About the Port Said stadium massacre
I have an op-ed in The National about last night's events, in which I argue that beyond conspiracy theories, the event highlights Egyptians' profound sense of insecurity and the urgent need for police reform and civilian oversight of the security services.
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.
I also have a post in the London Review of Books Blog about the political fallout, notably how it might affect the last few days standoffs between the protest movement and the Muslim Brothers over the latter's backing of SCAF's transition schedule:
Until yesterday, the top concern in Cairo was the mounting tension between revolutionary protesters and the Muslim Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) now controls 46 per cent of parliament and is in a position to negotiate – alone if it wants to – the terms by which the military will transfer power to civilians later this year. The protest movement wants an immediate handover of power, either to a senior judge as interim president, to parliament, or to a president to be elected as soon as possible – and certainly earlier than 15 June, the date the generals have set for a presidential election. The Brothers, along with the more hardline Salafi Islamists, were sticking with the military schedule, but what happened last night has changed that.
In a special session of parliament today, the idea of forming a government of national salvation was discussed. MPs, including those of the FJP, also want to sack the interior minister and interrogate the chief of intelligence. It is as yet unclear whether they have the power – legally or practically – to do this, and what it might mean for the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). But it is a first sign of confrontation between the Brothers and the SCAF, and is encouraging the Tahrir protesters to hold fast to their demand for accountability and civilian rule sooner rather than later.
The idea that an Egyptian deep state has been manipulating public fear of chaos is not new. Convicted criminals were released during last year’s uprising in order to terrify ordinary Egyptians into rejecting calls for Mubarak’s resignation. The later violent crackdowns against anti-military protesters seemed to be fairly widely accepted, as people blamed revolutionaries for perpetuating the insecurity. But the reaction to the Port Said stadium massacre shows that the silent majority’s trust in Egypt’s military rulers is waning fast.
As clashes are now underway in the center of Cairo and more protestors converging towards the headquarters of the Interior Ministry, I have no doubt the situation will grow more complicated. It's going to be a long and, unfortunately, bloody night. But the bottom line is that politically, these events have the potential to change key actors' attitudes towards the military – most notably the Muslim Brothers and the so-called silent majority.