Friday 22 September 2017

Cairo rages as football disaster bodies come home

An Egyptian protestor flashes the victory sign as he stands near a bonfire during clashes with the security forces near the interior ministry in downtown Cairo. Photo: PA
An Egyptian protestor flashes the victory sign as he stands near a bonfire during clashes with the security forces near the interior ministry in downtown Cairo. Photo: PA
Egyptians move barbed wire set up by Egyptian military near Tahrir Square. Photo: PA
Protesters wave flags after climbing a cement block barrier separating the interior ministry from Tahrir Square. Photo: PA

Richard Spencer

A fresh surge of anti-regime fury and violent unrest has swept Egypt as the ruling army council and remnants of the Mubarak regime were blamed for the deaths of more than 70 football fans at a stadium riot.

Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets as supporters of Egypt’s biggest team, Al-Ahly, and thousands of revolutionary activists surrounded the interior ministry to protest against the worst footballing disaster in Egypt’s history.



The crowd, tens of thousand strong, called for the fall of the Army Council and for Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, de facto head of state, to be hanged



Many accused supporters of Hosni Mubarak, the former president whose sons Gamal and Alaa had close ties to Egypt’s football establishment, of deliberately instigating the violence at the Port Said stadium of Al-Masry following their 3-1 win over Al-Ahly on Wednesday night.



“This was not a sports accident, this was a military massacre!” the crowds chanted. Supporters of the rival Cairo club Zamalek turned out in sympathy.



A total of 74 people, mainly Al-Ahly fans, were stabbed, beaten and crushed to death when Al-Masry fans invaded the pitch at the end of the game and attacked the away supporters with knives and metal bars.



The Al-Ahly Ultras, as the club’s fans are known, had played a prominent role in anti-Mubarak protests during last year’s Egyptian revolution, famously helping to beat off a charge by a group of hired men, some on horse- and camel-back, who attacked protesters in Tahrir Square a year ago.



Some said this was the revenge of the “Mubarak gang”.



Saad Abboud, an MP for the Karama Party, said: “It’s no coincidence that the common factor between the Battle of the Camels and Port Said is Gamal Mubarak and his friends.”



Port Said’s governor resigned and the government sacked the town’s police chief, disbanded the Football Association, and announced an inquiry into the disaster. More than 40 people were said to have been arrested.



As Egypt’s newly elected MPs held an emergency session of parliament, the Speaker, Mohammed al-Katatni, said the police had failed in their responsibility to protect the supporters. “Our revolution is in great danger,” he warned.



As fresh violence engulfed Cairo’s streets last night, protesters clashed with security forces and tried to tear down a wall of concrete blocks built across Mohammed Mahmoud Street near the interior ministry. Security forces hit back as stones were thrown and at least one soldier was grabbed and attacked.



At least 20 people were treated by medics for the effect of tear gas. Motorcycles were used to carry away the injured through the narrow, packed streets, as ambulances could not get through.



The violence, particularly if repeated in protests planned for today, will put more pressure on the relationship between the country’s three major political forces – the army, which holds the reins of power, the Muslim Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice Party dominates parliament, and the noisy but outnumbered young activists.



FJP spokesmen were eager to put blame on the Mubarak regime remnants rather than the army directly. The Brotherhood has formed a working alliance with the army, and its words will deepen the hostility of activists who accuse them of “hijacking the revolution”.



Survivors of the stadium riot had earlier told The Daily Telegraph that knife-wielding gangs stormed across the pitch as the final whistle blew.



“There was a group sitting together on the opposite side of the stadium,” said Mustafa Saleh, 25, adding that they were separate from the ordinary supporters. He said he had been chased towards the exit by a mob of 20 men carrying knives, and was hit on the leg by a machete as he sought refuge in the Al-Ahly team changing room. “We found bodies laid out in a row,” he said. “The players were crying. Some were saying they would retire, give up, that they would not be silent about what had happened.”



Other fans gave witness to longstanding rivalries between the two clubs, and said there had been warnings in the lead-up to the game that Al-Masry Ultras were planning to attack.



