By Jailan Zayan
By Jailan Zayan
CAIRO, February 3, 2012 (AFP)
In the year since an uprising toppled president Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s path to democratic rule has been pockmarked by deadly clashes and rising crime, piling pressure on the ruling military council overseeing the transition.
On January 25 last year, Egyptians took to the streets in an electrifying show of unity and, in just 18 days, managed to end Mubarak’s three-decade rule.
But the new Egypt has been gripped by instability since Mubarak’s omnipresent and hated police force disappeared from the streets during the uprising.
Successive premiers and interior ministers have vowed to make security their top priority.
But protesters are furious that their calls to restructure the interior ministry have gone ignored, blaming stalwarts of Mubarak’s regime for orchestrating violence through the police and accusing the ruling military council of incompetence if not complicity.
These grievances have now spilled over after 74 people died in clashes following a football match between Port Said team Al-Masry and Cairo’s Al-Ahly.
The events in Port Said happened “as security services stood by and did nothing, like they did in previous events, and perhaps they even contributed to the massacre,” wrote Ibrahim Mansur, a columnist for independent daily Al-Tahrir.
Viewers were shocked when state television showed footage of black-clad riot police standing rigidly as pandemonium erupted in the stadium stands and spilled onto the pitch.
“It was not a football match between Masry and Ahly. It was a bloody political battle against the revolution,” wrote Wael Qandil, a columnist at newspaper Al-Shorouq wrote.
Commentators, and now furious protesters in cities across the country, accuse military leaders of deliberately sowing chaos to justify their continued presence at the top of Egypt’s political ladder.
But Egypt’s police have come under fire for heavy-handed tactics and were recently given instructions to deal carefully with streets protests that have mushroomed since Mubarak’s fall.
The interior ministry has sacked police officers, launched public relations campaigns and changed its slogan to “the police are at the service of the people” in a bid to restore their reputation and regain trust.
But amid these pledges of a softer touch, street clashes, sectarian violence, attacks on the gas pipeline to Israel and armed robberies have only further infuriated Egyptians.
“The military regime could have returned security to the streets, as they managed to do during the elections,” said Al-Tahrir’s Mansur.
Parliamentary elections that took place over three months from November were celebrated worldwide for being safe and orderly, somewhat of an anomaly amid a current crime spree.
This week gunmen raided a money transfer company in Cairo, bringing to five the number of armed robberies in less than a week.
And last week a failed hold-up at a money exchange bureau in the Sinai resort of Sharm el-Sheikh left a French tourist dead when the four masked robbers traded fire with police as they fled they scene.
The security situation is the worst in the Sinai peninsula owing to the heavily armed resident Bedouin community.
On Friday, armed Bedouins seized two American women and their Egyptian tour guide on the road from the historic monastery of St Catherine’s in Sinai.