The Revolution's Double-edged Sword |

Old Rage Finds a New Target as Violent Protests Engulf Egypt

Paradoxically, the fatal clashes in Port Said last year – which were the catalyst behind demands for snap elections and the termination of military rule– are now at the heart of calls for the new regime's ouster.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

"Let the Supreme Guide regime fall!" yelled thousands of protesters in Tahrir Square and in the streets of Alexandria and Suez; "Back to the squares, without the Brothers and the Salafis!" said the main headline of the government newspaper Al-Ahram; and of course, "The people want the regime gone!" – the same slogan that accompanied the revolution that led to Hosni Mubarak's ouster – yet again reverberated throughout Egypt this weekend, on the second anniversary of the revolution.

The series of political crises that have plagued the county in recent months came to a climax over the weekend, as at least 26 people were killed in Port Said in demonstrations following the death sentences given to nearly two dozen soccer fans, convicted of violence after a game in the city last year. In recent days, at least six people were also killed in Suez and hundreds were wounded in clashes with security forces throughout the country.

The demonstrations and ensuing clashes spurred immediate political action by the new opposition to the regime. The leaders of "the National Salvation Front" – Amr Moussa, Mohammed ElBaradei leftist Hamdeen Sabahy – announced they intend to boycott April's parliamentary elections if President Mohamed Morsi does not agree to their demands.

These demands include suspending the constitution which was approved in a referendum, canceling the elections law and suspending the law allowing sovereign Islamic bonds, which in the opposition's view could transfer Egyptian assets to the hands to foreign, pro-Islamic elements. The Front is also demanding the establishment of a national emergency government, one that is guided by professionals and not by Brotherhood activists, as well as the launch of a national dialogue with the aim of holding early presidential elections.

Though these demands are likely to be met with conciliatory political steps, they reflect a deep frustration and significant disappointment in Morsi's rule so far.

The demonstrations attended by hundreds of thousands of people and the ensuing clashes spurred immediate political action by the new opposition to the regime. The leaders of "the National Salvation Front" – Amr Moussa, Mohamed ElBaradei leftist Hamdeen Sabahy – announced that they intend to boyvott April's parliamentary elections if President Mohamed Morsi does not agree to their demands.

These demands include suspending the constitution, approved in a referendum, the elections law and the law allowing sovereign Islamic bonds, which in their view could transfer Egyptian assets to the hands to foreign, pro-Islamic elements. The Front is also demanding that a national emergency gpvernment be established, one that is guided by proffesionals and not Brotherhood activists, as well as launching a national dialogue toward early presidential elections.

Though these demands are likely to be met with conciliatory political steps, they reflect a deep frustration and significant disappointment in Morsi's rule so far.

During the current crisis, the military was called in to intervene for the first time and forces were deployed in Port Said, Suez and around Tahrir Square in the capital, to block protesters from advancing toward the interior ministry. Morsi also convened the National Security Council on Friday to formulate steps with which to quell the protests, especially in light of the National Salvation Front's call for mass rallies next Friday.

Paradoxically, the fatal clashes in Port Said last year – which were the catalyst behind the demands for snap elections and the termination of the military regime – are now at the heart of the calls for the new regime's ouster. At Port Said, the security forces failed miserably in their response to the protests, which was characterized by deadly force, lack of medical services and ill preparation. The regime's ability to respond to dissent was and remains a political rather than an organizational test.

Indeed, the Port Said incident turned into a political asset with which to attack the supreme military council, the appointed government and Mubarak's supporters. One of the central claims was that it was the former regime's supporters who organized the Port Said unrest in order to shine an unflattering light on the new regime's ability to run the country. Witnesses told the media that policemen and security personnel who were loyal to the old regime even urged the protesters to "do as they wish." Others pointed to the fact that people came from Cairo to blend in the Port Said crowd, which indicated this was a premeditated event.

The accusations by supporters of the former regime won support among those who oppose the supreme military council – who they blame for not ousting the remnants of the old regime from government institutions. The head of the liberal Al-Wafd party, El-Sayed El-Badawi, even demanded the immediate resignation of the appointed government and called for early presidential elections.

The security forces' harsh response over the weekend reminded the citizens of Egypt – and especially residents of Port Said – of Mubarak's era. The death sentences given in the Port Said case were supposed to prove that the new regime is not afraid of severely punishing those responsible, including security personnel. Yet the verdict has become a means to attack the regime and hold it responsible for killing civilians.

While the residents of Port Said are blocking the entrance of armored cars into the city, Morsi may appoint a special envoy to hold a dialogue with the city's public leaders and appoint an investigative committee to examine the events. His main concern is the explosive mix of fatal clashes and his rivals' political demands, which may lead to a new revolution.

An Egyptian soccer fan of Al-Ahly club displays scales to fans celebrating the court verdict, inside the club premises in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013.Credit: AP

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