Sept 9th Friday of Anger set to intensify as Egypt's football ultras vow to settle scores with brutal police

Hatem Maher, Wednesday 7 Sep 2011

Violence at match sets alarm bells ringing ahead of Friday’s planned protests in Tahrir square as fans blame police for aggression

Cairo Stadium clashes

The agenda of Friday’s planned million man march in Tahrir Square is likely to expand to include protests against Egyptian police after scores were injured in clashes between security personnel and hard-core fans following a football match on Tuesday.

Ahly’s 4-0 drubbing of second-division side Kima Aswan in the Egypt Cup was largely a trouble-free affair on the pitch but matters turned ugly at Cairo Stadium towards the end of the match.

The Central Security Forces (CSF), widely vilified for a deadly crackdown on protesters during the January 25 Revolution, abruptly chased Ahly’s group of hardcore supporters (Ultras Ahlawy) immediately following the final whistle, using batons to beat them up and evacuate the stadium.

The clashes continued outside the 74,100-seat venue, which was partially filled, leaving at least 90 supporters and 45 policemen injured and doing no favour to constant media campaigns to improve a police image that was tarnished in the wake of January’s revolution.

Conflicting reports and accounts emerged about the exact reasons for the incident.

Mohsen Mourad, the deputy interior minister for Cairo, said police were forced to react after being physically and verbally assaulted by the die-hard fans, who were heard chanting offensive songs against ousted president Hosni Mubarak and former interior minister Habib El-Adly, who are both being tried for killing peaceful protesters.

“The fans slapped the policemen on the back of their heads and threw plastic bottles at them containing urine,” he said in a phone interview with Mehwar TV.

“Those are not the normal riots that occur in football matches because of a ruled-out goal for instance. The matters are heavily escalating.

“The police are subjected to constant assaults everywhere and we are doing our best to exercise self-constraint. I don’t know why those fans are acting fiercely.”

Several Ultras Ahlawy members denied Mourad’s accusations, saying that they were punished solely for insulting El-Adly and Mubarak. They also insisted they did not attack incumbent interior minister Mansour Essawy.

Tens of Ahly’s fans were detained following the clashes, which lasted until the early hours of Wednesday.

Police retaliation?

Ultras Ahlawy have been involved in numerous clashes with police since being founded in 2007, with members often accusing the interior ministry of mistreating them.

The group was acclaimed by local media for introducing exciting ways to support their team but blamed for promoting football violence which was sporadic in Egypt before the establishments of ultras groups.

Ultras Ahlawy made the most of their experience in dealing with riot police when they participated in January’s revolution. They are yet to release an official statement following Tuesday’s clashes but some of the members said they would join the protests scheduled for Friday, 9 September in Tahrir Square.

The primary demands of Friday’s demonstrations will be an end to military trials as well as urging the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), which has been in charge of the country since Mubarak’s ouster, to outline a timetable for handing power to a civilian administration.

The planned march, dubbed “correcting the path”, is now likely to also underscore recurring demands to cleanse the Ministry of Interior of corrupt officers.

“On Wednesday morning, we will go to the public prosecution office to stand by our mates who will be investigated. All Ahly fans should be there,” Ultras Ahlawy said on their Facebook page.

“We will make a statement after the investigations to reveal all the details over what happened. All that we would like to say now is that police are retaliating against Egyptian people. They started with the ultras.”

6 April support

Essawy, who was appointed by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf in March, was tasked with putting an end to a nationwide security vacuum and rebuilding a traumatised ministry that shouldered the blame for the deaths of more than 800 people during the Egyptian Revolution.

However, six months into his appointment, many Egyptians, who say their complaints often fall on deaf ears when they go to police stations, still complain of insecurity in the country. Many car thefts and burglaries were reported during the past few weeks.

The latest clashes are likely to heap more pressure on the beleaguered Essawy, who also came in for fierce criticism after anti-Mubaraks and pro-Mubaraks engaged in scuffles outside the courtroom where a trial session was held on Monday.

Ultras Ahlawy has gained support from several revolutionary groups, including the 25 January Revolution Youth Coalition and the 6 April Youth Movement.  The latter released a statement to condemn “police aggression towards unarmed men”.

“The ultras are being punished for the role they played and their heroics in the revolution,” it said in a strongly-worded statement.

“We will never allow anyone to undermine our revolution. We are demanding the immediate release of all the youths who were arrested and a thorough investigation over what happened.

“We are assuring Ultras Ahlawy that we are following them on the same path of democracy and freedom.”

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