One of Egypt’s two premier football teams, Ahly dramatically lost their place in the CAF Champions League at the hands of Tunisia’s Esperance in Cairo Friday. This was followed by a re-emergence of confrontations between Ahly fans and security forces - however, the controversial fan group Ultras Ahlawy is not to blame this time around.
Much to the home fans’ frustration, the Egyptian champions ended their Esperance match at a 1-1 draw, waving goodbye to the continental tournament. A victory by a one-goal margin would have been enough for Ahly to continue in the tournament.
Shortly after the final whistle, some of the disappointed supporters reportedly assaulted both teams’ players and tried to break into Ahly’s dressing room.
Meanwhile, other hooligans attacked the fiancée of Ahly playmaker, Walid Soliman, while she was in her luxurious car at the Cairo Stadium parking area, smashing the driver window in the process. According to eyewitnesses, Soliman’s teammate, Sayed Hamdi stepped in to help the damsel in distress and drove her car away.
The post-match unrest was soon ended by the military police, who also secured a safe exit for the players. No major losses or injuries were reported.
Ultras Ahlawy, who had been recently involved in fierce clashes with police forces, were heavily present at the Cairo Stadium. Unpredictably nonetheless, the group showed a great deal of discipline and was exemplary in dealing with Ahly’s agonising defeat.
To begin with, the 50,000 Ultras Ahlawy members who attended the match were solely responsible for organising the stands that were completely empty from security personnel; a task they competently fulfilled without disorder.
Throughout the game, Ultras Ahlawy members were busy cheering for Ahly, even when their off-form side was down by a goal. Furthermore, after the final whistle they gave their ousted team a standing ovation without resorting to any sort of violence or misconduct.
It was also reported that several Ultras Ahlawy members had embarked on an awareness campaign against violence ahead of the match, having agreed not to throw bottles or other missiles on the pitch under any circumstances. They even prohibited their trademark flares inside stadiums, as the Egyptian law stipulates.
Ultras Ahlawy’s new approach was by far opportune after their hostility with the police significantly increased of late.
Early this month, the Central Security Forces (CSF), renowned for their brutal crackdown on protesters during the January 25 Revolution, chased Ultras Ahlawy members immediately after the final whistle of Ahly’s 4-0 drubbing of second division side Kima Aswan in the Egypt Cup, using batons to beat them and clear the stadium.
The brawl is widely believed to be instigated by the police, who reportedly reacted after fans hurled insults at the ministry of interior, former minister head Habib El-Adly and ousted president Hosni Mubarak.
Several members of the fanatic fan group were arrested and transferred to military prosecution that day. The teenage detainees are yet to learn their fate amid calls from their cohorts to release them.
In retaliation to the police’s assault, the Ultras Ahlawy converged at Tahrir Square - with their archrivals, the White Knights, no less – at the 9 September protest with the intention of settling the score with the police.
After a peaceful march into the square, where no army or police troops were deployed, they headed towards the ministry of interior building.
Ultras members chanted the same offensive slogans in front of the ministry of interior and swore at some of the policemen deployed in high vantage points. Eyewitnesses claimed some Ultras hooligans stoned the building, but the police did not react.
The neighbourhood watchdog committee responsible for protecting the ministry eventually coaxed the Ultras forces into leaving and formed a human shield to protect the building.
Considering both sides’ aggressiveness towards each other, more altercations between Ultras Ahlawy and security personnel were highly expected during and after the Ahly-Esperance showdown.
But Ahly chairman Hassan Hamdy sat down with some Ultras Ahlawy members Wednesday in a bid to ease growing tensions ahead of the game. Clearly, the meeting had an impact.