Assaults on football fans: New Instance of the Egyptian police state

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On April 23, activists and several fans of the Egyptian club Al-Ahly published clips of two police officers arresting public members and dragging them among the spectators in their club’s match against Moroccan Raja in the quarter-finals of the African Champions League.

This came at a time when a number of sports media professionals close to the authority attacked Al-Ahly fans, describing them as paid agents and affiliated with the anti-regime Muslim Brotherhood. Ahmed Hossam Mido, a former Tottenham and Zamalek club player and sports journalist, wrote on his Twitter page: “Now there is a systematic smear campaign against the Ministry of the Interior because they are preventing the paid ultras leaders from offending the Egyptian state. I always say it, and I will repeat it, the Brotherhood, the Islamists, and the ultras look like each other; they are traitors with no homeland or religion!”

This was not the first time, the security forces had previously arrested several Zamalek club fans during a match for their club in the local league after they wore T-shirts bearing phrases calling for the exclusion of Mortada Mansour, one of the regime’s sports arms, especially after a court ruling imprisoned him after he was convicted of a crime of libel and slander against the Chairman of Al-Ahly’s Board of Directors, and the public was subjected to abuse.

The public as “protesters” against the authority

During the January 25 revolution, the Ahlawy and Zamalek fans were one of the most vital voices opposing the authority in all its forms. They used the cheering stands as a field to express their voice and attack the political conditions that the country suffered from. They were the voice that confronted security repression. During the rule of the Military Council, of which Abdel Fattah El-Sisi came, in 2012, a horrific massacre was committed in Port Said Governorate, in which Al-Ahly was playing a match against Al-Masry club, in which 74 of Al-Ahly fans were martyred. At the time, the revolutionary voice was loud. Yet, the military and security authorities could kill the subject without a transparent investigation or a fair trial against those responsible. At that time, fingers were pointed at the Military Council and the security services, but until now, the real perpetrators of the crime are unknown.

The rise of the current regime headed by Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi made the sports fans an enemy and launched massive arrest campaigns against them that amounted to committing a new massacre called the Air Defense massacre after the match stadium in February 2015, in which 22 Zamalek fans were martyred in a massacre described as an ambush which the president of Zamalek made inside an iron cage, in which the audience was entered with the help of security and for his benefit. According to forensic reports, the security threw tear gas canisters so that the audience died of gas suffocation. The security media said that the victims died due to the stampede.

The real perpetrators of the crime were not tried in the case, and instead, a number of Zamalek fans were arrested and sentenced to harsh sentences for political reasons by fabricating the case for them. Three months later, a judicial decision was issued banning fan associations and including them on terrorist lists. The security campaign escalated against the leaders of the ultras of the two most prominent clubs in Egypt, dismantling their groups using intimidation, security repression, harsh judicial rulings, and preventing the public from entering the stadiums.

Back to the playgrounds though

After more than six years, the masses began to return to the stands under the eyes of the security services that control the whole process, starting from selling tickets to selecting the fans allowed to enter; even inside the stands, the security grip was present between arrest and silencing with threats of arrest when chanting something that did not please the authorities. The audience returned to the stadiums gradually and in limited numbers, decided by the security. They were no longer allowed to cheer except with the regular encouragement cheers for the players. Any dissenting voice became threatened with security attacks and arrests until the matter came last month threats that reached the fans of Zamalek, who made an angry face against the players, the coaching staff and the administration because of the bad performance and results, as the security considered it a violation of the instructions.

On the first of current April, Al-Ahly had a fateful match in Cairo against Al-Hilal of Sudan in the group stage of the African Championship; the club’s board of directors addressed the security and requested that large numbers of spectators be allowed to enter. As a result, half of the stadium’s capacity was approved by the security forces, which was a large number compared to what was the case previously. During the match, the audience cheers were enthusiastic, shaking the corners of the stadium. They were all within the framework of normal football encouragement, but the security did not like the loud voice of the crowd. In the last match against Raja, the security approach was to silence the audience entirely so that the visiting fans of Raja were more vital in encouragement. Their voice was heard while the silence spread in the seats Al-Ahly’s audience.

In this security attempt to make the football audience more like a completely silent cinema audience, and after the campaign of attacks and arrests against those who cheer in favor of their club even completely silence the audience, the Ultras White Knights page of the Zamalek club fans criticized the situation and declared its solidarity with the Al-Ahly fans, especially since the matter was repeated with them previously, calling for the “free” audience to boycott the attendance of the matches in light of “the atmosphere that does not guarantee the fan the simplest rights of dignity and

freedom inside his country,” and they said in a statement on their official Facebook page: “We remind all those responsible for the fans’ file that the continuation of the situation in this way does not guarantee security or safety, but rather it increases congestion and tension within the hearts of many young people who do not find more suitable places than the stadium and football to empty their energy and express their love for their clubs, and we assure you that these methods were practiced in the past a lot and only led to failure as well and disasters inside and outside the stands. Wise people must end this and look for radical solutions to solve this problem.”