Residents of Port Said, plagued by weeks of deadly clashes between protesters and security forces, say they want the reviled police force out of their canal city and the army to take control.
Such is the disdain for the police that residents have taken to providing their own security services, setting up a makeshift security post in a public park dubbed “The People’s Police Station.”
“It may not be a real police station, but it’s a real sign of objection,” said engineer Mohammed Hashem, 40.
“So far we have had 480 reports, we provide traffic duties. We are providing citizens with what the police have failed to give: safety and security,” said Mohamed Ali, 33.
Tensions between police and residents of the Suez Canal city go way back but a deadly football riot last year — which many residents blamed on the police — ushered in a drumbeat of tragedies for the strategic city.
“The police were responsible for the Port Said stadium massacre which has caused all this destruction,” Hashem told AFP, echoing comments of many residents who believe police stood by while rival fans laid into each other.
The clashes at the stadium in February last year between fans of home side Al-Masry and Cairo’s Al-Ahly left more than 70 people dead and sparked days of violent protests in Cairo, in which another 16 people were killed.
Thousands of Egyptians packed the streets in Port Said on Friday in protest at the deaths of local people in clashes with police and before a court decision in a contentious football riot case.
Thousands of demonstrators converged on Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo and on the streets around Egypt’s presidential palace to protest against President Mohammed Morsi’s efforts to expand his powers.
By nightfall, fierce altercations had broken out in front of Mr. Morsi’s palace, where masked demonstrators lobbed Molotov cocktails and firecrackers at police officers and over the high palace walls.
Police responded by firing volleys of tear gas. In one incident broadcast on television, police could be seen beating a protester while stripping him of his clothing. Egypt’s presidency said they would begin an investigation into the incident.
Friday’s fighting unfolded against a backdrop of back-and-forth recriminations and failed negotiations between secularist and Islamist political forces in Egypt, as well as between protesters and the politicians who claim to represent their demands. The lack of compromise has polarized Egypt and driven its economy to the brink of collapse.
The fighting began last Friday when peaceful protests against Mr. Morsi’s rule on the second anniversary of the uprising called by opposition leaders devolved into clashes, particularly in the city of Suez.
The following day, a Cairo court sentenced 21 soccer fans, mostly residents of the coastal city of Port Said, to death for their role in a soccer melee a year ago that killed 74 people.
When Port Said residents tried to attack the prison housing the accused, they set off a week of deadly riots across the country.
Al Jazeera English’s new documentary, Bahrain: Shouting in the Dark, will air tonight and looks to be an absolute must-watch. (For those of us not fortunate enough to have Al Jazeera hosted on our cable, we have live streaming options via LiveStation. It’ll also no doubt be uploaded online quickly.) The Telegraph says that the documentary also reveals the Bahraini government’s use of social media sites to their own advantage, and to find activists like twenty-year-old Ayat Al-Qurmezi, whom they arrested.