In Midan Falaki // في ميدان الفلكي
Retribution or Chaos
Mustafa Essam was one of 74 killed in the Port Said stadium massacre last February, which erupted after a football match between the Al Masry Club and the visiting Al Ahly Club from Cairo. The graffiti in the second photo says “Port Said Verdict 1/26,” sprayed by the Ultras Ahlawy on a concrete block in my neighborhood two weeks ago. The third and fourth are some of the faces of other martyrs of the massacre.
After the match between Al-Ahly and Al-Masry Clubs on February 2, 2011, angry Al Masry Club football fans stormed the football field and attacked rival Ahly fans with stones, knives, bottles, and fireworks, and other crude weapons. Some died from stab wounds and clubbing, while others were killed in the stampede or after having been deliberately thrown from the stadium stands.
Allegedly, the violence, initially sparked by a conflict between the two teams in a different city the week before the massacre, was organized by the Ministry of Interior/security apparatus to distract Egyptians from political problems in the country, instill fear of instability, and justify restrictive security measures such as the Emergency Law - a tactic that has been used by the regime for decades. People have cited security irregularities as evidence in activists’ allegations that the violence was organized. The usual security searches were not conducted prior to the match, allowing weapons to be brought into the stadium. Additionally, the gates to the stadium were strangely locked during the massacre, trapping the Al Ahly fans in.
In anticipation of the court ruling on the defendants in the Port Said massacre murder case, the Ultras Ahlawy called for protests in the weeks leading up to the 26th of January and warned that there would be blood if retribution was not achieved. A few days before the 26th, it was announced that the ruling on the case would be postponed since new evidence had been found that required further investigation.
Yet on the morning of the 26th, the court issued death sentences to 21 of 70+ defendants in the case. Of those who have been sentenced to death by hanging, none are members of the police/security apparatus/Ministry of Interior - even though security forces have been accused of being complicit in the massacre. Those who do face death are mostly young football fans, mere pawns of the political maneuverings of the Ministry of Interior and the government. Despite their involvement in the violence, these young people, just like the Ultras Ahlawy and many other young Egyptians, have been the victims of police brutality for decades. Not only have they been humiliated at the hands of the police - the murders of Khaled Said and Sayed Bilal are an example of this - but many have been denied basic aspects of human dignity and have suffered from unemployment, poverty, and an oppressive regime. These were factors that brought many of the youth to the streets on January 25, 2011 and throughout the continuing revolution in Egypt.
The violence that has erupted in Egypt and the number of people who have died in the past few days is shocking. Although many of the Ultras Ahlawy have celebrated the verdict, it is heartbreaking that those who are being punished for the violence in Port Said are young Egyptians, many of whom, it can be argued, don’t have much agency.
It is equally saddening that in the two years since the revolution began, these young people are of the first to be punished. Former President Mubarak and others who previously occupied high positions in the government and are responsible for the deaths of protesters, corruption, and many of the problems in the country, are either still awaiting verdicts that have been postponed numerous times, or have avoided trial.
The Ultras threatened retribution or chaos - what we’re seeing is both.