Egypt’s Port Said bleeds, but for what reason?

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Port Said, the Egyptian Mediterranean city, paid Saturday about 30 lives following a court ruling that sentenced to death 21 of its residents for their role in a mass killing that took place at the city’s soccer stadium last year.

But it would be simplistic to argue that the bloodbath in Port Said yesterday was the result of the public anger at the court verdict only. Underlying reasons such as marginalization and a long history of uneasy relationship with the central government in Cairo account for the bloodshed more than anything else.

Port Said is the entrance of the Suez Canal and Africa’s most northeastern city. It takes its pride for being the center of Egyptian resistance to the 1956 Tri-Partite Aggression and seeks recognition for its sacrifices as a war zone in 1967 during Israel’s surprise assault on Egypt. Following the country’s 1973 war with Israel, the city was granted duty-free status by President Anwar Sadat.

Some of the privileges enjoyed were taken back from the city in 1999 after an alleged assassination attempt against Mubarak. Port Said residents say the alleged assassin was a poor man who was carrying a letter, not a gun, trying to give it to President Mubarak to ask him for help.

Residents complain that their city was subjected to systematic marginalization since the alleged assassination attempt. The bitter feelings towards Cairo were often manifested in soccer. The city’s al-Masry (The Egyptian) club is in a long standing rivalry with al-Ahly (The National) Club.

In February 2012, a soccer match between the two turned into a bloodbath when 74 fans of Ahly were killed in one of the world’s deadliest soccer incidents.

Port Said residents insist that the carnage was pre-planned by the remnants of the old regime. They say it was planned from Cairo and executed in their city.

Bashir Abdel Fattah, a researcher at al-Ahram’s Center for Political and Strategic studies, told Al Arabiya that the people in Port Said suffered from injustice in the past and feel that they are now paying for a crime they did not commit.

“People in Port Said feel that their city was a theater for this soccer massacre,” Abdel Fattah said.

Ahmed Awad, a resident of the city said: “The people of Port Said are not against punishing the real criminals. But why were the officials left unpunished?”

Zeezee Ibrahim, another resident of Port Said, was skeptical that the culprits were those sentenced to death yesterday.

“Who locked the stadium gates? Who prevented the fans from exiting the stadium? These questions are unanswered until now,” Ibrahim said, stressing that her city was a perfect “theater” to stage the soccer carnage because people in there are hard core fans of al-Masry Club.

“We are sure that the Ministry of Interior planned this crime along with the military council to take revenge from the al-Ahly Ultras through the help of some thugs in Port Said,” said Shahinda Gharib, another Port Said resident.

For Friday’s court ruling, Port Said resident Awad said the embattled Mursi administration sought to appease the diehard Ahly Ultras fans who gathered in Tahrir Square.

Mursi is already facing growing anger from liberal opposition forces with protests against his rule taking place nationwide. A court ruling in favor of the country’s most popular club might be a tactical move to make some people dislike him less.

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