After 74 Soccer Fans Killed, Violent Protests in Cairo
At least five people have been killed by police and some 1,500 injured in demonstrations in Cairo to mourn 74 fans who were killed at a soccer match on Wednesday in Port Said. Thousands of militant soccer fans, the ultras, gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Thursday, chanting against Egypt’s interim military government who they accuse of being complicit in the violence. Some witnesses at the soccer match between Port Said’s team and the Cairo-based Al Ahly club said that Wednesday’s violence was not (as the military has claimed) “pure hooliganism,” but that “provocateurs in some way connected with the state” instigated the violence. Some members of Egypt’s newly elected Parliament have also said that security officials in Port Said were in some way responsible.
In another sign of the unrest in Egypt and the current government’s inability to control it, two female American tourists and their Egyptian guide were kidnapped in the town of Saint Catherine, a tourist hub near Mount Sinai. The government says that Bedouin tribesman, seeking the release of two relatives arrested on suspicion of drug possession, were behind the abductions. The hostages were released to the Egyptian police after a few hours though it was not clear if Egyptian authorities had met the Bedouins’ demands. On Tuesday, 25 Chinese factory workers were abducted from a company bus in Sinai; they have been released, according to the Chinese government.
Soccer Riot in Port Said Turns Deadly
The Guardian gives this account of how the soccer riot started:
Trouble began at full time when a group of supporters from the Al Masri home club stormed through open gates leading onto the pitch, first chasing players from the losing Al Ahly team of Cairo, and then their supporters, many of whom were crushed against closed exit gates….
Morgue officials in the city said that most of the dead had been killed by blows, falls or being crushed, and not by bullets, for example. TV footage of the riot showed men on the pitch with clubs and poles, which are banned from football grounds.
Islam Saeed, a member of the Al Ahly ultras told the Guardian of a “huge lapse in security,” with almost no security outside the stadium and security not intervening when crowds stormed the field after their team made a goal and then doing nothing as the violence escalated.
The bodies of 52 of those killed in Port Said have been taken to a morgue in Cairo, suggesting that most of those who died were fans of the Cairo team. The New York Times also says that news reports say many of those killed were teenagers or younger.
The governor of Port Said has resigned and the district’s director of security and chief of its detective unit have both been suspended from their posts and detained by police, says state media. Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), has declared three days of national mourning for those who died. The Parliament has also sent a fact-finding committee to Port Said.
According to the New York Times, the ultras believe that the Interior Ministry is seeking to retaliate against them for taking a “leading role in several violent battles with police” during the past three months. Fans from rival teams often fight each other though all have “a common culture of obscene chants, special firecrackers and instruments, and a violent hatred of the police who usually try to control them.” The ultras “played an especially pivotal role” in defending Tahrir Square against ousted leader Hosni Mubarak’s supporters in the so-called Battle of the Camels a year ago Thursday, as well as playing a leading role in attacking the Israeli Embassy after a demonstration last September.
The ultras have become “increasingly politicized,” going so far as to call for the death of Tantawi.
Rival teams, including Al Ahly and Zamalek, two of the most popular in Cairo, have joined forces in the recent clashes with police. On Thursday night, the protesters made their way to the barricaded building of the Ministry of the Interior. They pulled away barbed wire and threw stones at police, who responded with tear gas. One blogger said that activists sought to disperse the protests. The Al Ahly ultras have said that they were not responsible for the violence, as they were mourning those killed in Port Said.
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Photo taken February 3 by Gigi Ibrahim