Four years after a football disaster left 72 fans dead, Egypt’s ultras – organized groups of hardcore football fans – staged a large rally on Monday. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi responded on television by inviting them to be part of an investigative committee looking into the killings.
“I call on the ultras to select 10 of their members whom they trust to be part of a committee to look into all the details concerning the 2012 Port Said disaster and determine what more can be done,” the president said in an interview with Amr Adeeb on his show “Al-Qahera al-Youm” (Cairo Today) on the privately owned Al-Orbit channel on Monday.
Following a call posted on their official Facebook page, hundreds of Ultras Ahlway (Ahly Club ultras) gathered at the Ahly Club stadium on Monday to commemorate the anniversary of the Port Said killings that took place in February 2012.
The killings were preceded by clashes that broke out between Ultras Ahlway and Green Eagles (Al-Masry Club ultras) during a game between Al-Ahly and Al-Masry, known for their intense rivalry.
Police forces securing the game were slammed for failing to prevent the fans’ rampage, while others alleged that police forces were complicit in planning a massacre to get back at Ultras Ahlawy for their role in political protests.
With longstanding rivalries with the police, ultras were at the vanguard of many street battles with the police during the 2011 revolution and the following months of upheaval. Football games were often sites of mass chants insulting the police and military council, alongside the ultras’ signature flares.
Widely circulated videos from Monday’s rally reveal ultras chanting and calling for Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) at the time, to be sentenced to death.
Photographs from the event show fans holding up lanterns to make the number 72, and carrying posters and banners with slogans condemning the police and declaring there will be revenge on the killers, alongside large pictures of the victims.
The Ahly Club’s administrative council responded to the rally by officially banning ultras from entering the club. President of the administrative council, Mahmoud Taher, however, told the privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm that it would be impossible to ban ultras from the club, practically speaking.
Egypt’s football games have been closed to fans since the Port Said killings. The ban was briefly lifted at the beginning of 2015, but during one of the first matches at which fans were allowed, 22 people were killed during clashes between Ultras White Knights (Zamalek Club ultras) and police forces outside of the Air Force Stadium. Games were once again closed to the public after the deaths.
In August 2015, one 10-year sentence was upheld against defendants accused of participating in the killings, while five others were acquitted.
Earlier in the year, 11 defendants were sentenced to death, 10 were sentenced to 15 years imprisonment and an additional 15 were sentenced to 10 years in prison. Four defendants were sentenced to five years imprisonment, including former head of Port Said security Essam Eddin Samak and Colonel Mohamed Saad. Mohsen Sheta, head of the Al-Masry Club where the tragedy occurred, and Tawfik Malkan, the electrical engineer who was responsible for the stadium at the time of the incident, also received five-year prison sentences.
In his interview on Monday evening, Sisi stated that in cases where there are large angry crowds, it can be difficult to determine exactly what happened.
The president also took the opportunity to address the youth in general, admitting that he had not been the best in the past at dealing with the “angry youth,” but that he hoped to include them more in the future. During the interview, he also commented on the recent detainment of satirical cartoonist Islam Gawish, who was released after being held overnight in prison. Sisi said that he did not have anything against Gawish and that he had no problem with criticism, saying, “No one can speak on my behalf and say that I get upset by criticism.”
In response to Sisi’s call for inclusion, some social media users began using the sarcastic hashtag “Youth inclusion.” One user posted a picture of a girl in a police van on Facebook using the hashtag, while several others posted a cartoon by Gawish depicting the president telling the youth to trust him before imprisoning them.
Many others posted pictures of recent news that Sisi was giving the Interior Ministry 103 feddans along the Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road to build a new prison, implying that the only type of youth inclusion Sisi is interested in is incarcerating them.