Egyptian court gives hardcore football fans red card
CAIRO // An Egyptian court on Saturday banned the country’s hardcore football fan clubs, known as “ultras”, over terrorism accusations.
The ultras took part in protests during and after the country’s 2011 uprising, and frequently clash with police in and around stadiums. Saturday’s ruling by the Court of Urgent Matters in Cairo outlaws the fan organisations at all football clubs across the country.
During the 2011 uprising that forced out president Hosni Mubarak, ultras often provided muscle, directed demonstrators and led chants. They are considered one of the most organised movements in Egypt after the Muslim Brotherhood, which the government outlawed as a terrorist organisation following the 2013 military overthrow of president Mohammed Morsi.
“They see themselves as a buffer, a channel that offers frustrated, despairing, hopeless youth a chance to vent pent-up anger, frustration, and protest peacefully, rather than leaving them with the option of either apathy or violence,” said James M Dorsey, a senior fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, who closely follows the ultras.
He called Saturday’s ruling a “dangerous gamble” for the government.
The case was filed by Mortada Mansour, the head of Zamalek Football Club, one of Egypt’s most popular teams. Mr Mansour has long been at odds with his team’s ultras organisation, known as the White Knights.
In March, members of the ultras were charged, alongside Muslim Brotherhood supporters, with violence outside a Cairo stadium during a match in February.
Zamalek was one of the sides playing at that match, where authorities said at least 19 fans were killed in a stampede after police fired tear gas at them. Many of the dead suffocated or were crushed.
Last month, 11 fans were sentenced to death in a retrial of more than 70 defendants accused in a 2012 football riot in Port Said that left 74 people dead. An initial verdict in 2013 set off violent protests by fans in Cairo, who torched a police club and the football federation’s headquarters.
Since the 2012 riot, Egyptian authorities have sharply limited attendance at football matches.
“Egyptian soccer clubs are hurting,” Mr Dorsey said. “They’ve either not been playing for the last four years, or a good part of the past four years, or they’ve been doing it in empty stadia.”
* Associated Press
Updated: May 16, 2015 04:00 AM