Tue Jan 29, 2013, 06:30 AM
UnrepentantLiberal (11,700 posts)
Revolt of Egypt’s Canal Cities: An Ill Omen for Morsi
By Ashraf Khalil
Jan. 29, 2013
Memory is implacable in Egypt’s three major cities on the Suez Canal: Port Said in the north, Ismailia in the middle and Suez in the south. There is still vestigial rancor from British colonial days; and there is a hardened sense of honor and neglect from being at the front lines of the wars with Israel in the 1960s and ’70s. Those emotions have often turned inward, against Egypt itself and whoever rules from Cairo. The first martyrs in the January 2011 revolt against Hosni Mubarak were from the canal cities, and their blood fed a nationwide cry for vengeance. Now President Mohamed Morsi finds his greatest popular challenge not in the huge urban centers of Cairo or Alexandria but in the three troublesome cities.
It was no surprise that Egyptian police lost control of Port Said almost immediately after a Cairo court handed down death sentences on Jan. 26 to 21 residents from the canal city for their alleged role in a February 2012 soccer riot that killed 72 people. In the aftermath of the verdict, relatives of the condemned laid siege to the local prison and would have breached it if Morsi hadn’t called in the army. At least 30 people were killed in the mayhem — a toll that easily eclipsed the police action visited upon the more cogently political protests in Tahrir Square in Cairo. The bloodshed simply contributed to the local sense of outrage and marginalization. As one Port Said resident screamed to the cameras of al-Jazeera: “We bled for this country! We died for Egypt’s freedom! Why is our blood so cheap now?”
The President imposed a 30-day state of emergency and nightly curfews in Port Said, Suez and Ismailia. The residents were unfazed; indeed they took to Morsi’s declaration of a 9 p.m. curfew with a rebellious gusto, making a point of scheduling their protest marches to start at 8:45 p.m.
For decades, the cities have been a tribe apart within of Egypt. The last British battalion left Egypt in 1956 but, way into the 1990s, citizens of Ismailia would mark an annual spring holiday by burning effigies — the older residents would sort of recall that burning man was supposed to be Lord Edmund Allenby, who led British forces in the Sinai in 1917 and 1918. The tradition persisted for so long that younger residents had no idea who “Limby” was and took to burning effigies of more modern enemies of Egypt, like Ariel Sharon.
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