A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Far Cry from 1956: Port Said Shunned, Ostracized by Other Egyptians

Since the football massacre in Port Said at the beginning of this month, the Suez Canal city has found itself the subject of opprobrium from the rest of the country, taking the brunt of the blame for the disaster in which 74 people died, though others place the blame on the security forces' inaction or the Ultras from both teams. The result has been a boycott of Port Said, leaving shops and coffeehouses deserted, and the city struggling economically to the point that the government has sent in supply convoys from Cairo. Details are provided by Ahram Online here, and earlier and with more details on Port Said in the Mubarak era, by blogger Zeinobia here. As Zeinobia notes, blaming the whole city for the football massacre seems extreme.

Both of these accounts note, and quote Port Said residents as also noting, that it was not always so. Port Said was long celebrated as the city at the center of resistance to the Anglo-French landings to seize the Suez Canal during the Suez War of 1956; Port Said resisted fiercely and became a patriotic symbol across Egypt to resistance to the "Tripartite Aggression" of Britain, France and Israel.

Later, after Israel occupied Sinai and the eastern bank of the Canal in 1967, the three Canal Cities (Port Said, Ismailia, Suez) became the front line. During the "War of Attrition" of 1967-71, Israel and Egypt exchanged artillery fire across the Canal until the Canal Cities were depopulated and largely destroyed.

After Israel withdrew from the Canal after the 1973 War and the Kissinger shuttles, the Canal Cities were rebuilt; under Anwar Sadat Port Said became a free trade zone and prospered. Under Mubarak the city did not do so well, and now, with the boycott, finds itself ostracized by the rest of the country.

To evoke a little of the memory of the 1956 invasion, however, here are two YouTube videos: one an Egyptian tribute to the city showing the resistance to the invaders (some scenes look staged and romanticized); the second is a British newsreel of Anglo-French occupation forces in Port Said after its fall.

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