At least 74 soccer fans died as deadly riots broke out in Port Said after a soccer match between Al Masry and visiting Al Ahly. Fans from Al Masry invaded the pitch after their team beat Al Ahly, 3-1 and clashed with their rivals. Most of the deaths were attributed to the ensuing stampede as supporters desperately tried to make for the exits.
Al Ahly players were chased into their locker rooms as the security forces stood by doing nothing.
“The security forces left us, they did not protect us. One fan has just died in the dressing room in front of me,” veteran playmaker Mohamed Abou-Treika screamed during a phone call with the club’s channel.
The army had to fly in two military aircraft to Port Said to airlift Al Ahly fans and players.
The violence led Zamalek and Al-Ismaily to suspend their match in mourning for the dead, which caused aggrieved fans to set some of the stands in Cairo Stadium on fire.
Egyptian Football Association (EFA) chairman Samir Zaher announced the league had been postponed for an indefinite period in the wake of the deadly clashes.
Clashes between Al Ahly and Al Masry, traditional soccer rivals, is nothing new but this scale is completely different. In the wake of the post Mubarak era, such rivalries have taken on a powerfully poisonous subtext. The security of Egypt has increasingly been taken over by the army and the powerful interior ministry with its draconian emergency laws. The police have been removed and replaced by the military thus causing a vacuum in law and order.
There appears to be a feeling amongst many Al Ahly Ultras that this violence was orchestrated against them in retaliation for being instrumental in organizing the Tahrir Square demonstrations that finally brought down the Hosni Mubarak regime. However, millions of Egyptians believe that the chief of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Field Marshal Hussain Tantawi, the de facto head of the government, a right hand man of Mubarak is continuing his policies.
Liverpool, a club haunted by the Hillsborough and Heysel stadium tragedies, issued a statement:
“Following the sad news from Port Said we’d like to send our condolences to all in Egypt affected by this tragic event. You are in our thoughts tonight,” the Reds said on their official Facebook page.
For those singling out Egypt, those tragedies remind us it can happen anywhere. What is important is the response by the Egyptian government to ensure that this does not happen again.