Thousands of Ultras rally in Tahrir demanding justice for Port Said victims
Hardcore football fans of Cairo-based Ahly team converge on flashpoint square week before anticipated court verdict on Egypt's worst-ever football tragedy; threaten 'justice or chaos'
Hatem Maher, Friday 18 Jan 2013
Egypt's Ultras Ahlawy march to Tahrir (Photo: Mai Shaheen)
Thousands of Ahly team hardcore football fans (Ultras Ahlawy) have rallied in Tahrir Square in central Cairo, gearing up for next week's anticipated court verdict over last year's Port Said disaster.
Egypt's worst-ever football tragedy left more than 70 Ahly fans dead after they were attacked by the Port Said "Masry" fans following the end of an ill-tempered Egyptian Premier League game on 1 February, 2012.
The Ultras Ahlawy members marched from the club's headquarters in El-Gezira district, Cairo, to Tahrir to step up pressure on the judge presiding over the notorious case.
The ardent group of supporters vowed to take the matter into their own hands if the verdict, expected to be delivered on 26 January, did not satisfy them.
They did not specify what actions they might take but distributed many flyers and stickers bearing the words "justice or chaos" in Cairo's underground and public buses.
Ahram Online's Mai Shaheen said Ultras Ahlawy members were accompanied by mothers of the slain victims, who chanted angry slogans against the Muslim Brotherhood, from which President Mohamed Morsi hails.
"Any political signs or slogans are prohibited. Our target is justice for the martyrs. We are getting ready for the day of the verdict," Ultras Ahlawy said on their official Facebook page.
Seventy-three defendants including nine security officials, three Masry football club officials and a number of fans are on trial for their suspected role in the disaster, which sent shockwaves across Egypt and led to an indefinite suspension of domestic football activity.
However, the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) said recently the new league season will kick off on 2 February, defying a warning by Ultras Ahlawy who insisted they would not allow any resumption of domestic football unless "justice is done" in the Port Said case.
Grudge against police
Ultras Ahlawy has been at loggerheads with Egyptian police since it was founded in 2007, consistently engaging in confrontations with security forces before and after football matches.
The tense relationship took a turn for the worse after an attempted police crackdown left more than 800 protesters dead during 2011's 18-day uprising that unseated autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak.
Ultras Ahlawy members were on the frontlines during the battle against Mubarak's troops.
Police negligence was also blamed by many for the Port Said disaster, which prompted the interior ministry to refrain from securing football games unless 10 safety requirements were met by Egypt's cash-strapped clubs.
Angry taunts against police had the lion's share of the Ultras' chants during Friday's march to Tahrir.
"Everybody is waiting for a verdict that could ease the pains (of the victims' families)," Ultras Ahlawy said in a statement.
"It was a massacre that killed 72 Egyptian youth, whose only fault was chanting against a dirty regime that is blood thirsty … all evidence confirms that it was a conspiracy from the interior ministry, the army and Port Said fans."
Egypt's Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) was in control of the country at the time of the tragedy.
"Everyone should be present on Saturday, 26 January. No excuses," the statement added.
Video: Randa Ali