02/03/2012 03:14 PM

The World from Berlin

Riot in Egypt 'Had Nothing To Do with Football'

With two more people killed since Wednesday's stadium tragedy in Port Said, renewed violence in Egypt has highlighted the ongoing struggle for power there. German editorialists say the violence at the football match was just the latest manifestation of tensions between protesters and the powerful military.

Violence in Egypt spread overnight with protests in Cairo and other cities. Two protesters died after being shot by police in riots sparked in Suez, located around 140 kilometers (87 miles) south of the capital. Hospital workers claim at least 30 people were injured.

Witnesses reported that police initially tried to break up protesters, who had attempted to occupy the headquarters of the local security force. Uniformed officers first fired tear gas, and later live ammunition at protesters, they said. But security officials told news agencies that the police had not opened fire and alleged the protesters had been armed.

Violent protests also erupted in Cairo following the deadly riot at Port Said stadium on Wednesday that resulted in the deaths of 74 soccer fans. Critics have accused security forces of failing to act, with some even claiming it was a planned action.

Late Thursday night and into Friday morning, thousands of protesters clashed with police in the capital city's famous Tahrir Square. The crowds threw rocks at security forces and attempted to reach the Interior Ministry, chanting for the resignation of Hussein Tantawi, the head of the country's military leadership. Others called for his execution.

State news agency Mena reported 600 injuries in the capital by late evening. A worker with the Health Ministry also said that around 400 protesters had been injured after inhaling tear gas or being hit by rocks. Some posters on Twitter also claimed that rubber bullets had been fired.

Protesters reportedly carried both Egyptian flags and those of the football teams that played in Wednesday night's deadly match, Al Ahli and Al-Masry. In the wake of the tragedy both teams have said they will end a rivalry that has been stewing for decades.

Growing Political Pressure

But not just the public is calling for a response to the deadly stadium incident. Political pressure on Egypt's leadership is also growing. The European Union this week called for "an immediate and independent investigation" into the incident. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon demanded that "appropriate measures" be taken by the Egyptian government. And the global football association, Fifa, called for a "full report" on the riot.

Supporters of the Al Ahli football club have blamed military council chief Tantawi for the deadly altercations in Port Said. Most of the victims who died in the violent riots were supporters of Egypt's most successful and popular football team.

During the match between Al-Masry, a Port Said team, and Ah Ahli from Cairo, fans stormed the field at the end of the game and attacked team members and supporters of the opposing team with bottles and rocks. Photos posted on the Internet showed players covered in blood, though reportedly none were killed. In addition to the 74 deaths, the Egyptian Health Ministry reported hundreds of injuries.

So far, police have arrested 47 people in connection with the violence. Still, many protesters are convinced that the army and the police allowed the bloodshed to happen by choosing not to intervene. Some have even alleged that the military pulled the strings in the rioting in order to foment chaos and steer public sentiment towards favoring firmer rule.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which prevailed in recent parliamentary elections, went as far as calling the riots "planned." Essam el-Arian, a member of the Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood's new political party, said, "The events in Port Said are planned and are a message from the remnants of the former regime."

Parliament Speaker Mohammed Saad el-Katatni, of the same party, said the acts had put the "revolution in danger." He described the events as a "massacre" and accused the security forces of gross negligence. Members of parliament have called for the government and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to be held accountable for the violence.

In Germany, editorialists at some of the country's leading newspapers examine the tragic events in Egypt and conclude they are a reflection of the continuing struggle between revolutionaries and a military that still holds ultimate power.

The leftist Berliner Zeitung writes:

"In Egypt, where the masses are crazier about football than those in most other Arab nations, the better and more profitable soccer clubs are often owned by the military, the police or individual government ministers. That may be one reason why neither Mubarak or the military council, which appointed his successor, stopped the business of football matches."

"The Al Ahli fan community helped to fuel the revolution. And they have made their position clear in the current conflict between the military leaders and the youth who believe the revolution was stolen from them and who are now discussing the need for a new one. They are demanding that the army withdraw from politics."

"So it cannot be any coincidence that it is the players and the supporters of Al Ahli who fell victim to the murderous attacks of 'spectators'. ... As happened with the attacks against protesters in the final months of 2011 and the pogroms against Coptic Christians, obscure forces sought to foment fears of chaos in order to increase calls for an iron hand. That iron hand is the army, which seized power from Mubarak and doesn't want to give it up."

"It remains to be seen whether the military will give up its political power and withdraw from business and whether the future military budget will be controlled by a civilian government after the recent election, which saw 70 percent of the votes go to the Islamists. Among the Muslim Brotherhood, who became the strongest party, it appears that the willingness to share power with the military is large. There are even supporters of the military being the guarantor of the constitution in some liberal quarters."

"From this perspective it appears that the drama at Port Said is part of a larger conflict over the future of Egypt that hasn't ended with the elections. There is much to suggest that the 74 dead in the port city were not the last victims of an oblique power struggle in Egypt."

The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"Beyond the attempts at explanation, rumors and half-truths about the 'forces of the old regime,' paid thugs and police inaction, one thing is certain: The security apparatus failed badly. For months now, the police have not been present or have just looked away. The game at Port Said was classic violence -- supporters of both teams are known for their aggressiveness. This makes it easy for the military to use the violence to promote its own interests. And was it not Egypt's interior minister himself who reimposed emergency laws that had only recently been eased in the name of stability? Things cannot go well as long as the Egyptians are left only with the choice of a security vacuum or becoming a police state."

The leftist Die Tageszeitung writes:

"There can be no doubt that the bloody altercations in the Egyptian stadium had nothing to do with football. They were a further chapter in battle between the parts of the revolution movement that still exist and the military, which continues with the same brutal style of rule used by former President Hosni Mubarak. The (incidents) fit in with a strategy the military has adopted in order to secure its economic and political power, which is to foment disquiet and chaos so that it can create the impression among the population that it is a guarantor of stability and safety. It warns against radical Islamists in order to retain the support of the West and the liberals. And it tries to attribute all lasting protests to 'enemy forces' from abroad who want to destabilize the country. "

"This strategy, adopted from the Mubarak regime, has lasted astoundingly long. But it is now reaching its limits. Even in Egypt, people are starting to take note of the inability of the geriatric generals to provide the country with a political and economic future. It will take more time and there will be yet more victims, but in the long term, the revolution could be the beginning of the end of the military's rule in Egypt."

- Daryl Lindsey


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