x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Egypt's stability is in the interest of all parties

Egypt's politicians on both sides have failed to show a path forward out of this perpetual state of uncertainty.

The Port Said football violence encapsulates much of the uncertainty of Egypt's post-revolution crisis. Last February, fighting between supporters of Cairo's Al Ahly and Port Said's Al Masry clubs escalated into one of the worst nights of bloodshed in Egypt's tumultuous past two years.

The visiting Al Ahly fans appeared to have been targeted by an organised assault, possibly with the complicity of the security personnel who turned a blind eye. There are many unanswered questions. Was this just an extreme example of fan violence? Or were authorities, then headed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, seeking revenge against Al Ahly fans who had participated in anti-government protests?

The death sentence brought against 21 people on Saturday signally failed to provide satisfactory answers, although Al Ahly supporters who had been baying for blood did celebrate. On the one hand, many believed the verdict was deeply political, targeting Al Masry supporters to appease protesters. At the same time, the capital sentences spared security officials and police, leading others to presume that the investigation had been superficial at best, deliberately deceptive at worst.

Egyptians have little faith in the institutions of this postrevolutionary order. In part, that can be blamed on the periodic outbursts of violence - at least 40 were killed over the weekend, in protests marking the second anniversary of the revolution and in the Port Said riots after the verdict. But equally to blame is a failure of leadership, in which political skirmishing has eclipsed national interests.

Many blame President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood allies. Their refusal to compromise has raised justifiable fears for Egypt's supposedly representative democracy. And, at the end of the day, the government must take responsibility for security lapses that happen during its watch - as long as the generals don't try to take power again.

Given the sense of insecurity, not to mention the abysmal economic situation, the opposition National Salvation Front may have a persuasive case to make that Mr Morsi has failed in the job. And yet the NSF can't stay focused on the task at hand - at the height of violence on Saturday, the opposition announced that it would boycott parliamentary elections later this year unless its demands are met. Even NSF supporters must be frustrated at this unhelpful lack of direction.

The opposition - and the government, for that matter - must realise that there are priorities that transcend their rivalries. Ending the violence on the streets has to be paramount. The opposition has to contest the next elections, not play politics as blood runs in the streets.