Egypt’s ugly political game

2012-02-04 15:38

The ramifications of the recent soccer violence in Egypt are moving off the pitch and onto the political stage.

Clashes between rock-throwing protesters and riot police eased in Egypt yesterday as activists argued over how to build momentum in their push to oust the country’s ruling generals.

But the loose collection of groups leading the protests lacked a clear strategy and some admitted it was proving hard to secure the support of a population weary of insecurity.

Ahmed Shaban (25) said: “We want the army to go and the interior ministry to be restructured. We will stay out here until that happens”.

Seventy-four soccer fans were killed when violence erupted after a league match in Port Said on Wednesday night.

After watching their side win 3-1, supporters of the local club, Al Masry, invaded the pitch and began attacking players and Ultras (hardcore fans) from Cairo-based Al Ahly. More than 1000 people were injured.

Violent clashes between the hardcore fans of the two teams are nothing new – during Al Ahly’s last visit to Port Said in April, 20 people were injured in riots – but Wednesday night’s attack was out of all proportion.

It seems this was no ordinary case of football hooliganism and, although the league has been cancelled with only five weeks of the season to go, the biggest ramifications are for Egyptian politics, not soccer.

The Al Ahly Ultras, called Alawhy, are recognised for the role they played in the revolution – notably for defending protesters against the police on 2 February 2011, a bloody day that came to be known as the “camel battle”.

In the Mubarak era, soccer matches were one of the few sanctioned outlets where youths could express their frustrations and while the Ultras may not be your typical activists, one thing they know is how to fight authority.

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