about the nature of the military and their post-revolutionary government.
This is why Egyptians anxiously awaited the verdict. On January 26, the judge ultimately handed down death sentences for the first 21 cases of Port Said defendants.
I saw Ultras in Tahrir celebrating the verdict for around two hours with their trademark clapping in unison and congregating together in tightly disciplined formations. But then it stopped and it did not grow as huge as had been expected
Soon, Ultras began forming again in Tahrir. But, this time by joining with their comrades in Port Said to denounce the verdict as a cover up. Why were only a handful of police indicted? What about higher authorities without whom such a plan could not possibly have been so coordinated?
In fact, the defendants sentenced to death are now being described as “scapegoats” as the blame has shifted to the military and to the government.
Therefore, a unified message is being presented exposing extensive government secrecy, dishonesty and collusion with thugs rather than debating the merits of each individual defendant’s case.
“How can we trust the justice of this government when they have not convicted one single Ministry of Interior thug who killed us two years ago?” a Tahrir protestor defiantly asserted to me.
Thus, an attempt to divide protestors has failed. Cairo and Port Said soccer fans who normally fight each other in sports are now reaching out to each other in politics.
The common enemy is the lies and hypocrisy of the power structure “that all must be changed,” as a relatively conservative former army officer who is now a businessman told me immediately after Morsi’s Emergency Degree. “I was one of those who wanted stability and the end of protests” he said in response to my question. “Not now. All the old power must go. We cannot trust them to be fair with us or to let us make our lives better. The protestors are doing right.”
The first days of Tahrir in January 2011 began as protests against police brutality and corruption but they soon grew, under pressure of the police attacks and government intransigence, into demanding the ouster of Mubarak.
Two years later, this powerful but still somewhat disjointed movement would seem to benefit once again by escalating their demands through linking their democratic and social justice objectives with unified calls for economic justice.
The World Bank reports that 40 percent still live on two dollars a day and things have only gotten worse. The Muslim Brotherhood government’s plan to solve the problem is for observing Islamic duties of charity. They have placed donation boxes in the stores of their business supporters.
In other words, a frivolous delegation of government responsibility.
Coming on top of the dramatic encroachments on democratic liberties by the Muslim Brotherhood government, their utter failure to properly address the abject living, housing and working conditions of the majority is cause for taking the revolution one step further.
It was reported to me that one important Egyptian observer has already called “for the next stage being a revolution for bread.”
Crucial challenges lay ahead in the next days and weeks for the brave and courageous Egyptian people. Their demands have not been satisfied nor their spirit diminished
Carl Finamore is Machinist Local 1781 delegate to the San Francisco Labor Council, AFL-CIO. This is his third visit to Egypt. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to my good friend Mark Harris for his late night collaboration from Portland.