Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1136, 21 - 27 February 2013
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1136, 21 - 27 February 2013

Ahram Weekly

Pressure that works

Port Said’s residents have declared a campaign of disobedience. Ahmed Morsy visits the beleaguered city

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Al-Ahram Weekly

On Sunday Port Said was brought to a standstill by the response to calls for a campaign of civil disobedience made by revolutionary movements and backed by Masri football fans. Students, employees and workers all participated in the action. Throughout the week schools were shut. The Investment Authority and the Public Free Zone, which includes more than 29 factories, ground to a halt. Port Said governorate building was blockaded and the Cairo-Port Said railway line blocked as army tanks surrounded key facilities in the governorate.

“Port Said residents have been neglected for decades. They are deprived of their city’s resources and their blood has been spilled,” said Mohamed Abdel-Wahab, a 58-year-old Port Said resident, while participating in Monday’s sit-in at the governorate’s headquarters.

On Sunday, thousands of protesters took part in marches as part of the planned campaign of civil disobedience. The angry protesters demanded the prosecution of those responsible for the deaths of more than 40 demonstrators during violent clashes with the police that erupted on 26 January, leading to a curfew being imposed on the city.

The violence followed last month’s court ruling sentencing 21 suspects from Port Said to death for their alleged role in the killing of 74 Ahli fans in February 2012 after a football match between Port Said-based club Masri and Cairo’s Ahli.

The majority of the condemned claim they are innocent and many Port Said residents believe the convicted men are being used as scapegoats to calm the situation in Cairo. The verdict, they argue, was politically motivated, an attempt to placate Ahli Ultras who had threatened to foment chaos if guilty verdicts were not returned.

“We demand an independent judge investigates last month’s deaths of more than 40 Port Said residents,” Abdel-Wahab told Al-Ahram Weekly. “We also want those who were killed last month to be considered as martyrs of the revolution and we are demanding the re-trial of suspects in the 2012 stadium massacre because many of those detained are innocent.”

“In order to attain our rights is it necessary for us to act in the same way as Ahli Ultras who threatened to turn the country into a state of anarchy?” asked Mahmoud Rayan, a 25-year-old unemployed man from Port Said. Before the court ruling Ahli fans had besieged the stock exchange and blocked the 6 October bridge as they demanded death sentences for those responsible for Port Said stadium massacre.

“We want an official apology from the presidency for the violence. And the victims of police violence should be considered as martyrs of the 25 January Revolution,” Rayan told the Weekly.

“As long as Egyptian blood is cheap, down with any president,” chanted the protesters marching through Port Said. They also shouted slogans against the Muslim Brotherhood and the Interior Ministry.

“The media gave the impression that those who died last month were all armed thugs seeking to break into the prison to set suspects free. This is not true,” says Ahmed Hassan, a Port Said activist. “Most of those who died had nothing to do with forcing an entry into the prison.”

Soad Ali’s son, Mahmoud Al-Arabi, died on 26 January.

“Who bears responsibility for the blood of my son? God is my only agent,” she said.

“Mahmoud was only 23 years old. He had gone out to buy things for dinner. He was more than half a kilometre from the prison when he was shot in the head. I hold Morsi, the minister of the interior and the director of security responsible for the death of my son.”

An already tense situation worsened on Sunday when dozens of Ahli fans attacked members of a volleyball team from Port Said. They stormed the Shooting Club in Dokki and attacked members of the Robat and Anwar volleyball teams before setting the team’s bus on fire.

Hussein Zayed, a Shura Council member from Port Said and assistant secretary-general of the Wasat Party, started a sit-in at the council on Monday to protest inaction on the part of the president’s office in the face of the worsening crisis in his home city.

Zayed said suggestions he had presented to President Mohamed Morsi, Prime Minister Hisham Kandil and the Port Said governor on ways to resolve the situation had all been ignored. He ended his sit-in on the same day after Shura Council Speaker Ahmed Fahmi promised to look into his suggestions and respond as soon as possible.

On Monday afternoon Port Said Governor Major General Ahmed Abdallah announced that Minister of Justice Ahmed Mekki had assigned a judge to investigate the 26 January clashes. Abdallah issued a press statement saying Mekki had ordered the judge to start investigations immediately and to summon all security officials in the governorate.

He also said that the governorate of Port Said, the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs and Port Said Investors’ Association had started a fund to compensate the families of those who died during last month’s clashes and that LE35,000 had already been allocated to each martyr’s family.

“I don’t think the people of Port Said will accept Mekki’s decision or end the disobedience,” Hassan said. “The government has lost all credibility among the city’s inhabitants.” 

Port Said suffers from collapsing public services and widespread unemployment. “There isn’t a single job vacancy in the entire city,” says Rayan who works as a part-time taxi driver. “And what I earn from working all day usually gets spent on food in the evening.”

“Port Said has the Suez Canal, the free trade zone with its factories as well as several petroleum companies. Yet we cannot find jobs. The majority of the workers are migrants. Before we were at least able to use the free zone to buy goods and clothes from the port and then sell them to people coming from other provinces. Now we can’t even do that.”

In 1977 President Anwar Al-Sadat issued a presidential decree turning Port Said into a free-trade zone. In 2001 President Hosni Mubarak’s government issued a decree abolishing the free zone. The city has since been the victim of endlessly changing regulations and vacillating policy, and the decree was finally enacted in 2012.

The Port Said Maritime Arsenal Workers’ Association and the Trade Union for Public Free Trade Zone Workers decided to join the civil disobedience campaign on Monday. Union officials said they did so to protest deteriorating conditions in the city.

“There are containers that exit or depart to other cities from the port without being checked or even opened,” Osama Al-Arabi, a Port Saidi merchant, told the Weekly. “This has a negative impact on employment in the town.”

The city was first designated a free-trade zone in 1902. Ships would dock on offshore islands and exchange goods without going through customs. Officially, the city’s free-zone status ended in one hundred and ten years later, in 2012. Following the revolution, Port Said’s merchants threatened to disband the local chamber of commerce if free-zone status was not restored.

In a belated move to address at least some of the concerns felt by residents of the city state television said on Monday that President Morsi had allocated LE400 million each year from the revenues of the Suez Canal for the development of the Canal cities of Port Said, Ismailia and Suez. Morsi was also reported to be submitting a draft law to the Shura Council to return Port Said’s free zone status.

After a week Port Said’s campaign of disobedience is already showing results and the strategy is being studied by activists in other provincial towns and cities where residents feel as neglected as the Port Saidis.

 

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