An initial verdict is finally out and 21 out of the 75 accused in the Port Said massacre case were given the death penalty. Yes a verdict is out, but the amount of justice done by that verdict remains an unanswered question. In fact, what happened in the past two days and keeps happening until today concerning the Port Said case raises lots of questions that need to be answered. It is premature to think that justice has been served for those who died.
This verdict is the result of an investigation and arrests that were done in a random and an inefficient manner. Those who went to Port Said right after the incident in February 2012 would tell you how people were arrested from their houses for no apparent reasons.
You would realise that the majority of those accused could not be even related to what happened, they were simply arrested because a line-up of perpetrators had to be engineered quickly in response to political pressure. When you get to the bottom of what happened in Port Said during the few days after the massacre you would understand that this trial is a charade designed by the army and implemented by state institutions to find scapegoats while the guilty get decorated.
The verdict itself is very strange. Why sentence 21 in a session then delay sentencing the others to a later session that’s more than a month away? If the investigations are not over, and the public prosecutor stated that he has new evidence, why not postpone the session and the verdict until the court sees the new evidence? Was the public prosecutor lying about the evidence he somehow miraculously managed to find in a week? Whether the newly appointed public prosecutor is lying or not, all these questions point to the court’s will to issue this verdict today.
The timing of the verdict and the fact that it was only on 21 out of 75 and it was all death sentences demonstrates that this verdict was politically motivated. The ultimate aim of issuing this verdict on the 26th was not to see justice done, but to diffuse a polarised situation. What else can explain an incomplete verdict issued in a time where supposedly new evidence has been found? Giving in to political pressure is not new to the Egyptian judiciary. Besides, all the president’s stubborn attempts to intervene and control the judiciary were means to make sure that the judiciary will remain a tool in the hands of the executive.
The secrecy is also extremely ridiculous. If the court found enough evidence against the 21 it sentenced to death, then why not disclose this evidence to the public? The court could have diffused a lot of the tension building up right now if it had shown how it arrived at that verdict. The people have a right to know, but the fact that the court failed to recognise this right is why 10 people have been killed in Port Said after the verdict, and unfortunately, the toll could be higher.
The other dimension in this situation is the Ultras movement, a very controversial group. It is indeed admirable and respectable what the Ultras Ahlawy movement has done over the past year. The movement showed a commitment to its cause and devotion to the principles the movement believes in. What the movement did over the past year was politically, socially and culturally enriching. The Ultras taught all social movements in Egypt a lesson in innovative tactics, in effective response to threats and challenges, in understanding how to apply pressure on authorities and in how to remain dedicated to your cause without diversions.
At the same time, they taught the regime in Egypt that lives are worth a lot and that there will always be pressure and escalation if the value of life is undermined. Perhaps we now know that elections are not the only tool we have. Peaceful pressure works, non-violent escalation makes a difference. It is time we remember that political parties are not the only means we have to induce change.
But despite the spectacular struggle the Ultras been through over the past year, they are now being faced with serious challenges that threaten the movement. Although the verdict could be seen as a call for celebration since the movement sees that justice has been done, this verdict does not serve any of the purposes the movement sought over the past year.
It does not hold the police or the army responsible, it does not disclose any convincing evidence and it does not guarantee that it doesn’t become overruled in an appeal. What this verdict does is absorb anger, but it does not rectify any of the wrongs the Ultras addressed over a year. If the movement is caught in celebration it will be diverted from its original cause, which will start a series of internal conflicts that will threaten the cohesion of the movement.
The third dimension of the mess we’re in is violence. We became consumed over the past year with analysing the political aspects of this case, but we forgot in the process the hatred building up against Port Said. The media, blind fanaticism and radicalisation have managed to create this false image where the city of Port Said is held responsible for the massacre.
This verdict is not a triumph for Cairo or a defeat for Port Said, this foolish parochial fanaticism has to end. The violence in Port Said is not because it is a city of thugs; it is because we have confused what’s legal with what’s political and we became unable to fulfill both, the same way we do with confusing what’s civil and what’s religious.
Violence erupts and will keep on erupting whenever the system fails to deliver justice, and what this verdict has done so far was deliver partial, politicised and inept justice.
The blood being spilled in Port Said is on the hands of those who engineered a trial to run away from their responsibilities and those who came to power afterwards simply to uphold all the unlawful principles of their predecessors.