The anti-Islam film and violence in Egypt - reaction from Cairo

"It’s anger at the police. The film is a spark that caused the flame."

Protests in Cairo spread to Tahrir Square today as Salafi protestors were joined by violent football fans, Ultras Ahlawy. But can these two days of violence really all be because of a film?

Anger at Security Forces

“It’s not just because of the movie,” says Cairene NGO worker Nihal Saad Zaghloul, “but it is also something between the Ultras and the security forces.”

Resentment has built in the past week between police and protesters with the acquittal of four security officers accused of murder during the 25 January revolution. Recent protests against the “Port Said massacre”, in which 79 rioting football fans were killed while police apparently looked on, have also stirred up anger. Tellingly, protests in solidarity with the victims were held in Mohamed Mahmoud Street, the scene of 41 deaths and thousands of injuries during five day violent street battles with security forces in 2011.

“It’s anger at the police, the film is a spark that caused the flame,” says Zaghloul.

Muslim Brotherhood

Morsi has issued a statement this afternoon asking the US to apologise for the film and condemning violence in the protests. People complain however that this move has taken him two days and question why four Copts have even been placed on the no fly list. With Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi Al-Nour party being the ones who called for protests against the film on Friday, Morsi would be going up against his allies to condemn them.

“The whole thing is stupid, people think they must defend Islam and that it is about Copts seeking protection from the US, and Morsi is letting this happen.” says Cairo resident Ahmed El-Ghamrawi. “We having been trying to get the Syrian flag down on the embassy [in weekly protests against Assad’s regime] and its pretty brutal. But at these protests police are not trying to stop or contain it.  It shows Morsi is not going to crack down on Islamist as much as other groups. He is trying to get back the jihadi, Salafi vote.”

Sectarian Tensions

Morsi has come under increasing criticism for his appointment of Muslim Brotherhood members to posts in the army and press councils. With Copts being blamed for the film, at this time of Coptic New Year Morsi’s actions will only serve to heighten suspicion that he is not, as he claimed, “a President for all Egyptians.”

Although many Copts and Muslims live in harmony in Egypt, Jehan Zacharia, a Coptic resident of Minia says: “It really worries Copts in Egypt as Muslims can't reach US Copts or hurt them but they can hurt Copts in Egypt.”

As protests continue in a country which still has no constitution or parliament, the actions around this film will be interpreted by many as an indicator of the future. “I don’t like it.” says Saad Zaghloul. “It makes me worry what we have become.”

A protestor runs with a canister of tear gas near the US embassy in Cairo. Photograph: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: George Osborne abandons his target

How will George Osborne close the deficit after his U-Turns? Answer: he won't, of course. 

“Good governments U-Turn, and U-Turn frequently.” That’s Andrew Adonis’ maxim, and George Osborne borrowed heavily from him today, delivering two big U-Turns, on tax credits and on police funding. There will be no cuts to tax credits or to the police.

The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, in total, the government gave away £6.2 billion next year, more than half of which is the reverse to tax credits.

Osborne claims that he will still deliver his planned £12bn reduction in welfare. But, as I’ve written before, without cutting tax credits, it’s difficult to see how you can get £12bn out of the welfare bill. Here’s the OBR’s chart of welfare spending:

The government has already promised to protect child benefit and pension spending – in fact, it actually increased pensioner spending today. So all that’s left is tax credits. If the government is not going to cut them, where’s the £12bn come from?

A bit of clever accounting today got Osborne out of his hole. The Universal Credit, once it comes in in full, will replace tax credits anyway, allowing him to describe his U-Turn as a delay, not a full retreat. But the reality – as the Treasury has admitted privately for some time – is that the Universal Credit will never be wholly implemented. The pilot schemes – one of which, in Hammersmith, I have visited myself – are little more than Potemkin set-ups. Iain Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit will never be rolled out in full. The savings from switching from tax credits to Universal Credit will never materialise.

The £12bn is smaller, too, than it was this time last week. Instead of cutting £12bn from the welfare budget by 2017-8, the government will instead cut £12bn by the end of the parliament – a much smaller task.

That’s not to say that the cuts to departmental spending and welfare will be painless – far from it. Employment Support Allowance – what used to be called incapacity benefit and severe disablement benefit – will be cut down to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance, while the government will erect further hurdles to claimants. Cuts to departmental spending will mean a further reduction in the numbers of public sector workers.  But it will be some way short of the reductions in welfare spending required to hit Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable.

So, where’s the money coming from? The answer is nowhere. What we'll instead get is five more years of the same: increasing household debt, austerity largely concentrated on the poorest, and yet more borrowing. As the last five years proved, the Conservatives don’t need to close the deficit to be re-elected. In fact, it may be that having the need to “finish the job” as a stick to beat Labour with actually helped the Tories in May. They have neither an economic imperative nor a political one to close the deficit. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.