Soccer Violence in Egypt Raises Security Questions

A series of soccer riots incidents with fans on pitches has called into question Egypt’s ability to enforce security at domestic and international competition matches and focused attention on the Egyptian police’s reluctance to engage militant supporters in the post-Mubarak era.

In the latest incident, military troops in the absence of the police intervened in Port Said to separate rival ultras – highly organized, violence-prone, militant supporter groups modelled on similar groups in Italy and Serbia – who clashed on the streets of the Suez Canal city. Tens were injured in the brawl between supporters of crowned Cairo team Al Ahly SC and Port Said’s Al Masri SC.

The tensions started with the bus bringing the Al Ahly ultras to Port Said being stoned and ended with the bus again being hit by stones as it departed.

The brawl followed the storming of the pitch in the port city of Alexandria and attacking of players on Wednesday during a training by fans of Ittihad al-Skanadrya. Fans have been critical of Ittihad for months and have forced the Mubarak-appointed board to resign. Players have been on strike because the financially troubled club was unable to pay their salaries and rents.

Like with the storming of the pitch in March in Cairo by ultras of Cairo club Al Zamalek SC during their team’s African championship against Tunisia’s Club Africain, the violence erupted in the absence of police forces. Police absence also sparked incidents at league matches in Tunisia, prompting soccer authorities to ban fans from games for the rest of the season.

Police forces in both countries have largely evaded clashes with militant soccer fans in a bid to improve their image tarnished by the fact that they are widely viewed as the henchmen of toppled leaders Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Zine Abedine Ben Ali of Tunisia. Soccer fans played a key role in the mass protests that led to the resignations earlier this year of both leaders. The police hope that incidents in their absence will lead many to conclude that they are needed to maintain law and order.

A reporter for the Egyptian soccer website said the brawl erupted after both sides hurled insults at each other. The fans used rocks, batons and fireworks during the riot.

Egyptian soccer authorities fear that the incident could prompt the country’s military authorities as well as the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to conclude that situation in post-Mubarak remains volatile. The authorities fear that fans like in Tunisia could be banned from future league matches and that CAF could opt for moving African championship matches to a third country.


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