The relative calm that had settled over Cairo for the past six weeks was never sustainable. Palpable anger toward the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) simmered in the streets making it only a matter of time before another eruption of protests racked the heart of the Egyptian capital. Last week's horrific scenes of terror and carnage at the Port Said soccer match were the latest spark that has set off mass demonstrations and deadly violence in the side streets near Tahrir Square. Only this time, protesters seem more organized and determined than ever to seek retribution against the military rulers.
What transpired following the Al-Masry and Al-Ahly contest might have rekindled the revolution. In a twisted sense, the shocking loss of life offers revolutionaries who hope for lasting democratic change a break in a country still led by Mubarak locum.
Such sentiment is no comfort to the bereaved that didn’t want a part in politics or the revolution. Yet, soccer transcends sports. As Egypt's (and the world's) national pastime, the sport is inexorably linked to politics. Soccer has torn nations apart and brought others back together. It has engendered the nastiest of rivalries and also established the most profound levels of respect. For all the hooliganism in soccer, often in the Middle East where fans can be dangerously rowdy, purity remains in the sport. It is a kid's game shared by adults in which the life-long bond with the game takes on a deep, personal identity. In this case, that identity was challenged and trampled on by military.
Last week, on live TV in front of a primetime audience, Egyptians saw the security forces – the supposed protectors of the people – violate the innocence of the game. Millions of die-hard fans and casual observers alike watched in horror as dozens of security forces wearing full riot gear stood idle in the midst of an attack. As over 70 people were stabbed and trampled to death behind them, the police remained immobilized not by fear, but by a higher order instructing them not to get involved.
Of course, this is a theory that cannot be proven. Yet, having personally witnessed security forces control thousands of obstreperous fans, or take on heated protesters armed with Molotov cocktails in and around Tahrir Square, it seems unfathomable that such a heavy police presence could not stop a few hundred Al-Masry fans from causing such devastation. This inaction is especially suspicious in that it occurred the day after SCAF failed to convince the parliament of the necessity for continued military law due to nationwide unrest.
Whether the theory is true or not, (overwhelming circumstantial evidence points to the conclusion) chaos, death, and inaction on behalf of the police and thus the military who command them, is the lasting memory for millions of Egyptians. For SCAF, it is a devastating image that could affect future of their rule.
The tragedy in Port Said undermines the military's entire public relations campaign. For almost a year, SCAF has disregarded due legal process for tens of thousands of bloggers and activists, tortured hundreds of revolutionaries, and killed dozens of demonstrators, in the name of restoring stability.
Then on the biggest stage for all to see, their 'efforts' were exposed as fraud. Instead of striking fear in Egyptians, the videos and horror kindled a visceral outrage as if SCAF had defiled one of Egypt's most sacred institutions.
Since, tens of thousands of revolutionaries, soccer fans and ordinary citizens alike have converged on Tahrir demanding the central government be held accountable for their gross negligence.
Realizing the resulting firestorm, the military has tried various desperate measures to save face. The protesters remain as determined as ever to make sure those involved are brought to justice. Soccer has been known to temporarily halt civil wars, to forge bridges between enemies or create heated rivalries between nationalities. Maybe it's time to add re-igniting a revolution to soccer's capabilities as well.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons