A specific incident--the sentencing to death of 21 youths in the case of the fatal soccer riot in Port Said one year ago--ignited the protests now rocking Port Said, Suez, Alexandria, and to a lesser degree Cairo in which at least 50 have been killed over four days. But the current demonstrations and related political ferment draw on far deeper wells of grievance that have accumulated over the two years since the January 2011 revolution. Conversations with political and civil society activists in Cairo on January 28 suggested that the collapse of the rule of law and lack of consensus on the political process are fueling anger and making it impossible for the country to move forward.
"We have neither law nor order," lamented Nadine Sherif of the Cairo Institute of Human Rights Studies, noting that President Morsi is now belatedly insisting that Egyptians respect court verdicts, after he himself rejected judicial oversight with his November 2012 declaration. Indeed there is a sense here that accountability is only for the powerless. Port Said protesters feel that their youth are taking the full blame for the death of 79 soccer fans in 2012, while virtually no police or government officials have been convicted in the death of more than 1000 demonstrators during and since the revolution. Government denials that police and military officers have used live fire  against demonstrators in the last few days, despite strong evidence to the contrary, add to a spreading sense of distrust.
A large part of the problem is that reform of police and internal security forces, which is difficult but absolutely essential in any transition from authoritarianism to democracy, has not even begun. Several observers noted that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces showed no interest in such reforms during its 18 months in power, and that Morsi likewise has shied away from the task despite Muslim Brotherhood demands for security sector reform before they controlled the presidency. Heba Morayef of Human Rights Watch said that Morsi’s government might later regret failing to reform the police, asking "If they can't control the streets now, how will they do it when they have to announce subsidy reforms?" Strong animosity toward the police has been much in evidence in recent days, with Suez protesters torching  the Interior Ministry building on January 26, and Cairo protesters destroying  two riot police vehicles that reportedly injured demonstrators on January 28.
While the lack of rule of law affects many Egyptians directly--whether through security problems or through a failing economy that cannot be revived without restoring security--continuing controversy over the constitution and planned parliamentary elections dominates the political agenda. For non-Islamists, the good news is that many secular groups are currently united under the umbrella of the National Salvation Front that includes liberal, leftist, and nationalist leaders. But the Front is a marriage of necessity rather than love, and its partners disagree on a basic point: whether their goal should be forcing Morsi to compromise or forcing him from power, a difference that makes it difficult to chart a joint course. One political party leader affiliated with the Front expressed concern that the January 28 rejection  of dialogue with Morsi was indefensible and closed off avenues to a constructive solution, while a Cairo University professor pronounced himself delighted by the Front's rejection because the constitution Morsi pushed through made it clear he was overseeing a transition not to democracy but to "Islamic autocracy, if not theocracy."
In fact, all parties might be drawing lessons from their tussle over the constitution a few months ago to be applied in the current test of wills. President Morsi learned then that if he held tight through days of large and bruising demonstrations, protesters would eventually lose public support and grow tired, and he could then move swiftly to approval of the constitution through a popular referendum. He seems to be adopting a similar strategy now, with hopes of quieting matters in advance of parliamentary elections planned for April. Street protesters and political leaders likewise have learned lessons, and are wondering if their street pressure and political unity through the National Salvation Front can last long enough to force compromise from Morsi on their political and rule of law agenda.