Al-Ahly’s long success as the Manchester United of Egypt makes it a constant target for abuse. Sherif Galaa, 24, said he did not go because of threats. A chant had been posted to the Al-Masry club Facebook page two days before addressed to Al-Ahly fans and promising: “Whoever comes to Port Said, make sure you write your will first.”



His boyhood friend, Mohammed Abdul Samir, decided to go anyway – and paid with his life.



There has been a history of trouble at Egyptian football games, but the violence is more a reflection of the country’s declining security. After hundreds of protesters were shot dead in the early stages of last year’s uprising, the interior ministry pulled police back to barracks.



Martial law was declared, but the army had no experience in crowd control. Since then, even beat policemen have failed to return in strength.



At the game on Wednesday, a small line of police reacted slowly to the pitch invasion, and was totally overwhelmed.



Abdulrahman, an Al-Ahly fan from Alexandria, said trouble began hours before kick-off, as supporters were taken in by bus with a police escort.



“We were stoned by the Al-Masry fans as we came into town,” he said. “The police didn’t stop them.”



Mr Saleh described extraordinary scenes as the game ended and the Al-Ahly fans tried to leave, finding some exit doors locked. “They ran towards us,” he said. “We were stuck. We looked up and saw them throwing people from the upper floors of the stadium.



“They had knives, rubber bullets, even live bullets. Some were firing guns.”



The army sent helicopters to rescue the players and the injured. The Cairo fans were put on trains back to the capital where they were met by emotional crowds in the early hours. The dead were ferried in a fleet of ambulances, most to Cairo’s Zenhom morgue, where relations poured in to formally identify bodies lining rooms and even the corridors.



As crowds of women in headscarves screamed outside, angry groups of men awaited their arrival. Mohammed Samir, uncle of a 16-year-old victim, Mohammed Ashraf Mahdy, said he believed Mubarak supporters were trying to cause chaos to force the authorities not to hang the former president at the end of his current trial.



“All the youth of the country are being sacrificed so that Mubarak can live,” he said. “Libyan people are better than us. They killed their man, end of story. But we are stuck in this tragedy.”



Al-Masry supporters also protested in Port Said, claiming they were innocent victims. “We saw the police kill people all over Egypt since the revolution, so I am not surprised by yesterday,” Bashir, a student, said.



But others ascribed what had happened to no political motives, but only the lack of security. Ismael, a dock worker, said he saw fans entering the stadium with knives. “There were no security checks,” he said. “I saw people pick up other people and throw them over the side of the stands. One group killed at least 15 people just down from me. They used knives, sticks, their hands. The ground was covered in blood.”



One “Ultra” was as unabashed as hooligans in other countries. “The Ahly fans came from Cairo and began to insult the men here,” he said. “They unfurled a banner criticising us and threw insults at us. “They provoked us, so we finished them.”



A total of 74 people, mainly Al-Ahly fans, were stabbed, beaten and crushed to death when Al-Masry fans invaded the pitch at the end of the game and attacked the away supporters with knives and metal bars.



The Al-Ahly Ultras, as the club’s fans are known, had played a prominent role in anti-Mubarak protests during last year’s Egyptian revolution, famously helping to beat off a charge by a group of hired men, some on horse- and camel-back, who attacked protesters in Tahrir Square a year ago.



Some said this was the revenge of the “Mubarak gang”.



Saad Abboud, an MP for the Karama Party, said: “It’s no coincidence that the common factor between the Battle of the Camels and Port Said is Gamal Mubarak and his friends.”



Port Said’s governor resigned and the government sacked the town’s police chief, disbanded the Football Association, and announced an inquiry into the disaster. More than 40 people were said to have been arrested.



As Egypt’s newly elected MPs held an emergency session of parliament, the Speaker, Mohammed al-Katatni, said the police had failed in their responsibility to protect the supporters. “Our revolution is in great danger,” he warned.



As fresh violence engulfed Cairo’s streets last night, protesters clashed with security forces and tried to tear down a wall of concrete blocks built across Mohammed Mahmoud Street near the interior ministry. Security forces hit back as stones were thrown and at least one soldier was grabbed and attacked.



