Sports violence triggers Egypt's latest crisis

Rioting after a soccer riot triggered the latest political crisis in Egypt. Photo: Photo courtesy of AP

CAIRO, 12 February 2012 - Egyptians describe the 1st of February, 2012 as the darkest day in the history of Egyptian sport.

No one imagined that a soccer game could turn into a massacre. On that day, a riot killed 74 people and injured more than 400, according to the official statement by the ministry of Health. The government declared three days of mourning starting Thursday February 2, 2012.

The unfortunate event took place in the Mediterranean city of Port-Said in a stadium after a soccer match between Al Ahly Club based in Cairo and the home team of Al-Masry. After the match, the fans of the winning home team (Al-Masry- Port Said) attacked supporters of the Cairo Al-Ahly, brutally beating them, throwing them off bleachers and stabbing them. The situation escalated when spectators were unable to leave the stadium because the exit gates were locked, and the so-called thugs attacked fans from behind.

On Thursday morning, thousands of young protesters vowed vengeance from the police who they blamed for failing to control the situation. They headed to the Ministry of Interior in downtown Cairo, which oversees the police. 

Crowds besieged the Ministry of Interior, with some protestors trying to move the large concrete blocks that were placed around the Ministry last November. The enraged crowds threw stones, while the police fired heavy tear gas and birdshot, resulting in over 400 injured on both sides.

On Friday February 3rd, violence between young protesters and the police force escalated, and an army officer and a young protester died in the scuffle. While several confrontations between protesters and police forces took place in different cities: namely Alexandria, Beheera, and the worst perhaps was Suez, where the protesters attacked the main police station, leaving three dead. 

Parliament held an emergency session - the first in 40 years - where MPs criticized the poor performance of the security and the government in handling such crisis.

The leader of Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Badei said, “Those in charge are responsible, namely the Ministry of Interior as well as the military ruling Council,” and he called for holding an urgent conference by all political parties to discuss such crisis.

Eye-witnesses said that the thugs attacked the fans of Al-Ahly club while the police stood by and watched the brutal beatings. Mohamed Nabil, a 16-year-old fan, said “the military also hasn’t provided a safe environment for us”

Some political analysts believe that the current events could push the military to speed up transferring power to civilians. This remains unclear, however, and the military is allowing presidential candidates to register a month before previously scheduled, but has not officially moved up the election date. Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi announced to the reporters that the country’s transition will not be derailed. “We will continue down this path and we will get through this transition.”

Several MPs said that the police failure to stop the rioting was deliberate and that their aim was to create instability to fuel chaos.

A Parliamentary inquiry blamed both fans and security for the violence, and established a fund to compensate families of those killed and injured during the violence.  However, failure to address the root causes of discontent and disaster suggests Egypt will face another crisis before it is able to move forward. 

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Anwaar Abdalla

Anwaar Abadallah Khalik Ibrahim has her Ph.D. from Ain Shams University (1999, first degree honour) and currently lectures on Civilization and Cultural Affairs for Helwan University.  Dr. Abdalla Kahlik Ibrahim also works as an official coordinator for the cultural exchange program between Helwan Uni and TSU in the USA entitled “Cultural Immersion 2011-2014.”

Additionally, Ms. Abdallah is a member of the Egyptian and Arab women’s writer’s union and the Cairo Women Association.  She is also the translator of several books published by the Ministry of Culture including Shadows on the Grass, Impossible Peace and The Secret Rapture. Dr. Ibrahim is also an accomplished author and essayist in both Arabic and English publications. 


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