79 Dead at Egyptian Soccer Match: WTF Happened?

Egypt is back on the front page of the news again after last wednesday’s tragedy/riot/massacre at a soccer match in Port Said, in which 79 were killed and hundreds injured.  Violence erupted as “fans” of the Port Said-based team,  Al-Masry,  attacked the fans of the visiting team, Cairo-based Al-Ahly.

The shocking death toll and suspicions of government complicity have unleashed a wave of public outrage and has sent thousands of pissed off Cairenes back to their favorite place, Tahrir Square.  Five people have been killed and nearly 1,400 injured on the square’s side streets.  Security forces are using good ole American-made teargas and birdshot shells to disperse the protesters and protect the nearby Ministry of the Interior.

I woke up this morning to the chants of protesters marching to Tahrir Square, followed by news from my roommate that one of our friends was shot in the eye with birdshot pellets last night.  We visited him in the hospital today.  He had surgery last night but there is a strong concern that he may end up losing his eye.  Pretty sad fate for a young man fighting for his political freedoms, although many others in Tahrir have been less fortunate.

I learned about the tragedy in Port Said while at the gym.  I was half-watching the game as I took rest between sets of inclined dumbbell presses when all of a sudden “Five people killed in the stands” flashed up on the screen.  I asked a gym employee what was going on and he said that there had been a fight and that locals from Port Said were preventing ambulances from entering the grounds and evacuating the injured.  Before I could ask “why” he added that there is a bit of ‘awnsuuriyya or “racism” between Cairenes and Port Saidians  (I am unsure if this is the correct demonym for those who reside in Port Said.  Just took a guess.)

On my way home from the gym I stopped in a convenience store to make a few purchases and a girl came running up to the cashier and said “Did you hear that 25 people were killed in a match in Port Said?”  I was startled to hear that the number had risen from 5 to 25 in 20 minutes or so.

Upon arriving home some 15 minutes later, I informed my roommate about the breaking news and quickly got on my computer to see what was being reported.  The death toll was then at 73.  I could only think to myself, “What the hell happened?”

I’m sure this is what many of you were thinking as you saw that nearly 80 people died at a soccer game in Egypt.  Despite the astounding death toll, I think for many of us that are following the situation in Egypt closely, it isn’t really all the surprising.  As you can imagine, speculation about what went down is on everyone’s mind, as they create their own theory as to what happened. The one thing that seems to be agreed upon is that the military government, on some level, was complicit in the events in Port Said.

To understand why a government would want to inflict such a grotesque massacre on its own people, one must be familiar with the current state of affairs in Egypt.  Here is a quick Idiot’s Guide to Egyptian politics of the last year.

In January and February 2011 Egyptians revolted against their former president, Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.  The military, under the moniker “Supreme Council of the Armed Forces” (SCAF) was designated to serve as an interim government until a parliament and new constitution were formed and a new president elected.  SCAF has been responsible for imprisoning thousands of Egyptian “dissidents” of the regime and has subjected them to military trials versus civilian legal proceedings.  In November, SCAF attempted to pass the bill, known as the “Selmy Communique”, which would award supra-constitutional powers and in essence allow the council to stay in power.  It was the “Selmy Communique” that led to mass protests and violence throughout the country at the end of November (I have several blog posts about this should you be interested).  The bill was removed from the table.  Since that time, Egypt has elected a parliament via several rounds of elections throughout the country.  Despite vehement calls by protesters for SCAF’s immediate abdication of power, the military council has assured the population that it will willingly give up power when, and only when, a president has been elected.  Presidential elections are scheduled for June of this year.

Now we must go back to the original question at hand, “Why would SCAF be behind the events at Port Said?”

Over the course of the last year, SCAF has displayed several indicators that it doesn’t truly plan on giving up power, such as the Selmy Communique.  After all, power is addictive.  SCAF is now trying to justify its importance and existence by showing the widespread “unrest and instability” throughout the country.  In other words, SCAF wants Egypt to seem like an unstable place that is dependent on a military regime such as itself.  In support of this claim, there have been several bank robberies in Cairo-metropolitan area over the past week, a very rare occurrence in Arab countries.  This, coupled with what happened in Port Said certainly has raised a few eyebrows.

Returning to the incident itself, it is clear that this wasn’t just a case of sport-driven violence.  It is being reported that the gates to the Al-Ahly fans’ backs (their potential escape route) were locked while the gates that allowed Al-Masry “fans” to flood into the stadium were unlocked.  The stadium was also full of riot police who did nothing as violence broke out.  The lights of the stadium also coincidentally went off during the riot.  Medical assistance was nowhere to be found for a couple of hours following the explosion of violence, as fans laid dying in the Al-Ahly locker room.  All of these factors clearly indicate that some sort of planning was involved that likely supersedes a soccer rivalry.  I believe that SCAF, at the very least, approved the planning of the massacre.

Whoever is responsible targeted the Al-Ahly team and its fans for a reason.

Al-Ahly is easily Egypt’s most popular soccer team and club of Egypt’s most famous soccer star, Mohammed Abou Trika.  Al-Ahly’s fans, the “Ultras”, are estimated to be nearly 60 million strong worldwide and are known to be a highly politicized group within Egypt.  In other words, many of those who have been at the forefront of Egypt’s year-old revolution, are also Al-Ahly supporters.  If anything would stir up shit here in Egypt, which is exactly what SCAF wants, it would definitely be an attack against Al-Ahly and the Ultras.

In all likelihood nothing will come of this most recent wave of unrest but you never know.  In my opinion, nothing will truly come about until June’s presidential elections when SCAF will be forced to renege on its vow to step down from power.

More to come as events unfold…

+++The situation here is tricky and I hope I summarized it in a clear manner.  Please don’t hesitate to submit comments, opinions, and questions on the blog if you have further queries.  Also please pass the blog on to anyone that you think might be interested.+++

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One response to “79 Dead at Egyptian Soccer Match: WTF Happened?

  1. Unbelievable …. This wouldn’t be the first time in history a military power acted so violently against its own …. And Whether scaf is directly responsible for the massacre or complicit with its organizers, These kind of actions will not lead to a sustainable regime moving forward from 2012.

    Good work … Keep it up

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