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Egypt

No end to violent protests in Egypt

More than 40 people have died in clashes between demonstrators and security forces. Egypt's opposition is threatening to boycott the parliamentary polls if its demands are not met.

Clashes between security forces and demonstrators came as early as Friday (25.01.2013), leading to at least 10 deaths. Demonstrations on Saturday and Sunday brought more than 30 deaths in Port Said, while another protester in Cairo died of his wounds over the weekend.

Most demonstrators who took to the streets on the second anniversary of Egypt's revolution were protesting against rule by the Muslim Brotherhood and President Mohammed Morsi. Cairo's Tahrir Square is full of anti-Morsi signs.

Saad Salem is a middle-aged demonstrator and gives clear expression to his opposition: "The Muslim Brotherhood have deceived the people right from the start and now they have taken everything they wanted. They wanted to rule the country and have stolen the revolution. They've betrayed the youth who started the revolution."

Lack of trust

Many cite frustration with the Muslim Brotherhood's broken promises. The Islamic political group had initially announced it would not field a candidate in Egypt's presidential elections before putting forth Morsi. Protesters also say the Constitutional Assembly formed in 2012 never represented Egypt's diverse population but was dominated by Islamists. Earlier, when it was still unclear whether Morsi would be declared the winner of the presidential polls, he had promised secular groups that he would try to put together a representative assembly.

As such, opposition groups believe little of what the Muslim Brotherhood says. They reject dialogue without clear concessions being made in advance. Demonstrators see no other choice but to voice their frustrations in the street. And more than a few are increasingly open to using violence. This time in Cairo, the demonstrations were more openly provocative.

Hatred for the police and military is felt by many in the opposition, who have been subject to their arbitrariness and brutal violence in the past. Ahmed, a protester around 50 years old, is among the demonstrators who have no trust in the upcoming parliamentary elections. "Every time people complain, they say, 'Wait for the next vote.' But the way in which the constitution was written tells me they will also deceive people about the parliamentary election," he told DW.

An Al-Ahly fan scrawls graffiti on a wall
(Matthias Sailer)

An Al-Ahly fan writes on a wall: "We will never forget January 26."

21 soccer fans sentenced to death

There's another reason things turned so violent in Port Said over the weekend. Frustrations are high because the city is where a court sentenced 21 fans of the Al-Massri soccer club to death. On February 1, 2012, 74 fans of Cairo-based team Al-Ahly lost their lives when the Al-Massri group attacked them. But there are a number of indications that this wasn't just a "normal" football stadium tragedy, but that security forces were involved. Nine high-ranking police officers have also been charged, but their fate will not be decided until March 9.

Despite the bloody incident in Port Said, the verdict represents the better outcome for the ruling Muslim Brotherhood. The harshness of the sentences has appeased members of the Al-Ahly fan club, who are often represented at anti-regime rallies. Previously, club members had announced they would stir up massive unrest if there were a lenient verdict. In a Cairo stadium, the ultras celebrated the death sentences with loud singing and flares.

Around 50 meters (160 feet) in front of the stadium, an Al-Ahly fan named Sherif scrawled graffiti on a wall praising the capital punishment verdict. He is openly joyful about the situation, saying, "This is a good ruling and I'm happy about it. It's the right step. Now they've sentenced these guys and later they'll hopefully also sentence the police officers."

Demanding a new government

Most Ahly fans also want to see the police sentenced to death. By postponing the officers' trials, the regime at least been able to delay a further escalation in violence. A mild sentence at a later point in time could potentially lead to less unrest than in the current volatile climate. That could be important for the Morsi regime, given that police officers in Egypt thus far have seldom been convicted - even in cases with clear evidence against them. However, many demonstrators have been angered by these very tactics.

The oppositional National Salvation Front (NSF) says Morsi is responsible for the unrest and demands the installation an emergency government in his place. The current regime is dominated by Islamists. The NSF says that if its calls go unfulfilled, it will boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections and seek an early presidential election to get rid of Morsi.

Meanwhile, the bloody street fighting continues in many Egyptian cities. Early Saturday evening, police and demonstrators fought near the provisional parliament in Cairo. In Port Said, the police headquarters was set on fire.

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