Egypt’s Tragedy: This Is Not Just Soccer Violence
It doesn’t add up. Port Said’s Masry soccer team won 3-1 against its long-time rival Ahly. In Port Said. It was a tough victory, one that Masry won with the support of its fans. The logical question would be, then, “Why would the Masry fans attack the minority of Ahly fans among them?”
From there on, the questions just don’t stop. “Why did neither the governor of Port Said nor its security chief attend a game they both normally attend?” asked parliamentarian Mohamed Abou Hamed on live television earlier tonight. “Why were security forces barely present despite knowing that the long rivalry between the two teams had a potential for violence?”
It’s true that the team rivalry is old, and that the most dedicated fans — the Ultras, as they are known in Egypt — don’t shy from confrontation. Years ago, for instance, Ahly fans once broke into the Masry club and stole some of their trophies.
I say all this because many of the first media reports ended with a variation of the statement “soccer in Egypt has a high potential of violence.” Only it doesn’t. There has been the occasional violent incident, but even championship games normally end without a hiccup, or else with the most hot-headed supporters exchanging insults or, at worst, throwing things at each other. I’m not trying to defend any of that behavior, of course. But my point is — they don’t kill 74 people. Again, something just doesn’t add up.
Especially when you learn that the Ultras, those organized and ultra-motivated fans, had proved since January 25 that they were the stuff revolutions were made of. The mostly Cairo-based Ahly Ultras teamed up with their counterparts from their main crosstown rivals — Zamalek’s Ultras White Knights — and, well, gave Mubarak’s goons hell. Their presence — with the moral support they provided through their loud, sometimes funny and occasionally obscene anti-government chants, but also their courage when it came to fending off violent policemen — could make or break a protest.
It is those same police goons who were supposed to guarantee order in the stadium tonight. (It should be noted that there has been absolutely no reform of the police since the revolution.)
Like I said. Something really doesn’t add up.
The immediate flow of information proved it. Normally the stadium managers carefully control how the teams and the visiting fans are let out. This time, though, the gates were opened immediately after the game ended, and supporters were also allowed to invade the pitch — something that almost never happens. The very scarce policemen who were present did not attempt to break up the fights.
74 dead. That’s 74 families that will not sleep tonight. Or the night after that. That’s 74 bodies on a morgue table. Some, the autopsy will reveal, were trampled or died of asphyxiation. Others — those with injuries to the face or chest or elsewhere — will probably have “fatal trauma,” that horribly vague phrase, printed on their death certificates. Assuming, of course, that the death certificates are issued properly. As I write this, I’m getting reports that some bodies have been taken to a state hospital amid fears that the doctors may be pressured by the police to alter their report. (That has certainly happened before in Cairo.) Most of the dead, again from what we gather from witness accounts, were Ahly fans, some of them Ultras. Many were also Port-Saidis who took the former’s defense. One policeman also lost his life.
And Egypt is on fire, but through the tears one can still see clearly.
On the streets and on the web, blame is put squarely on the police. Once again it failed miserably, as it has for the past year. Blame is also being put on the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the SCAF, as the head of the executive branch.