Egypt: Canal Provinces Defy Morsi, Weakening his Authority

The canal cities of Port Said, Ismailia and Suez rejected the imposition of a curfew and of emergency laws on them Monday night. In the meantime, the major opposition parties declined President Muhammad Morsi’s call for a meeting to work out differences. The National Salvation Front, made up of leftists and old regime secularists, insists that Morsi widen his cabinet to create a government of national unity and that he take back out of the constitution paragraphs that threaten an imposition of a strict interpretation of Muslim religious law on everyone.

In Port Said, some 10,000 demonstrators defied the curfew, with representatives of all the major groups in the port city of nearly a million coming out to chant against President Morsi and against the Muslim Brotherhood. They cursed the Supreme Guide of the Brotherhood, Muhammad al-Badi`, and the former member of parliament for a district of Port Said in Parliament from the Brotherhood, Akram Sha`ir.

In the first round of the presidential elections last May, Port Said voted for leftist Hamdeen Sabahi. Sabahi did well but was not among the top two vote getters. That was Morsi and his rival, Ahmad Shafiq (Mubarak’s last prime minister and a man of the old regime). Port Said preferred even Shafiq to Morsi. This record of voting in recent elections suggests that Port Said has a strong secular orientation, and that labor unions are strong (it was likely the unions who got out the vote for Sabahi last May).

On top of everything else, a court just sentenced 21 young men many from the Green Eagle soccer fan club (supporting Port Said’s al-Misri team), to death for allegedly deliberately provoking a riot in the city’s stadium last February that left dozens dead. In the stampede, many fans of Cairo’s al-Ahli team died, and it was rumored at the time that elements of the old regime conspired with pro- al-Misri soccer hoodlums to punish the ultras or soccer hoodlums from Cairo for their role in overthrowing Mubarak. Many in the city seem to believe that the verdict against the Port Said fans was directed by the Muslim Brotherhood to curry electoral favor with Cairo (the Brotherhood hadn’t done well in much of Cairo, a metropolitan area of some 20 million).

Among the forms of protest, breaking the curfew, are the playing of street soccer in front of government buildings. In Suez, they are having musical festivals in which a local musical instrument features prominently. Youth are marching and chanting, “No to the Brotherhood, no to the Salafis! Egypt belongs to all Egyptians!” and “We don’t have to fear a curfew if Morsi goes first.” They called on Morsi to step down from the presidency.

The canal cities have played important roles in modern Egyptian nationalism, fighting off the British, and in 1956, they took on the British, French and Israelis. Their people reminded Morsi of these years of sacrifice.

Youth have now put up a Facebook page calling for Morsi to step down.

It seems fairly clear that the Egyptian military is not policing the curfew in those cities, so Morsi’s hopes of handing the problem off to them has not worked.

Aljazeera English has a video report:

14 Responses

  1. It appears from your analysis that Morsi is walking on egg shells in that the Egyptian army are not doing his bidding about the demonstrations in these cities and that there appears to be a far larger opposition to both Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood than what we here in Australia are being told. That makes me wonder if the armed forces are once again positioning themselves to become the rulers of Egypt within the foreseeable future?

    • Sir, I’m Egyptian and I’m telling you it’s way beyond Military intervention. Yes, the army is protecting the important locations in the 3 cities but it can’t follow the presidential orders of the curfew unless they want it a Massacre.
      The important point is that region fears nothing, as they were raised to be a front line in the state of war, 40 years ago.
      Egypt’s three toughest fear-less cities can’t be handled with bullets.

  2. Professor, I’m not asking you to get out your crystal ball, but you might want to comment on how worried we all should be. The Syrian state has already collapsed, the Egyptian transition seems to be rapidly losing legitimacy, Iraq is coming apart at the seems (Kurdistan is selling oil independently, Sunni Arabs are renouncing the legitimacy of the state), the Jordanian regime is under considerable pressure, Libya has yet to come together — and that’s only the beginning, what with the Saudi-Iranian proxy confrontation happening across the entire mess, I mean we could go on and on. I’m seeing metastasizing chaos.

    Where is all this going?

  3. I’m not the Professor, but I’ll repeat what I said two years ago. I am reminded of how long the transformation of Eastern Europe took after the Soviet Union collapsed. That whole process (the most turbulent part of it, because there are clearly still ramifications today) took around 15 years. During that transition, there were several ugly wars in the former Yugoslavia, and plenty of other instability and uncertainty in many of the former Eastern Bloc nations/states.

    We’re only two years into this new transition. There’s so much that can and will change. We have an election coming up in Iran this year that could present a lot of new surprises. Yes, it’s a nervous time, but I’m optimistic that, ten years down the line, we’ll see a much more stable, democratic Arab and Western Asian Islamic region. It seems to me that it’s a pretty inevitable outcome of a more connected and aware world.

    • I completely agree. What is happening in the Middle East is a region-wide civil war between an Islamist and a secular worldview, between various ideas of what it is to be an Arab or an Iranian or a Turk. Apart from the period immediately following the collapse of the Soviet Union, we can turn our minds back to Western civil wars. The English Civil War (1642-16510) was a similar war between absolutist monarchy and parliamentarian democracy, between religious fundamentalism and secularism. Historical records count 84,830 dead, and counting the two Bishops’ wars altogether more than 190,000 people were killed. It is estimated that roughly one in ten adult male population died.

      The American Civil War (1861-1865) was equally brutal, which produced about 1,030,000 casualties, including 620,000 soldiers’ deaths. Roughly three per cent of the population died, which would correspond to over nine million deaths out of today’s population. More American soldiers died during the Civil War than in all foreign wars that America has fought.

      The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) fought between fascism and republicanism resulted in 50,000-200,000 deaths. Thousands of Republicans were imprisoned and at least 30,000 were executed. The French and Russian revolutions produced even more casualties.

      In comparison, revolutions in the Middle East, even in Libya and Syria, have been less brutal, and given the total rejection of theocracy by most Iranians and the ongoing battles against Islamism in Egypt, the hope is that future will belong to secular democracy. However, we need to be patient and above all to stop interfering in domestic affairs of other countries.

      • If the events of Arab Spring are “a region-wide civil war between an Islamist and a secular worldview,” then why is it that the Islamists and secular liberals keep fighting on the same side? The Muslim Brootherhood marched alongside trade unions and cosmopolitan youth in Egypt. The al-Qaeda-linked al Nusra Brigades are fighting alongside populists in Syria. Former AQI fighters took up arms alongside the Libyan youth to topple Gadhaffi. The Iranian “Green Revolution” was an intra-mural fight between two sets of cleric-led Islamists.

        Forcing the events of Arab Spring into the Bush-era narrative of secular modernism vs. Islamism is a gross distortion.

  4. “In the first round of the presidential elections last May, Port Said voted for leftist Hamdeen Sabahi. Sabahi did well but was not among the top two vote getters.”

    The above quote, plus the stuff about the labor unions, seem to be strong reasons for the NSF not to boycott the elections. Election boycotts very often do not turn help the boycotters unless it is against some sort of rigged or predetermined election.

    If these parties organized well and emphasized a believable program of economic revival. Look at how well Sabbahi did in the presidential election with much lower resources and recognition than some of his rivals.

    There seems to be little to gain by staying away while a powerful opportunity exists by conducted vigorous, fully immersed campaign.

  5. Who is the opposition???

    In the last parliamentary election, MB got 48%, Al Nour got 24%, Al Wafd got 17%, these three NSF crooks got only 10%. Please use your sense to call them opposition. Then, who is the opposition. If Morsi makes all three ministers, they will be happy. Pls pls please show my comments if you truly give importance to Egypt over your personal interest.

    • Reading off from the parliamentary elections and ignoring what happened last May in the first round of the presidential elections would give you a skewed view of the shape of Egyptian politics.

      Morsi didn’t win by that much. Some Sabahi and Aboul Fotouh people held their nose and voted for him. The opposition as now constituted is probably a majority of the country.

      • Aboul Futuh refused to join the NSF because it lacks any representation on the street and is made of people which only shares the goal of bringing the MB down while disagreeing on everything else. Abdoul Futuh accepted the invitation by Mursi btw. I agree with you that Mursi did not win by that much. But against whom???. Shafiq. Not Sabahi. Shafiq has much more representation than the three stooges Sabahi, Baradai( who holds the cambodian citizenship b.t.w) and Musa combined. And who said that the NSF represent the revolutionaries. The 6 April movement said already that the the NSF does not represent them. I can guarantee you that Sabahi will loose the next election big time. The majority of egyptians refuse to burn the country down. But then again. What is winning the majority good for if the minority has the right to bring the country to a standstill. What was Obamas reaction to the occupy protesters again?.

        • What was Obamas reaction to the occupy protesters again?

          He coopted their message and made it the central theme of his reelection campaign. I’m not sure where you’re going with this.

    • “In the last parliamentary election…” you mean the ones that large blocs of voters boycotted?

      If all of the Democrats in American boycotted the next election, the Republicans would win a massive majority of votes. If you think the election results would show a fair representation of public opinion, you’re missing something.

      We have Iraq 2005 as a model of what happens when the “winners” ignore the reality that a large segment of the electorate boycotted the election, and conclude that they don’t need to take the existence of that opposition into account.

  6. There are several cases where candidates and parties supposedly condemned to inevitable failure decided to present their case to the public and achieved considerable success.

    Recent example: Very few actually thought Lapid’s Yesh Atid had hope of becoming the second largest party in the Knesset. Yet it happened. Several other parties in that election were also underestimated, even by polling, and a few parties were taken from miniscule representation to a sizeable amount of seats as a result of new directions charted by new leaders.

    In a society that is post-dictatorship for one of the first times in its history and is moving through semi-charted territory, things change rapidly and opinion is difficult to measure. Fortunes can easily alter and even minority movements can gain enough traction to become a majority.

    It seems like some of the parties in Egypt are excessively worried about their difficulties in organizing and mobilizing in the past elections. The elements of the NSF, particularly ones that have a lot of potential like the Popular Current, should roll the dice and try to win the electorate. It seems like they could do reasonably well with determintation, patience, and the right strategy. There are large amounts of people that are waiting for a well presented vision for Egypt presented by those willing to take responsibility for ensuring the success of the country’s revolution.

    They could consider taking a look at the fact that the upcoming Tunisian elections appear set to become highly competitive.

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