x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Egypt's crisis of confidence is at a boiling point

To avoid a return to military law and order in Egypt, President Morsi must prove that his government is able to restore peace and trust.

When rival football fans can send Egypt into a tailspin, it's time to seriously fear for the nation's stability. How did it get to this point? Rioters in Port Said torched buildings and attempted to disrupt international shipping on the Suez Canal after a court confirmed death sentences against 21 local football fans. So-called Ultras in Cairo responded with equal violence.

Facts of the case mean little now: neither side was ever going to be appeased by a verdict upholding sentences for perpetrators of a riot last year in which 79 people died when fans of Port Said's Al Masry club clashed with Al Ahly supporters from Cairo. After the verdict on Saturday - which included an acquittal for seven police officers - two protesters were killed. In Port Said, the army moved to prevent the disruption of the Suez Canal.

These incidents certainly bode poorly for Egypt's future, but they are also just an element of the chaos President Mohammed Morsi must now navigate. Days before the verdict many police officers went on strike; they believe they are being used by Mr Morsi against his opponents in the streets. Officers in 10 provinces called for the removal of the interior minister appointed by the president.

Some Egyptians appear to be oblivious to Egypt's teetering. The country's institutions are weakening, either due to conflicting loyalties or because of the lack of public trust. The resilience of Egypt's institutions have long distinguished it, the closest in the region to a viable nation-state, from its neighbours. But due to political bickering and a worsening economic situation, public trust in and respect for these institutions is swiftly fading.

Even some of Mr Morsi's supporters say the president is being too lenient towards his opponents and that he should use his powers to bring them to heel. Detractors say he is deliberately harming the police's credibility by using it to stifle unrest. What is clear is that people's attitudes towards the state and its agencies are being poisoned.

Mr Morsi is clearly running out of time to address Egypt's current instability. Ultras must be curtailed, but so too must the security sector be reformed and police grievances addressed. The increased violence over the last months is not only a result of frustration but also symptomatic of the realisation of the void left behind by the collapse of the omniscient dictatorial Mubarak regime. It is not too late to fend off the worst possible outcome - a return to military law and order. But to avoid this outcome Mr Morsi must prove that his government is able to restore order, and trust.