Monday,20 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1233, (12 - 18 February 2015)
Monday,20 November, 2017
Issue 1233, (12 - 18 February 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Conflicting accounts

How did 19 Zamalek fans die on Sunday? Ahmed Morsy reports

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Al-Ahram Weekly

“If I was a train passenger without a ticket would the train conductor throw me out on the rails in the middle of my journey?” asked Mustafa Imam, a university student and Zamalek fan who survived Sunday’s bloodbath.

“Security forces dealt with us as if we were their enemies simply because we had no tickets.”

The death of 19 fans on Sunday was the deadliest football-related disaster since the infamous Port Said massacre which left 74 people dead in February 2012.

Nineteen Zamalek fans were killed and more than 20 injured on Sunday evening as police attempted to disperse fans making their way into 30 June stadium to attend their team’s league match against ENPPI.

The Interior Ministry said violence erupted after members of the Ultras White Knights, hardcore Zamalek fans, tried to force their way into the stadium without tickets. “Zamalek fans tried to get in by force and we had to prevent them from damaging public property,” claimed the ministry.

“Although I had no ticket many people near me did. They held them up in their hands but they were still denied entry,” Imam told Al-Ahram Weekly. He added that it has long been common practice for spectators to arrive at a game without having bought tickets in advance.

“In December 2014 it was decided that only 10,000 spectators could attend Ahli’s game against the Ivory Coast team Sewe Sport, the final of the CAF Confederation Cup held at a Cairo Stadium. Yet a capacity 60,000 crowd watched the match, 50,000 of them without tickets,” Imam said.

“In November 2014, Egypt played against Tunis and Senegal as part of the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers. Ticketless spectators were admitted to both matches by the security forces.”

Said another Zamalek supporter, “This was the first league game in years to admit spectators and we were promised by Zamalek Chairman Mortada Mansour only days before the game that entry to the stadium would be free. That is why so many people were eager to attend the game.”

Domestic league games have been played behind closed doors since the 2012 Port Said massacre. Last week the Egyptian Football Federation and the Interior Ministry announced that limited numbers of spectators would be allowed to attend the Sunday game.

Ten thousand spectators were supposed to attend Sunday’s match: 5,000 ticket holders and 5,000 club invitees. Just three days before the game there were widespread reports in the media that Zamalek Chairman Mansour had decided to allow Zamalek fans to enter the stadium for free.

Large numbers of fans turned up at the stadium ahead of the match. Security forces at the stadium were reluctant to allow the fans in, with or without tickets. Fans were contained in a narrow metal corridor topped by barbed wire.

“I doubt if fans are penned in metal cages anywhere else in the world,” Zamalek supporter Mohamed Zahran told the Weekly. “As the time passed and the security forces continued to deny us entry, it became more and more difficult to breathe because of the overcrowding, and this was before the police began firing teargas.”

Videos and pictures circulated on social media networks show security forces firing teargas at crowds of fans who were unable to move, trapped inside the barriers.

“The pressure of people contained within the metal barriers caused the barriers to fall on the heads of many fans. The security forces watched us struggling yet they continued firing canisters into the panicked crowds. People ran over the bodies of those who had collapsed to escape suffocation,” says Zahran.

He also said that “mobile coverage, including internet connection, was down in the whole area surrounding the stadium,” which made it impossible for him to call his family to tell them that he was safe. He said the outage reminded him of the communication blackout during the first days of the 25 January Revolution.

On Monday a cabinet spokesperson announced that league football matches have been cancelled indefinitely. A Health Ministry statement said most of the 19 deaths were the result of stampeding crowds. The victims were aged between 18 and 24.

The father of one of the dead refused to accept the Health Ministry’s account. “I was harassed at the Zeinhom morgue when I tried to check the body of my son. But I persisted, only to discover he had two bullet wounds in his chest,” the father of Ahmed Medhat, a newly graduated engineer, told MBC Masr.

“Yet they told me at the morgue my son’s corpse was still being examined to assess the cause of death. They cut the corpse from the chin to the navel. It was an attempt to hide the evidence, to make it seem as if he did die of suffocation.”

In a statement issued on Monday the Ultras accused police of indiscriminately firing tear gas at supporters crammed inside the narrow stadium gateway, and claimed the violence was premeditated.

“The metal cage, within which most of the victims were killed, was constructed the day before the match. Nothing like it has ever been used at a football match before,” the statement claimed.

“Mansour had agreed with the Interior Ministry to buy up all match tickets. He even called TV Presenter Medhat Shalabi before the match and told him that there would be a surprise for the White Knights on the match’s day.” The suggestion was that the chairman of Zamalek intended to prevent Ultras members from attending the match.

In a televised interview, Mansour claimed the incident “was orchestrated to foil the parliamentary elections.” He said he didn’t blame the police for the deaths because “the police didn’t open fire on fans.”

According to an eyewitness however, security forces in armoured vehicles continued to chase down fans in the street following their initial forced dispersal. Some fans then set a police car on fire to protest the violence against them.

“President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi is monitoring the situation with the prime minister and his cabinet,” said a presidential press statement following the tragedy. The statement continued to say that it is essential that investigations find out what happened and identify the culprits.

Prosecutors have charged 18 Ultras White Knights leaders with assaulting police outside the military-owned stadium. The East Cairo Prosecution accused members of the White Knights of rioting and attempting to storm the stadium.

The White Knights responded by posting the following statement on Facebook on Monday: “We do not need to defend ourselves because the truth is clear. We are attending the funerals of the victims of your tyranny. Save your paperwork. Your trials have always failed to achieve justice. It is time to hold our own trials.”

Says lawyer and human rights advocate Negad Al-Borei, “Using a metal cage with barbed wire as a gate and to block the flow of a large crowd, and then to fire tear gas canisters towards that crowd, constitutes an attempt to murder.”

“If you ask who is responsible for this deadly incident I’ll answer that it is Al-Sisi,” said TV presenter Youssef Al-Housseini. “He is the one responsible because both the Defence and Interior Ministry files are in his hands, not those of Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb.”

ONtv presenter Ibrahim Eissa, meanwhile, blamed the Interior Ministry. “I demand the resignation of Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim,” Eissa said on his Sunday TV show.

“Even if the cause of the deaths turns out to be the stampeding crowds the ministry is responsible. We are witnessing terrible negligence and terrifying criminality.”

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