By James M. Dorsey
Fans protest against EFA during Ahly match (Source: Filgoal.com)
Militant soccer fans and crowned Cairo clubs Al Ahly SC and Al Zamalek SC have forced the embattled Egyptian Football Association (EFA) to temper its effort to call a halt to militant soccer support tactics during Premier League matches.
The fans or ultras – militant, violence-prone, highly politicised support groups modelled on similar organizations in Serbia and Italy – and the clubs opposed an EFA decision to penalize clubs whose fans employed fireworks, flares, smoke guns and missiles to support their teams and push their political demands, which include a removal of EFA officials appointed by the regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak.
Both Ahly and Zamalek had been ordered to play by the EFA two home games behind closed doors because of disruptions of matches by their fans. Zamalek fans last week defied the order by storming Cairo Stadium during a match and clashed with security forces.
Under the modified EFA rules, clubs will be fined if fans employ fireworks and ordered to play a match away from home if they throw missiles such as canisters onto the pitch during a match.
“We met with club representatives and security chiefs, and we decided to present a recommendation to the EFA to reduce sanctions related to fireworks. With the new policy, clubs shall be fined if their respective fans used fireworks but if canisters were thrown on the pitch, the team will play away from home,” EFA Competitions’ Committee chief Amer Hussein told Egyptian soccer website FilGoal.com.
The Ultras White Knights (UWK), the militant Zamalek support group, earlier issued a statement denouncing EFA officials, including president Samir Zaher as “remnants of the former regime.”
UWK warned that “they will not determine our destiny. We suffered a lot from injustice and repression in the past, but we stood up to that with pride. We fought with all our might to maintain our principles and freedom. We thought justice and freedom would come after our revolution. We will continue in our defence of freedom even with our blood. Our war with the EFA will continue until we win and see the corrupt people in prison.”
The ultras are a feared, street-battled hardened force that played a key role in the mass anti-government protests that early this year led to Mr. Mubarak’s resignation. They manned the frontlines on Cairo’s Tahrir Square in clashes with security forces and Mubarak loyalists in which hundreds died.
Egyptian Information Minister Osama Heikal earlier this week suspended state television director Ahmed al-Hun for broadcasting protests by the militants against the EFA during an Ahly match against ENPPI.
Mr. Hun was suspended for broadcasting pictures showing fans unfurling a huge banner denouncing the EFA as thieves and taunting the EFA and Mr. Zaher as leftovers of the corrupt Mubarak regime. Amid a flurry of fireworks, the fans also took the media to task for supporting government efforts to curb their militant ways of cheering their team with fireworks, flares, smoke guns and loud chanting.
James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.