Sunday, 5 February 2012

"Egyptians can't take much more of this!"


"...Egyptian nerves are frayed, and not just because of a lingering post-Mubarak transition. There are other examples of insecurity, all from the past week. An HSBC bank was robbed by armed men in broad daylight in a Cairo suburb, while on the same day an armoured truck carrying large amounts of cash was hijacked. A group of Chinese workers from an army cement plant in central Sinai were kidnapped for ransom by Bedouins (they were released after a few days)....
Egyptians can't take much more of this. This is a country where 40 per cent live near the poverty line, where business has taken a massive hit since last year's uprising and whose state coffers are emptying fast. Amid lingering uncertainty about its political future - the street, parliament and army continue to be locked in a heated debate ...
To add to the general confusion, many Egyptians will tell you that this insecurity is planned. The Muslim Brotherhood blamed the stadium disaster on "remnants of the former regime" - a common shorthand for the deep state and former high-level officials - who want to destabilise the political transition and the ascendancy of Islamists.
Many among young revolutionaries believe the military itself is manipulating public opinion with this violence, to get a better bargaining position as it negotiates its exit from power. A common conspiracy theory is that military and the security service officials are behind the chaos, which they hope will help them to avoid being prosecuted for crimes committed before and since the uprising. Indeed, while the army has declared three days of mourning for the victims, the anti-military protest movement is planning a series of marches and protests against the government and the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
It is not only political radicals who hold this view. The morning after the football disaster yesterday, a very staid Egyptian investment banker told me he thought the security services were behind it, as intelligence services had warned that "a group of thugs" were heading to Port Said with the intention of disrupting the game, yet security had been suspiciously lax - as videos of riot police standing still as the crowds erupted onto the pitch show. A common view is that the police wanted to punish football fans such as the Ultras, who made a name for themselves during the occupation of Tahrir Square last year for their fearless battles with police and pro-Mubarak thugs.
Are these conspiracies within the realm of possibility? Perhaps - security at the stadium was certainly extremely lax despite warnings.
But the unproven speculation is distracting from the reality that Egypt needs an operational, authoritative (but not authoritarian) police force, as any state does. The question of police reform, and the rebuilding of its self-confidence, has yet to be tackled seriously, with the past year wasted on superficial changes. The new parliament needs to work with the government so that civilians finally get an understanding of what is behind all this violence - the old regime "remnants", "foreign hands" or perhaps more simply a state and a society that still has to forge a new, hopefully more humane, relationship."

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian  
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