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Sunday, May 15, 2011

African football body decides stiff punishing of North African clubs for fan violence


A fan of Egypt's Zamalek clashes with riot police during their African Champions League (CAF) soccer match against Tunisia’s Club Africain at Cairo stadium. (File photo)

A fan of Egypt's Zamalek clashes with riot police during their African Champions League (CAF) soccer match against Tunisia’s Club Africain at Cairo stadium. (File photo)
The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has meted out stiff punishments to several North African clubs for recent fan violence during recent African championship matches.

CAF’s disciplinary committee at a meeting in the Egyptian capital ordered crowned Cairo club Al Ahli SC to play their opening African Champions League group stage game in an empty stadium.

The punishment was in response to militant Ahly supporters lighting the Cairo stadium last weekend with fireworks during their team’s match against Zambia’s ZESCO United. ZESCO’s Billy Mwanza was taken to hospital with an arm injury after being hit with an object thrown from the stands. Police melted away during the incident, opting not to intervene.

Tunisia’s Club Africain was ordered to play its next two home African championship matches without spectators as punishment for fans invading the pitch during a game against Al Hilal of Sudan and attacking the referee.

Both clubs were also fined $80,000 each.

Algeria's JS Kabylie was fined $50,000 because its supporters threw missiles during an African Confederation Cup game against Missile FC from Gabon.

CAF warned Kabylie that it would be banned from the Cup for a year if its supporters continued to throw missiles.

Midfielder Abderahmane Lemssassi of Morocco’s Wydad Casablanca was handed a six-match ban for spitting at the referee during his team’s loss in the Democratic Republic of Congo last Sunday. The club’s goalkeeper, Nadir Lamyaghri, and coach Fakherdine Rajhi received four match bans for threatening behavior and abusive language.

Both Egypt and Tunisia have witnessed a spurt in soccer violence as a result of a reduced police presence and lax security at matches. Tunisia earlier this month ordered that all domestic first league matches be played behind closed doors. Algeria has also banned spectators from its top league games while Egyptian and Moroccan authorities have threatened to prematurely halt the soccer season if the violence continues.

The police in post-revolution Egypt and Tunisia, viewed as henchmen of the old regimes, have been largely absent or stood aside during incidents in a bid to shore up their tarnished image. They are believed to want to avoid clashes with militant fans and at the same time demonstrate the need for them to enforce law and order.

Some fans believe that the soccer incidents are being instigated by supporters of former Egyptian and Tunisian presidents Hosni Mubarak and Zine Abedine Ben Ali in a bid to provoke a police crackdown on protesters and the re-introduction of restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly.

Police clashed with demonstrators during protests earlier this year that toppled Messrs. Mubarak and Ben Ali. Police stations were among the protesters’ prime targets. Police in both countries have as a result been demoralized and are afraid of being accused of abuse if they employ violence.

Police morale has been further eroded by legal proceedings against Mr. Mubarak’s former interior minister, Habib al-Adly, who was in charge of the police as well against scores of police officers who have been jailed for their role in attempting to quash the protests.

Mr. Adly was recently sentenced to 12 years in prison on charges of corruption. He faces separate charges that could lead to the death sentence for the killing of hundreds of people during the anti-Mubarak protests.

Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf this week in a remarkable statement sought to restore morale in the police force by expressing his support. Mr. Sharaf urged the police to use all legal means at its disposal to restore law and order “including the use of force.”

The absence of the police has led to a far broader break down of law and order in Egypt where a wave of crime and sectarian violence is threatening the country’s transition to democracy. Activists and businessmen fear that it could obstruct economic recovery and spark an authoritarian crackdown. Egypt has witnessed at least three successful jailbreaks in the last two weeks as well as a kidnapping for ransom. 

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