CAIRO -- The death sentence handed down to Adel Mohammed’s son on Saturday for his part in a riot last February that killed 74 soccer fans supposedly helped set off the latest round of deadly protests in Port Said, Egypt. But Mohammed believes the violence, which led to at least 38 deaths and 800 injuries over two days, was not about his son.
“The government has declared war on the citizens of Port Said, and we have to defend our city,” Mohammed said. “Being from Port Said now is an accusation.”
Magda Sayed, 58, a government employee, was on the opposite side of Saturday’s court ruling – her son was among the 74 who died at Port Said’s soccer stadium. She’s appalled by the violence.
“Do you think we destroyed and burned and killed when our children came back to us in body bags? ...We turned to the law,” she said by phone Sunday. “What is going on in Port Said is unjustified.”
In today’s Egypt, last year’s Port Said soccer riot and the punishments handed down Saturday for it have become yet another flashpoint in a divided nation where the inability of the national government to solve the nation’s woes becomes the subtext for every controversy – whether it played a role in the events or not. Families like Mohammed’s and Sayed’s, their lives already upended, must watch as the country descends into chaos in the name of protecting their interests.
On one side are opponents seeking to unseat Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, now just seven months into his five-year term. They cite what they say is his poor job performance – a record that has yet to resolve any of the problems Egypt confronts – a flailing economy, divisive politics and a lack of security.
On the other, are those who counsel patience – Morsi can be judged when he must stand for reelection.
Any event, no matter how unrelated to the president’s policies, can become a flashpoint. Then Morsi’s inability to control the resulting violence becomes yet another strike against him.
“I am sad I voted for Morsi,” Mohammed said.
In Port Said on Sunday, another six people were killed and more than 450 people injured while attending the funerals of the 32 who’d been killed Saturday – most, hospital officials said, by gunshots as protesters and police traded fire.
With no sign that the violence would fade, Morsi delivered a fiery speech late Sunday in which he ordered Port Said and two other provinces, Suez and Ismaliya, placed under a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew. He said an emergency law that grants the military broad arrest powers will govern the three regions for the next 30 days.
He also said he’d scheduled a meeting for Monday with opposition leaders – another sign that whatever takes place in Egypt now is seen through the lens of anti-Morsi politics.
"I have said I am against any emergency measures but I have also said that if I must stop bloodshed and protect the people then I will act." Morsi said.
Stuck in the middle are people like Mohammed and Sayed, who are seeking basic forms of justice.
Mohammed said he wants someone to help get his son’s death sentence overturned. He said his son and the other 20 people sentenced to death Saturday are simply scapegoats for a failed government. He described them all as “kids.”