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
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On civil liberties, David Davis has become a complete hypocrite – and I'm not sure he even knows it

The Brexit minster's stance shows a man not overly burdened with self-awareness.

In 2005, David Davis ran for the Tory leadership. He was widely assumed to be the front-runner and, as frontrunners in Tory leadership campaigns have done so enthusiastically throughout modern history, he lost.

The reason I bring up this ancient history is because it gives me an excuse to remind you of this spectacularly ill-judged photoshoot:


“And you're sure this doesn't make me look a bit sexist?”
Image: Getty

Obviously it’s distressing to learn that, as recently as October 2005, an ostensibly serious politician could have thought that drawing attention to someone else’s boobs was a viable electoral strategy. (Going, one assumes, for that all important teenage boy vote.)

But what really strikes me about that photo is quite how pleased with himself Davis looks. Not only is he not thinking to himself, “Is it possible that this whole thing was a bad idea?” You get the distinct impression that he’s never had that thought in his life.

This impression is not dispelled by the interview he gave to the Telegraph‘s Alice Thompson and Rachel Sylvester three months earlier. (Hat tip to Tom Hamilton for bringing it to my attention.) It’s an amazing piece of work – I’ve read it twice, and I’m still not sure if the interviewers are in on the joke – so worth reading in its entirety. But to give you a flavour, here are some highlights:

He has a climbing wall in his barn and an ice-axe leaning against his desk. Next to a drinks tray in his office there is a picture of him jumping out of a helicopter. Although his nose has been broken five times, he still somehow manages to look debonair. (...)

To an aide, he shouts: “Call X - he’ll be at MI5,” then tells us: “You didn’t hear that. I know lots of spooks.” (...)

At 56, he comes – as he puts it – from “an older generation”. He did not change nappies, opting instead to teach his children to ski and scuba-dive to make them brave. (...)

“I make all the important decisions about World War Three, she makes the unimportant ones about where we’re going to live.”

And my personal favourite:

When he was demoted by IDS, he hit back, saying darkly: “If you’re hunting big game, you must make sure you kill with the first shot.”

All this, I think, tells us two things. One is that David Davis is not a man who is overly burdened with self-doubt. The other is that he probably should be once in a while, because bloody hell, he looks ridiculous, and it’s clear no one around him has the heart to tell him.

Which brings us to this week’s mess. On Monday, we learned that those EU citizens who choose to remain in Britain will need to apply for a listing on a new – this is in no way creepy – “settled status” register. The proposals, as reported the Guardian, “could entail an identity card backed up by entry on a Home Office central database or register”. As Brexit secretary, David Davis is the man tasked with negotiating and delivering this exciting new list of the foreign.

This is odd, because Davis has historically been a resolute opponent of this sort of nonsense. Back in June 2008, he resigned from the Tory front bench and forced a by-election in his Haltemprice & Howden constituency, in protest against the Labour government’s creeping authoritarianism.

Three months later, when Labour was pushing ID cards of its own, he warned that the party was creating a database state. Here’s the killer quote:

“It is typical of this government to kickstart their misguided and intrusive ID scheme with students and foreigners – those who have no choice but to accept the cards – and it marks the start of the introduction of compulsory ID cards for all by stealth.”

The David Davis of 2017 better hope that the David Davis of 2008 doesn’t find out what he’s up to, otherwise he’s really for it.

The Brexit secretary has denied, of course, that the government’s plan this week has anything in common with the Labour version he so despised. “It’s not an ID card,” he told the Commons. “What we are talking about here is documentation to prove you have got a right to a job, a right to residence, the rest of it.” To put it another way, this new scheme involves neither an ID card nor the rise of a database state. It’s simply a card, which proves your identity, as registered on a database. Maintained by the state.

Does he realise what he’s doing? Does the man who once quit the front bench to defend the principle of civil liberties not see that he’s now become what he hates the most? That if he continues with this policy – a seemingly inevitable result of the Brexit for which he so enthusiastically campaigned – then he’ll go down in history not as a campaigner for civil liberties, but as a bloody hypocrite?

I doubt he does, somehow. Remember that photoshoot; remember the interview. With any other politician, I’d assume a certain degree of inner turmoil must be underway. But Davis does not strike me as one who is overly prone to that, either.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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