Tuesday,14 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1282, (11- 17 February 2016)
Tuesday,14 August, 2018
Issue 1282, (11- 17 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Who can stop the Ultras?

The Ultras football fans did not reciprocate in kind after President Al-Sisi reached out to the often-violent group. If anything, they apparently have become even more emboldened, reports Inas Mazhar

Al-Ahram Weekly

Last week’s invitation by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to the Ultras football fans to take part in a new investigation into what caused the 2012 soccer riot that killed 72 spectators has not been received well — not by the Ultras, nor by many observers.

Al-Sisi had called on the Ultras of Ahly, the most famous football club in Egypt, to participate in a new probe of the tragedy in which mostly Ahly Ultras were killed during a league game in Port Said.

It seems that the Ultras might have misinterpreted the president’s message, considering it a green light to continue defying the law while proving they have become the strongest and most disciplined group in the country.

Four days after the president’s TV phone-in and a speech concerning the invite, the Ultras said that although they appreciated the president’s initiative and invitation to join a new investigative committee, they rejected the offer, claiming it was not their role.

“We can’t be the plaintiff and judge at the same time,” they said. They said they would attend Ahly’s training session in preparation for its game against Zamalek in a league match, which was scheduled for Tuesday 9 February. They said that it was “very important” for them to attend the training, even though the club has banned them from entering Al-Teitsh Stadium.

Nevertheless, they planned to gather at 9.30am at the club before the start of the 10am practice, saying they needed to support their team in its quest to bring back the league trophy, which was won by rivals Zamalek last season.

Finding themselves in a precarious situation, and to avoid more clashes between the Ultras and security, Ahly club management moved the training session to grounds in 6 October, on the outskirts of Cairo.

Not to be sidelined, the White Knights Ultras of Zamalek called for a gathering at Al-Fostat Gardens in Cairo as a neutral venue to mark the first anniversary of the death of 22 Zamalek supporters who were crushed in a stampede at the Air Defence Stadium during a league match.

Unlike Ahly Ultras, the White Knights did not chant slogans against the army or the police. They did, however, call for the “execution” of the club president, Mortada Mansour, for banning them from entering the club and for their constant disputes with him.

According to White Knights lawyer Tarek Al-Awadi, the Ultras demonstrated in a venue demarcated by the Cairo Governorate as an open area to protest without police permission. Al-Awadi said Zamalek Ultras had used their right to express their anger against the club’s president and to remember those who died in the stampede.

“There was no violence from any side, either the Ultras or the police. It was peaceful and no one was harmed,” Al-Awadi told a television talk show. “Carrying banners that call for the execution of their president is just a political demand as a result of their frustration,” he said in their defence.

The national media opposed the president’s intervention in the Ultras issue, saying he had made them into a recognised group despite a court ruling which had banned them. Some claimed the Ultras have become an unstoppable force and a time bomb that could explode if not contained.

Makram Mohamed Ahmed, a former president of the Egyptian Press Syndicate, called on the Ultras to ask themselves how long they will continue to carry on their desire to avenge the loss of their colleagues, Ahmed wrote in the daily Al-Ahram.

“What is happening now is a result of random decisions, absence of discipline, neglecting the upbringing of children and lack of a good education,” Makram Mohamed wrote.

“If the Ultras have a right to remain angry until the truth is revealed, then doesn’t Egyptian society have the right to ask them how long the situation will remain like this? I believe the Ultras are overreacting and imposing their frustration on the right of the public to a peaceful life. They act as if they are one of those random political parties. They don’t look around and see the situation or the hardships the country is facing and trying to deal with. They treat the police and security with unjustified resentment, despite the sacrifices they pay for the sake of the country,” Ahmed said.

In 6 October, while attending the opening of several national projects, Al-Sisi said that his phone-in last week, to the TV talk show “Al-Qahira Al-Youm”, concerning the Ultras was “exaggerated by everyone and misunderstood. It does not mean that we would interfere in the law or court rulings because the law rules here,” the president said, giving an example of the court order regarding the 2013 Kerdasa bloodbath. A court recently ordered a retrial after more than 50 militants stormed a police station in Kerdasa killing 14 officers.

On Monday night, TV presenter Ibrahim Eissa opened fire on government officials, saying the president’s phone-in and his address about the Ultras represents a victory for them. “Now they have to celebrate and drink to this victory,” Eissa said.

Eissa explained to his audience the “evidence” that the Ultras had won. “The president did not criticise or condemn them for their actions at Ahly stadium after they insulted the army and the former minister of defence Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. The president considered this free speech and freedom of expression,” he said.

“Second, the president officially recognised their existence and deals with them as a legitimate group, despite court verdicts which ruled they are a terrorist group.

“The third piece of evidence that allows the Ultras to raise the flag of victory over the body of the nation is the president admitting that the Port Said disaster was a mystery, just like other incidents at that time as a result of the country’s instability.”

Eissa also asked about the presidential invitation for the Ultras to take part in a newly created committee to re-open an investigation into the deadly 2012 clashes. “The court has already ruled and the case is closed. It seems that the president’s openness and his desire to please his people have allowed constitutional values to be broken.”

Accordingly, Eissa said he believed that the Ultras succeeded in breaking the law by being allowed to demonstrate on the streets, public areas and sports clubs without police permission “and with no one daring to stop them”.

“Politicians and activists who write memos and call for annulling the law not to demonstrate have failed. There have been so many youths imprisoned because of breaking this law. To be fair, the government should release them, just as the Ultras are free,” said Eissa.

“They are the most organised group now, stronger than any political party on the ground.”

The past week only confirmed the reality nobody wants to admit: the government has failed in dealing with the Ultras. The question is whether it is turning a blind eye to the problem until it gets completely out of hand.

And while a solution to the impasse is possibly being sought, the Ultras are moving faster than officials, continuing to proclaim themselves as the real, strongest and only power in the country that defends their identity and beliefs, and which is capable of attracting more members.

In the absence of the Muslim Brotherhood and other political parties, the Ultras remain a force to be reckoned with, winning full admission of their existence within society and political life and, as some say, acknowledged by the head of the state himself.

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