At least 20 people were treated by medics for the effect of tear gas. Motorcycles were used to carry away the injured through the narrow, packed streets, as ambulances could not get through.



The violence, particularly if repeated in protests planned for today, will put more pressure on the relationship between the country’s three major political forces – the army, which holds the reins of power, the Muslim Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice Party dominates parliament, and the noisy but outnumbered young activists.



FJP spokesmen were eager to put blame on the Mubarak regime remnants rather than the army directly. The Brotherhood has formed a working alliance with the army, and its words will deepen the hostility of activists who accuse them of “hijacking the revolution”.



Survivors of the stadium riot had earlier told The Daily Telegraph that knife-wielding gangs stormed across the pitch as the final whistle blew.



“There was a group sitting together on the opposite side of the stadium,” said Mustafa Saleh, 25, adding that they were separate from the ordinary supporters. He said he had been chased towards the exit by a mob of 20 men carrying knives, and was hit on the leg by a machete as he sought refuge in the Al-Ahly team changing room. “We found bodies laid out in a row,” he said. “The players were crying. Some were saying they would retire, give up, that they would not be silent about what had happened.”



Other fans gave witness to longstanding rivalries between the two clubs, and said there had been warnings in the lead-up to the game that Al-Masry Ultras were planning to attack.



Al-Ahly’s long success as the Manchester United of Egypt makes it a constant target for abuse. Sherif Galaa, 24, said he did not go because of threats. A chant had been posted to the Al-Masry club Facebook page two days before addressed to Al-Ahly fans and promising: “Whoever comes to Port Said, make sure you write your will first.”



His boyhood friend, Mohammed Abdul Samir, decided to go anyway – and paid with his life.



There has been a history of trouble at Egyptian football games, but the violence is more a reflection of the country’s declining security. After hundreds of protesters were shot dead in the early stages of last year’s uprising, the interior ministry pulled police back to barracks.



Martial law was declared, but the army had no experience in crowd control. Since then, even beat policemen have failed to return in strength.



At the game on Wednesday, a small line of police reacted slowly to the pitch invasion, and was totally overwhelmed.



Abdulrahman, an Al-Ahly fan from Alexandria, said trouble began hours before kick-off, as supporters were taken in by bus with a police escort.



“We were stoned by the Al-Masry fans as we came into town,” he said. “The police didn’t stop them.”



Mr Saleh described extraordinary scenes as the game ended and the Al-Ahly fans tried to leave, finding some exit doors locked. “They ran towards us,” he said. “We were stuck. We looked up and saw them throwing people from the upper floors of the stadium.



“They had knives, rubber bullets, even live bullets. Some were firing guns.”







The army sent helicopters to rescue the players and the injured. The Cairo fans were put on trains back to the capital where they were met by emotional crowds in the early hours. The dead were ferried in a fleet of ambulances, most to Cairo’s Zenhom morgue, where relations poured in to formally identify bodies lining rooms and even the corridors.



As crowds of women in headscarves screamed outside, angry groups of men awaited their arrival. Mohammed Samir, uncle of a 16-year-old victim, Mohammed Ashraf Mahdy, said he believed Mubarak supporters were trying to cause chaos to force the authorities not to hang the former president at the end of his current trial.



“All the youth of the country are being sacrificed so that Mubarak can live,” he said. “Libyan people are better than us. They killed their man, end of story. But we are stuck in this tragedy.”



Al-Masry supporters also protested in Port Said, claiming they were innocent victims. “We saw the police kill people all over Egypt since the revolution, so I am not surprised by yesterday,” Bashir, a student, said.



But others ascribed what had happened to no political motives, but only the lack of security. Ismael, a dock worker, said he saw fans entering the stadium with knives. “There were no security checks,” he said. “I saw people pick up other people and throw them over the side of the stands. One group killed at least 15 people just down from me. They used knives, sticks, their hands. The ground was covered in blood.”



One “Ultra” was as unabashed as hooligans in other countries. “The Ahly fans came from Cairo and began to insult the men here,” he said. “They unfurled a banner criticising us and threw insults at us. “They provoked us, so we finished them.”

Telegraph.co.uk

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