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Port Said Football Disaster: Violent Protests as Fans Blame Military Authorities for the Riot

By Periscope @periscopepost
Port Said football disaster: Violent protests as fans blame military authorities for the riot

Former footballer Nader El Sayed protests in Tahrir Square, 2011. Photo credit: Mariam Soliman, http://flic.kr/p/aMPMGv

Two people have been shot dead in Egypt during violent clashes between riot police and protestors who blame the military authorities for a bloody football stadium riot. Seventy-four people were killed in the riot at Port Said after a match between Al Ahly and Al Masri. Protestors took to the streets of Cairo and Suez to accuse the country’s military rulers of inciting the football violence. “This was not a sports accident, this was a military massacre,” chanted angry crowds in Cairo, reported The Telegraph.

The wave of violence comes a week after the anniversary of the beginning of the Egyptian revolution in Tahrir Square which saw President Hosni Mubarak toppled from power. Fans of Al Ahly, known as Ultras, were involved in Tahrir Square, and some have suggested the violence was an act of revenge by Mubarak supporters who remain in government. The military regime has insisted the disaster was caused by “football hooliganism”, said The Guardian.

Even before the latest violence, the situation in Egypt remained volatile. The interim government, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, has yet to hand over power to civilian authority, leading protesters to return to Tahrir Square earlier this year. According to The Telegraph, the stadium disaster protests are likely to further strain the relationship between Egypt’s “three major political forces”: “The army, which holds the reins of power, the Muslim Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice Party dominates parliament, and the noisy but outnumbered young activists.”

So will the football stadium disaster and ensuing protests have any long-term effects on the political scene in Egypt?

Serious consequences for democracy? “There is clearly more to the Port Said tragedy than everyday football hooliganism,” wrote Osama Diab on The Guardian’s Comment is Free, pointing out that the Port Said stadium disaster raises questions about the attitude of the police who failed to protect supporters. “Are they unable to do their jobs without resorting to outright brutality, or are they virtually on an unspoken strike to blackmail the public into asking for the return of a police state?” asked Diab. According to Diab, some in Egypt see the stadium deaths as a regime attempt to make people believe the country is not “ready for democracy”; the long-term effects are as yet unclear: “It may pose the biggest threat so far to military rule in Egypt, or it may help the military to become even more entrenched.”

Police failure points to lack of appetite for change. “The military’s failure to undertake any meaningful police reform underlines the unwillingness to break firmly with the former regime – an attitude that characterises the whole handling of the transition,” wrote Roula Khalaf on a Financial Times blog. Khalaf said that the military regime insists the police are demoralised after the revolution and yet nothing has been done to restructure the police force.

The BBC published a round-up of the reaction of the Egyptian press to the Port Said football stadium disaster: “Privately-owned daily newspaper Al-Shuruq led with color front-page photos of the violence and the headline ‘Massacre in Port Said’, with one image captioned ‘Unjustified lack of security allowed the fans to storm the pitch’.”

Unprecedented violence. Writing for Al Jazeera, James Montague said that football violence has been on the rise in Egypt since the fall of Mubarak, to the point that the Egyptian FA were considering the 2011 league. However, Montague wrote that the Port Said violence was unprecedented, with Al Masry supporters allegedly carrying knives – “something I have not seen once in Egyptian football over the past five years”, said Montague. The Port Said stadium disaster may have serious consequences: “Football played its part in helping to bring down a dictator. And it is now, in the aftermath of post-Revolution Egypt’s worst civil disturbance, shaking the ground on which the new regime treads,” wrote Montague.

The Egyptian domestic football league has been suspended and several Al Ahly players plan to retire from the game in the wake of the violence, reported CNN.

Football fans under pressure. The Port Said football tragedy will “further isolate militant, highly politicized, violence-prone fan groups”, wrote James Dorsey at Foreign Policy. Dorsey argued that the problem for the “ultras” is that the leadership accepts the need to suspend violence between rival fans while the “rank-and-file” wants to carry on the clashes: the leaders have “lost control of a rank and file that has swelled in recent years with thousands of disaffected, unemployed, and often uneducated youth who believe it is payback time against a police force that is widely despised,” wrote Dorsey. And this is a situation the military regime can exploit: “The riots in Port Said will likely strengthen the hand of those in the ruling military council who want to crack down hard on the ultras,” said Dorsey.


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