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Egypt’s Systemic Collapse

The crisis in Port Said has exposed deep problems in Egypt's political system.
The Egyptian flag

The Egyptian flag

The Egyptian flag is red, white and black with an eagle in the center. Until quite recently, this flag has been a symbol of national consensus symbolizing that all citizens of Egypt, without regard to their political orientation, are sheltered together beneath the wings of the eagle. But this consensus may be starting to crack, and because of the complex nature of the crisis – constitutional, governmental and economic – a growing number of citizens in Egypt believe that the continued existence of the state as one political unit is doubtful. It seems that Egyptian society has been undergoing a corrosive process, ever since the beginning of the “Arab Spring” two years ago, which is undermining the sense of unity and shared destiny in the Land of the Nile.

This process began to be apparent after the unprecedented step taken by the Egyptian judiciary, when it sentenced to death 21 people in Port Said, a port city near the Northern opening of the Suez Canal, because of their involvement in the deaths of 74 people during a soccer game that was held in the city in February of 2012.

When they heard about the sentence, the enraged residents of the city burst into the streets in stormy demonstrations in which more than forty people were killed. It must be noted, however, that some of the fatalities were caused by a barrage of heavy gunfire at the mass funeral of 31 people that had been killed in previous demonstrations.

Disregarding any political consideration, the death toll in Egypt testifies to the fact that the value of life in this densely populated country has been depreciated. Ninety million men, women and children are crowded into the length of the Nile Valley and its delta, with a few concentrations along the canal and the coasts. About one half of them live below the poverty line, which is low to begin with, and about one third of them live in “unplanned neighborhoods,” some in wooden crates, without running water, sewage, electricity or telephone, without employment, without hope and without a future, but crime, violence, drugs and alcohol abound.

In demonstrations in Port Said, there are demands to secede from the state of Egypt. In a graphic illustration of these demands, the demonstrators waved flags where they had changed the color of the upper part of the flag from red to green, with a clear Islamist reference, and instead of the eagle, the name of the city “Port Said” was in the center.

The curfew that was imposed on the city did not help quiet stormy spirits either, and the masses burst into the streets despite the curfew. The police used tear gas against them but to no avail. The army took up a position near the government offices in order to defend them from the raging mob. Military officers claim that they did not open fire and they have no idea how forty people were killed. The Egyptian in the street, who knows the truth, doesn’t buy the story because he understands the matter well: if forty people were killed despite the fact that the army “didn’t shoot”, they wonder how many would have been killed if the army had actually had opened fire

A local group calling itself “The Port Said Youth Bloc” issued a declaration, stating:

We, the people of Port Said, declare the cancellation of Morsi’s legal status; he is no longer the president of Egypt. We call for masses of the Egyptian people to express their solidarity and join the people of Port Said who are being murdered in the streets by the armored Egyptian police before the very eyes of the Egyptian government. The people of Port Said will continue to stand strong even if, as a result of these demonstrations, all of its sons will fall. This expression, “the people of Port Said,” which is repeated a number of times in the manifesto, is an expression of the mood of the residents of the city.

The demand of the people of Port Said to secede from Egypt horrifies the heads of the Egyptian government, because if indeed they do actually separate the area of the Canal from the state of Egypt, the state will lose its main source of income – fees of passage paid by ships that traverse the Canal. If this should happen, considering the recent loss of tourism and foreign investments, Egypt will go bankrupt immediately.

About the Author: Dr. Mordechai Kedar (Ph.D. Bar-Ilan U.) Served for 25 years in IDF Military Intelligence specializing in Arab political discourse, Arab mass media, Islamic groups and the Syrian domestic arena. A lecturer in Arabic at Bar-Ilan U., he is also an expert on Israeli Arabs.


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