Police forces detained over 300 ultras (hardcore supporters) of Egypt’s most popular football team, Al-Ahly, in Alexandria on Wednesday ahead of a match with the Young Africans team from Tanzania.
While the majority of ultras were released by the beginning of the match, others remained in police custody. The fans were reportedly rounded up before they could arrive at the Borg al-Arab Stadium to attend the game.
Alexandria-based lawyer Mohamed Hafez, of the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE), told Mada Masr, “These arrests were conducted in the morning, until around 1 pm – just as fans were arriving in the area around Alexandria’s central train station.”
According to figures compiled by AFTE, 352 individuals were detained in police stations across Alexandria. Hafez said that 260 were detained at the Borg al-Arab Police Station and then subsequently released, as was the case with nearly 40 others at Attareen Police Station, and around 40 more at the Karmouz Police Station. Most detainees were released in the late afternoon and early evening, around the time of the match, he added.
Another 12 fans, however, remained in detention at the Labban Police Station, Hafez stated.
“Many of the Ahly fans were arrested by police on Wednesday simply for wearing their ultras T-shirts. Others said they were asked by police to see their tickets before they would let them head out to the Borg al-Arab Stadium, and were later arrested for not having tickets with them,” he explained.
The football fans were not detained for the possession of flares, fireworks, or political banners, Hafez noted. “Many were rounded up without any clear reason,” he stated, perhaps as a measure to prevent these hardcore football fans from potentially rallying in large numbers in the city center. “They weren’t just arresting ultras or other fans, but just about anybody wearing a red T-shirt [the official color of the football club].”
Hafez added that plain-clothed police units had been deployed in large numbers around Alexandria’s downtown area, where they were said to be waiting for ultras to arrive.
None of the fans detained on Wednesday were referred to prosecution, he said, nor were any charges leveled against them.
The Interior Ministry’s official webpage made no mention of arrests in light of Wednesday’s football match.
The privately owned ONA news agency reported about “the comprehensive security plans” that the Interior Ministry had prepared for the match, including a series of security checkpoints, the deployment of bomb squads and police dogs, and the insallation of a large network of CCTV cameras in and around the stadium.
There has been longstanding tension between Ahly fans and security forces, particularly since the 2011 uprising against the former President Hosni Mubarak, in which Al-Ahly’s ultras openly clashed with police forces.
One year after the revolution, on 1 February 2012, a deadly riot took place in the Port Said Stadium between supporters of the local Al-Masry football team and Al-Ahly’s fans, which claimed the lives of 74 people and resulted in more than 500 injuries.
Al-Ahly’s ultras accused the Interior Ministry, along with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, of orchestrating the riot, or at least standing idly as it took place, claims which the ministry have denied.
In another deadly event said to target ultras, at least 19 hardcore fans of the Zamalek football team lost their lives in a stampede outside the Air Defense Stadium in February 2015.
Members of the Ultras White Knights – hardcore fans of the Zamalek Club – claimed that fans had intentionally been killed by security forces outside the stadium, after they had trampled over each other while riot police tear-gassed them, forcing them to stampede through a narrow metal passageway.
Like Al-Ahly’s ultras, the White Knights played an active role in the fight against police forces during the 2011 popular uprising.