2 Feb 2012

Much More Than Football

Do you remember this?

Let me refresh your memory. It was on the 2 February 2011, one year ago. Tahrir Square was attacked by thugs on camels, horses and donkeys, which came all the way from the Pyramids, about 17 kilometers away. These clashes that lasted for hours and hours, being watched live on TV all over the world, came to be known as the Camel Battle. It was an unforgettable day in Egypt's 18 days of protests that ended up with toppling Hosni Mubarak on 11 February 2011.

Now look at this ! On 1 February 2012 :

So one year later, at a football stadium in the city of Port Said, chaos breaks after a football match and somehow violence ends up with a death toll of more than 70 people and over 200 injured !

Now going back to that famous Camel Battle a year ago, anyone who was there that day in Tahrir would tell you that the Ultras showed amazing bravery in standing up to the thugs and protecting the protesters from them. Yes. I am talking about football Ultras who usually spend their time and energy cheering and chanting for football teams. 

In fact Egypt's Ultras have played a very important role in the Revolution, not just on 2 February. They were there from day 1 (25 January 2011) chanting, leading and protecting the protesters.

I did not know about them until I went to Egypt after Mubarak's fall. It was on 19 June 2011 that I first met an Ultra. It was on 19 June 2011 that I first heard an anti-SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) slogan too, chanted by the Ultra.

It was outside the Military Prosecution's Office. A very small group of activists were gathered while journalist and activist Rasha Azab was being questioned inside. Civilians like Rasha were being tried, in the thousands, in military courts. The Ultra was chanting : Down with the Military Rule. I was impressed with his energy and internal force, especially in the heat of midday. I was melting in the sun while he never stopped chanting for the whole time that I was there. 

Hardly anyone back then dared chant against the military, or even dared have bad thoughts about the military. The military was the one that "saved the day", "saved the people from Mubarak", "saveguarded the revolution", etc. The Army of Egypt was sacred in the heads of Egyptians. 

By early July many more were chanting against the military rule and were camped in Tahrir Square. Ultras were there too. One of them got me a tent to rest in on the first night while I was doing a Night in Tahrir story for Al Jazeera about the sit-in. He stood outside the tent to make sure nobody would harm or bother me. Many female protesters told me they felt safer when Ultras were around because they were brave and were "real men".

Now back to the present. So many Ultras are dead. Suprisingly - or may be not surprisingly - from Al Ahly football club. Al Ahly Ultras have been among the most vocal and most active revolutionaries.

As the news travelled around the world about those Ultras being killed and injured, many probably thought : oh this was just another hooligans fight! But in Egypt conspiracy theories and accusations grew louder and louder on TV stations and social media. Let's not forget that Egyptians have had quite an eventful week since 25 January 2012 when more people than ever before turned up at Tahrir Square. That was followed by a major bank robbery, clashes between protesters and Muslim Brotherhood supporters outside parliament, continued sit-in outside State TV, etc.

In the beginning of this video you can see clearly how security forces stood by watching while violence was breaking at the stadium. Such footage coupled with countless accounts by witnesses with details of how things turned ugly only came to emphasise people's doubts that the ultras may have been tragetted.

Whether or not that is true, the damage is already done.

As the train from Port Said arrived at Cairo Station after 3am, carrying some of the Ultras, inlcuding injured ones, their family members and friends were waiting to see who would come out of the train, alive. Some did come out, safe and sound. Others came out injured. But some did not make it! It was a very emotional moment.

And.. thousands were gathered at the station.

The chanting was becoming louder and clearer:

"Either we get their rights, or we die like them"
"Down with the Military Rule"
"The People Want to Execute the Field Mashall"

Ambulances took the injured to hospitals while the Ultras marched on to Tahrir Square, a square they know very well, a square where they have survived many battles before and are ready for any new ones to come. 

It was yet another unforgettable day and an unforgettable - sleepless - night in Egyptians' long struggle for freedom.

Versión en español /  Spanish version

More Egypt posts


3ammik Nabil said...

Thank you Dima for this post. I'm from Tunisia and I'm so sad about what is happening to Al ahly ultras.

Anonymous said...

It's good to hear an other point of view than the hooligans problems we can hear everywhere.
I'm sure that you're much more closer from truth than anyone else talking about this.
Grisco. France

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing....its obvious this was 1005 politically motivated....revenge against the Utlras for playing their part in bringing down Marbuk but also continally exposing the truth about the rotten-to-the-core Military. I feel for Egypt...you did so well to take down a tyrannt, but only to see hiw power transferred to another entity (i.e. the military) that is just as bad, lustful, hopeless and dangerous.

Btw, your article got mentioned on a popular sporting site in australia - theroar.com.au...that's how I found it. I also shared it on Facebook

Anonymous said...

There is a keyword here: "The twins."

Dima Khatib said...

Thank you all for reading and commenting..

Indeed " The Twins " ! :)

Iman said...

"Abajo abajo los militares". Con este eslógan comenzaban los Ultras del equipo Ahly todos los partidos. La respuesta de la Junta Militar a la postura política de este colectivo, que tomó mucho protagonismo desde el primer día de la revolución, no tardó. La masacre acaecida en Port Saíd no es más que un capítulo nuevo del castigo colectivo, que se viene realizando desde hace mucho tiempo, a todos los revolucionarios (asesinatos de activistas en plena calle, supuestos accidentes de coches, veneno en comida ofrecida a los acampados, juicios militares a activistas, secuestros, desapariciones...). En este partido, no se chequeó a nadie al entrar (los armados sabían que podían entrar, por tanto no son espectadores), se vieron tanques de seguridad bajando a muchísimos hombres vestidos de paisanos, se abrieron las puertas para que el público bajara al campo, se pusieros escaleras para que pudieran subir a las gradas de Ahly y, en este vídeo, se ven cómo las puertas de salida de las gradas de Ahly, estaban soldadadas para que no pudieran salir. Así que, como ciudadadana egipcia rechazo cualquier intento, por parte de las autoridades egipcias o de los medios de comunicación egipcios o extranjeros, de calificar esta masacre de enfrentamiento de aficiones rivales o de negligencia de seguridad. Por favor compartirlo para que todo el mundo sepa la verdad