Protesters in Egypt's Port Said threaten 'escalation' if demands go unmet
Protesters will hold Egypt's political leadership responsible for any 'criminal consequences' that might take place, Port Said's Ibrahim El-Masry warns
Ahram Online, Sunday 17 Feb 2013
File photo: Smoke rises after Egyptian protesters in Port Said clash with police in January (Photo:AP)
After hitting the streets of Egypt’s Port Said on Sunday, thousands of anti-government demonstrators plan to escalate their protests in the coming three days if seven demands go unmet by authorities, according to Ibrahim El-Masry, a former Masry Club football player and protest leader.
Demands include the dismissal of Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim and the abrogation of a night-time curfew imposed on Egypt’s canal cities last month.
Speaking to Ahram Online, El-Masry did not specify the kind of “escalations” protesters might resort to, but insinuated that they might not be peaceful. “Protesters are mainly concentrated in Martyrs’ Square [located in central Port Said], where they plan to stage a three-day sit-in,” he said.
“If we’re ignored again, we will escalate further,” said El-Masry. “We haven't decided exactly what we will do, but from now on, we will hold the political leadership responsible for the political and criminal consequences that take place.”
Schools in Port Said, he went on to note, “were closed today because of the protests.”
Protesters from all walks of life staged marches across the restive canal city on Sunday in an effort to mobilise popular support for a planned civil disobedience campaign to protest the authorities' failure to meet their stated demands.
With Egypt subject to mounting political and economic instability in the two years since the January 25 Revolution, Port Said has had to deal with unique challenges since its infamous football stadium disaster last year.
That incident saw the city's home fans assault their Cairo counterparts – fans of the rival Ahly football club – in the wake of an ill-tempered league match. At least 72 of the latter were killed in the ensuing bloodshed.
Egypt's 'football massacre' left Port Said reeling under an unofficial boycott – economic and social – and a profound sense of isolation.
The most dangerous consequence of the disaster, however, came this year, when 21 Port Said residents were slapped with death sentences on 26 January for their involvement in the tragedy – which plunged the city into further chaos.
The court rulings led to days of bloody clashes between angry protesters and police in Port Said, resulting in the death of more than 40 people, mostly civilians. Shortly afterward, a curfew was imposed on the city.
Seven demands have been issued by the victims’ families and other Port Said residents. According to El-Masry, those demands include:
-Dismissal of the interior minister for incidents of alleged police brutality seen in last month's clashes.
-Appointment of an independent judge to preside over the ongoing investigation of the stadium disaster.
-Inclusion of the names of those killed in last month's clashes on the list of ‘martyrs of Egypt’s revolution,’ meaning their families would receive the same honours and compensation received by the disaster’s other victims.
-Accountability for all those responsible for the recent killing of Port Said residents.
-Construction of a memorial statue to commemorate the recent death of Port Said residents.
-That the state pay for the medical treatment of all those injured in last month's bloody confrontations.
-An immediate end of the night-time curfew to which the city remains subject.
According to El-Masry, these demands are mainly directed at the Shura Council, the upper house of Egypt’s parliament which is currently endowed with legislative powers.
El-Masry, a former international footballer, has become a spokesman for the families of Port Said residents sentenced to death, those accused of attempting to storm Port Said's prison, and those injured in the ensuing mayhem.