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Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Port Said Massacre and the SCAF

Let’s get one thing straight. The events in Port Said were no accident. They cannot simply be attributed to soccer hooliganism or a miscalculation by security officials as to the amount of personnel required to secure a stadium. No, the Port Said massacre was deliberate.

I should pause right here. I’m beginning to sound like a conspiracy nut. Indeed if there is one thing my undergraduate and postgraduate studies have taught me it is not to speculate, and to back up any claims with sources. Given the nature of the situation however, any sources provided must be speculative in nature. As any researcher who has studied the country will tell you, Egypt isn’t exactly what you would call transparent. Nonetheless, one does not need sources to notice that there is something glaringly wrong with this picture:

The top picture is what most Egyptians are used to seeing at football matches. Though not the best photo, one can see a human shield, surrounding the stands, formed by security forces.

The bottom picture is from the Ahly-Masry game in Port Said. Even a 3 year old can see the difference. The only security forces present, about two dozen or so, are sitting on chairs that are relatively far away from the stands.

One can also see a difference in this photo. The first shows the Ahly-Masry game when the crowd ran onto the field. Here, a high ranking security official walks carefree through the mob as they viciously attack Ahly fans and players. The bottom image is that of an Ahly-Mahalla game which also witnessed crowds entering the pitch. Notice the difference.

Now, some people argue that regardless of the number, no security force would have been able to stop that crowd. This is somewhat correct, but not entirely. First, the size of the audience is always greater than the amount of security forces. This is obvious. Yet, never do we see the same behaviour we saw in Port Said. Numbers are largely irrelevant. What is more important, are the tactics and actions employed by personnel.

Anyone who saw the match in its entirety will tell you that officials did not exactly follow standard operating procedure. For instance, multiple times throughout the match, audience members ran onto the pitch. Yet, these audience members were not granted the standard beat down that would usually occur. Instead security officials simply sat and watched.

The ramifications of such a nonchalant attitude by the security forces are great. Let’s illustrate my point with an analogy. Let’s say that you and I and 100 others are trapped behind an electric fence. Wishing to escape, we look for a way to get through the obstruction. Being the manipulative SOB that I am, I would convince you to go test the waters, so to speak, and attempt to climb the fence. Now, if you successfully climb and get to the other side, we would expect the 101 others to follow suit. But if you got blown back, your hands charred and your hair smoking, we would all most likely just sit down, and thank our lucky stars that it wasn’t us who went first.

When the first audience member entered the pitch without repercussions, the metaphorical barrier was broken and the flood gates were opened.

The question that now arises is who? Who would benefit the most from an event that causes instability in Egypt. Some have argued Israel (not surprising since Israel is blamed for almost everything in this part of the world. Google Sharm el-Sheikh shark attack), others blame the US. Yet both these claims don’t hold up to serious scrutiny. For one, the US and Israel have very little to gain from an unstable or failing Egypt. Both states have large investments in the nation and both states would really not like to see Egypt become a hotbed of terrorist activity. Though it would accurate to suggest that the US and Israel would have preferred Mubarak to remain in power, I would be willing to bet that they have resigned themselves to the idea that the Mubarak era is over, and that whether they like it or not, the future of Egypt is democratic.

It is SCAF who is pulling the strings in this case. What’s in it for them you ask? Good question, I’ll tell you.

First, democracies, by their very nature, are constant power struggles. Usually, these struggles occur within pre-existing guidelines that were established years ago. Various institutions are in place to ensure that the power struggles remain fairly civil.

In Egypt, our institutions are weak and the guidelines that set the rules which shape the power struggles are relatively non-existent. Instead, the competing bodies each are attempting to play by their own rules as to how to attain power. Some, such as the various political parties, are attempting to attain power through the democratic process. Others however, such as the remnants of the previous regime, may wish instability on Egypt for their “I told you so” moment, but really have nothing to gain from chaos. This is of course, unless they are so naïve as to believe Egyptians would welcome them back.

The SCAF on the other hand, has the most to gain from what happened in Port Said. To understand why, one must know a little something about how most Egyptians view their military.

Egyptians see their armed forces as infallible. Try telling an Egyptian that the October 1973 war was actually a stalemate rather than a victory for Egypt. Most likely they will yell at you, insult you, and leave you. Egyptians also have a personal relationship with the military. Most Egyptian males are conscripted into the armed forces for 1-3 years after college. Every family in Egypt has a member who is, or has been in the military. For many in Egypt, criticizing the Egyptian military is like insulting a family member.

Moreover, the Egyptian military is a pretty solid institution. They are relatively well trained, efficient, and wealthy. This is in stark contrast to the crumbling institutions which make up the Egyptian governmental bureaucracy.

What does this have to do with Port Said? Well, given the idolization of the military forces, and the relative efficiency of the military institution, it would not be a stretch to suggest that many Egyptian people will take Port Said as a foreshadowing of future events. Notice, not a single military officer was present in the stadium and so SCAF cannot be accused of being unable to maintain order. The Ministry of Interior will become the scapegoat. In turn, many Egyptians will tell themselves that only the military is capable of keeping order in Egypt. Indeed, even if they fail to maintain peace (which they clearly have) in this transition period they could hide behind their hero status and argue that if even they, with their majestic Suez crossing water-cannon shooting brilliance, cannot maintain order, who can?

I used to believe that the SCAF would seize power out of the hands of the Egyptian people at the end of this transition period. I was wrong. By June, the Egyptian people will be begging the military to stay and protect them from the chaos that they believe will inevitably erupt. Well played SCAF, well played.

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