Today, February 4th, is the anniversary of the so-called ‘Battle of the Camel’, the decisive turning point of the Revolution of January 25th, when the peaceful democracy protesters in Tahrir were able to beat back a vicious onslaught by pro-Mubarak thugs who attacked them on horseback. A week later, Mubarak resigned. Part of the credit for the push-back against the Mubarak forces went to the ‘ultras’, as the most extreme soccer fanatics are called in Egypt, akin to England’s infamous ‘football hooligans.’
Today, a year later, the soccer ultras are being blamed for a massacre on a football field in the town of Port Said on the Suez Canal; but the real question is, who put them up to inciting a riot? And the even greater outrage now debated in the extraordinary session of Parliament and everywhere in Egypt is this: why did the security forces stand by while Egyptians killed Egyptians? Why the lapses in security from the beginning, not only in the case of this soccer match, but in several suspicious incidents over the past week, and indeed the past month?
In the minds of even the least conspiracy-minded of Egyptians, one answer is inevitable: at the very moment when there is the most pressure to abrogate the loathed ‘emergency laws’ under which Mubarak ruled for thirty years, and now the SCAF rules with complete unaccountability- at that very moment, the incidents of suspicious random violence are multiplying. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the climate is being created in which the SCAF can claim that the people are fed up with the insecurity in the country and are calling for a return to the heavy-handed tactics of the police and the military.
Writing about the Nasser era in my first novel a decade ago, I had said that in Egypt, soccer rivalries replaced party politics in a country with a monolithic single-party regime that prohibited any expression of political opinion. In today’s post-revolutionary Egypt, the airwaves buzz with political debate and party politics are hotly contested at the ballot box and in the media. But at what price freedom? How do you explain the spectacle of Egyptians killing each other on a soccer field for no apparent reason? One year from the day when outrage against the thuggish tactics of the Mubarak loyalists united Egyptians behind the protesters in Tahrir Square, united them young and old, Muslim and Copt, secular and religious, ultras and ulamas; one year from that hope-filled day, Egypt’s Revolution seems to have gone terribly wrong.