Reaction to Soccer Riot Verdict in Egypt Turns Deadly
The death toll is climbing in Port Said, Egypt as a result of unrest over a verdict delivered in a case involving a massive soccer riot in the city last February that killed 73.
At least 22 Egyptians have died as a result of the violence, according to authorities. The court sentenced 21 defendants to death for their part in the melee following a game between the local Port Said team and a team from Cairo last February.
The violence in Port Said was the tip of the iceberg as unrest all across Egypt erupted on the second anniversary of the overthrow of former President Mubarak.
Supporters of the defendants tried to storm the prison holding them and attacked police stations.
The 21 were sentenced over riots which killed 74 people after a football game at Port Said stadium last February.
Saturday's violence follows a day of unrest on the second anniversary of the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak.
Thousands of people took to the streets on Friday to voice their opposition to Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, accusing him of betraying the revolution.
At least seven people were killed and more than 450 wounded in unrest across Egypt.
All 21 defendants sentenced to death on Saturday were fans of Port Said club al-Masry. When the verdicts were announced by a judge in the Cairo court, relatives of victims cheered.
However, the ruling caused supporters of the defendants to go on a rampage in Port Said, Two police officers were shot dead outside the city's prison.
At least another 20 people were killed and about 200 were wounded in further clashes, officials said. Army units were deployed on the city's streets.
Last year's football riots led to the suspension of the league.
They began minutes after the game, when al-Masry fans invaded the pitch, hurling stones and fireworks at visiting supporters from Cairo club al-Ahly.
A section of al-Ahly supporters, known as the "ultras", played a prominent role in the protests against ex-President Mubarak.
Some accused supporters of the toppled leader of instigating the Port Said violence. They also accused police of doing little to prevent the violence.
Seventy-three people, including nine policemen, were tried over the stadium clashes. None are al-Ahly fans.
It is impossible to isolate the soccer verdict riot from what is going on in the rest of Egypt. There is a building backlash against the Muslim Brotherhood and President Morsi. While secularists and democrats complain about Morsi's autocratic rule, ordinary Egyptians only know that their bellies are near empty and there is no prospect that things are going to get any better.
PJ Media columnist David Goldman (aka "Spengler") wrote in his Asia Times Online column about the Egyptian economic meltdown:
Money is what Egypt needs, in mushrooming quantities. Egypt’s import bill has tripled since 2006, mainly because the cost of its most important commodities – food and energy – rose drastically. Its exports, meanwhile, remain a fifth below the 2008 peak due to endemic shortages of electricity and other essentials. Tourism, the country’s biggest source of foreign exchange, has dropped by about half.
That is why the Hosni Mubarak regime collapsed when it did. Asia’s fast-growing economies crowded Egypt out of the world market for commodities, bidding up the price of food and energy to the point that the impoverished Egyptian economy could not afford necessities. Western politicians don’t seem to grasp the magnitude of the problem. On January 14, the European Union’s Van Rompuy “stressed the need for Egypt to achieve economic growth rates on par with pre-revolutionary growth, as this would help combat Egypt’s high unemployment rates,” al-Ahram reported. The trouble is that the collapse of economic growth provoked the revolution.
The country’s trade deficit was running at an annual rate of nearly $42 billion as of November 2012, before the central bank allowed the Egyptian pound to sink on foreign exchange markets. That’s 15% of Gross Domestic Product, a startling amount (the government’s budget deficit also stands at around 15% of GDP. Against this $50 billion, Egypt can expect to earn perhaps $6 billion from tourists and $4 billion from the Suez Canal, and take in perhaps $15 billion in remittances from Egyptian workers overseas. That is dicey, because devaluation prompts workers to postpone remittances to a declining currency. In the best case scenario Egypt will need nearly $20 billion for imports during 2013. The money isn’t there.
And because the money isn't there, tens of millions of ordinary Egyptians can't afford to buy the staples that keep body and soul together. The second anniversary of the overthrow of Mubarak seemed as good a time as any to make their feelings known about their deteriorating situation.
Goldman believes that Egypt is fast approaching the point where it will be "ungovernable." That may well be the case. If so, one wonders what the Egyptian military will do. They may be the only faction strong enough to prevent Egypt from sliding into chaos and becoming a failed state.