Wednesday 13 December 2017

Video: 12 dead in fresh clashes as soccer dead are buried

Fans call it Egypt's 'revenge for the revolution'

ANGER RISING: A wounded protester is carried during clashes near the Interior Ministry in Cairo, Egypt
ANGER RISING: A wounded protester is carried during clashes near the Interior Ministry in Cairo, Egypt

Nick Meo in Cairo

Bleeding from a knife cut to the wrist and winded by a kick to the stomach, Mohammed Salema watched in terror as the mob of hooligans closed in.

Already he had seen them stab and beat fans around him at the back of the stand where he was trapped. A few were doing victory dances, waving their weapons in the air. But most of the attackers hadn't finished their rampage yet, and now they were pushing his friends over the back of the stadium where there was a 9m drop on to concrete -- and he was next.

"I said to the nearest one 'Please don't do it, I will die,'" Mr Salema said. "But he just laughed in my face. 'That's the idea!' he said."

Then he was punched, grabbed and pushed over the edge, breaking his leg and spraining his arm landing.

At least 74 of his fellow fans died at al-Masry football stadium in the working-class city of Port Said on Wednesday, most of them crushed en masse as they scrambled to escape the rampage. It was Egypt's worst football disaster.

But to Mr Salema and his friends, supporters of Cairo's al-Ahly football club, the deaths were revenge on the club's tough supporters for joining the Tahrir Square protests.

Around Mr Salema, hundreds of young fans known as "ultras", draped in football colours, many in tears, waved photographs of their dead friends and sang club anthems.

Like most of those around him, he was convinced the "hooligans" had undercover police among them, perhaps including the man who threw him from the stadium. "They showed no mercy at all. They were not normal football supporters," he said.

The crowd outside the headquarters of Ahly was angry, and the word "Qusas" -- retribution -- was on everybody's lips. "We must destroy Port Said," the young hotheads chanted, an indication of more trouble ahead, although some Ahly fans said the injured had been helped by Port Said locals.

Since the revolution, in comparison to the quiet authoritarian days of Hosni Mubarak, when the police state ensured a rigid order, Egyptians have become used to almost daily violence. By Thursday night, 24 hours after the stadium disaster, it had started. Hundreds of Ahly fans, convinced that the hooligans who killed their friends had official support, attacked the buildings of the interior ministry.

Several fans were killed and hundreds injured by military police, who fired volleys of tear gas to beat back fans' attempts to burn the building to the ground.

The original violence might have been foreseen.

On Wednesday, when Ahly fans started arriving at the Masry ground, some guessed there would be trouble. The two clubs share a long-standing enmity and in the past year that has worsened after Ahly's toughest fans joined the protests in Tahrir Square, fighting the security forces on the side of the revolution.

Masry fans have not liked seeing their sworn enemies become heroes. Survivors said that, unlike at normal games, no spectator was searched for weapons before entering the stadium, and that there were only a handful of police.

"There were people carrying knives and guns," said an Ahly fan, Mustapha. "I knew things would be bad at the end of the match." Another said: "The police stood and looked at what was going on. They did less than nothing." Such claims fuelled the belief that the attacks were pre-planned, with official sanction.

Until the final whistle the match, won by Masri 3-1, went by without serious incident, although Ahly fans hurled fireworks at their opponents. Then a hardcore of Masry fans known as "baltagiyya" charged onto the pitch to chase Ahly players and fans. Riot police helped the players to get away, but did nothing to stop the hooligans attacking rival fans -- further fuelling the conspiracy theory.

As terrified players escaped back into their changing rooms, the killing began.

Afterwards, fans swapped horrific stories. One described how a man was stabbed in the eye with a knife. A 13-year-old boy, who travelled to Port Said with his father, told of how he saw young men beaten to death.

The highest death toll seems to have occurred when fans tried to escape the stand into an exit corridor with a bolted door at the end. Many were crushed to death as others crowded in.

Muhammed Ahmad, 21, a cook, said he fell to the ground in the crush. "I put out my hands, and they landed in pools of blood," he said. His friend Ahmed Abedlgayed, 22, died next to him. "His wedding was going to be held in two months' time," Mr Ahmad said. "Now his wedding guests will be attending his funeral."

Hundreds of families in Cairo had similar stories, as the newspapers filled with photographs of young men, most of whom had risked their lives in the revolution.

The family of Kharim Khouzam found his body in the Port Said morgue after searching for hours.

The 19-year-old, a student at Cairo's German University, was a member of the team fanclub, its official photographer, and he rarely missed a match. Since his death his stencilled image has appeared on walls in the city, a mark of respect by revolutionaries.

At a candlelit vigil held near his home, hundreds came to show their respects.

"Karim was an optimist who believed the revolution was changing Egypt and would ensure a good future for us all," a friend said. "He risked his life many times in Tahrir Square. We will remember him as another martyr for freedom."


Sunday Independent

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