MS Risk Blog

Egypt Security Update (9 March 2013)

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Mass Riots

On Saturday, violence escalated in Port Said after an Egyptian court upheld death sentences for 21 of 52 defendants relating to a deadly football riot in Port Said in 2011. The ruling has already sparked widespread violence, throughout several Egyptian cities, and threatens to continue spreading unrest. One Port Said resident said the city’s residents are “boiling with rage,” having expected five to ten year sentences. “…The death sentences made us feel like we were the scapegoats for [the government’s] deeds. We want retribution for those who died amongst us.”

On Friday, in anticipation of the verdicts, the Egyptian military took taken over security duties in Port Said, believing the residents more likely to remain calm toward the military than the police, whom they distrust.

In the Suez region, Suez Canal Authority spokesmen Tarek Hassanein stated that the canal has not been affected by protests and that shipping traffic is “completely safe.” This announcement followed attempts earlier in the day to block a ferry’s passage in Port Said’s Mediterranean seaport. Port Said and nearby regions are beginning to calm.

Meanwhile, in Cairo, the Al-Ahly Football Club’s most ardent fans—the Ultras— are discontent with the verdict, believing them too lenient, as five of seven police officers were acquitted and the remaining two were given 15 year sentences. The Al-Ahly fans believe the police were directly responsible for allowing the riots to spin out of control, and the majority of the 74 lives lost were those of Al-Ahly supporters. Many people believe the police stood by in revenge for Al-Ahly fans’ role in the 2011 protests against then President Hosni Mubarak. The Ultras set fire to the Police Club in Gezira, and ransacked Egyptian Football Association building, stealing trophies as they set the building ablaze. Both properties are near the Al Ahly club. An army spokesman stated that helicopters were dispatched to extinguish the fires.

The manager of Al-Ahly football club, in a measure to calm his fans, released a statement, “The court’s verdict was fair for Ahly fans. The club’s management has full confidence in Egypt’s judiciary and we support the prosecutor-general’s decision to appeal the 28 acquittals. We will continue supporting the families of Port Said football victims and will not give up until we obtain justice for their sons.”

Undeterred, the Ultras have issued a warning that if the prosecutor-general does not order the retrial of acquitted security officials by 7pm on Saturday, they will escalate the protests using “illegitimate methods.”

Officer Strikes

On Tuesday, thousands of Egyptian security officers around the country went began a strike to protest pressure from the Morsi administration to crack down on street demonstrations, and counter-pressure from the public to exercise restraint. Weeks ago, police strikes began sporadically, with tens of officers in scattered cities protesting their politicized position. This strike is the largest and longest in memory.

Under former President Mubarak, security forces had little training or oversight, using arbitrary force to control citizens, in particular, any political opposition. Anger over these measures has cost police forces the respect of Egyptian citizens, who are incensed by the continued brutality of the police, as well as President Morsi’s inability to deliver changes to security forces.

On Tuesday, 2,000 riot officers in Ismailia refused to deploy for crowd control in Port Said. By Thursday, security officers had closed down at least 30 police stations around the country, including the cities of Cairo, Giza, Ismailia, Port Said, Minya, Sohag, Al Dakahleya, Al Gharbeya and Alexandria, as well as tens of central security divisions (each of which can hold thousands of soldiers) in the Sinai, the Nile Delta and elsewhere.

At the Qasr al-Nile police station in Cairo, two dozen officers said they had shut down the station because one of their colleagues had been killed in clashes with protesters, something they see as a daily occurrence in Egypt. The officers complained that they are called upon to confront protesters, while simultaneously being demonized when they harm someone.

By Thursday, 10,000 soldiers, including generals, went on strike at a camp near the Nile Delta city of Menoufia, refusing to confront street protesters and demanding the resignation of Egypt’s new interior minister, Mohamed Ibrahim. Some officers have also demanded more weapons and a freer hand to use them to beat back demonstrators.

Morsi supporters argue that he is gradually trying to overhaul the Interior Ministry as promised because he needs an effective security force to maintain order and to protect the presidential palace.  Under Mubarak, who kept Egypt under a 30 year state of emergency, there were almost no major political protests, nor any public criticism of the police.

Parliamentary Elections

On Wednesday, the Egyptian Administrative court suspended parliamentary elections due the Mursi administration’s failure to provide the Supreme court a final review of the new electoral law before enacting it. While this appears to be a minor technicality, its intention is to display deference to the court system which upholds rule of law. The Morsi administration has acknowledged this error, and will likely correct it quickly.

The National Salvation front, who has decided to boycott parliamentary elections, has announced that all liberal parties will merge under one name—most likely the Wafd Party, which is financially solid, visible throughout Egypt, and historically most closely associated with national struggle. Leaders of individual parties will work to convince their base that this move is the best step.

The group will also launch a new satellite channel in order to reflect the Front’s direction as well as providing political and social alternatives. Misr 25, the only satellite channel that focuses on the policies of the Muslim Brotherhood, has struggled to reach non-Brotherhood members. Currently, members who watch the channel believe it an organizational and ideological duty.

Rumours are circulating that despite boycott, members of the Wafd Party and the National Democratic Party may participate in exchange for gaining seven seats for each party in the cabinet that will be formed following the parliamentary elections.

Further, the National Salvation Front will form a parallel parliament similar to the one for which the Islamists will compete next month. This approach, adopted by pressure groups late in Murbarak’s regime, is a pressure tool for the opposition. During Mubarak’s tenure, upon the enactment of a parallel government, he was quoted as saying, “Let them have fun.” Three months later, the outbreak of the Egyptian revolution began.

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