At least 80 members of the Ahly Football Club’s hardcore fan group were arrested by security forces on Wednesday, the fifth anniversary of the Port Said stadium tragedy in 2012, lawyer Mokhtar Mounir told Mada Masr.
Most of those arrested were rounded up by security forces from locations close to the Ahly Club’s stadium in Zamalek, and others from Dokki and nearby metro stations, Mounir said, adding that numbers are increasing with ongoing raids and arrests.
“It is not yet clear if those who were arrested will be released or detained,” Mounir said.
The Ahly Football Club fan group, Ultras Ahlawy, announced Tuesday evening that they would not officially commemorate the anniversary at any of their sporting clubs or stadiums on Wednesday, as a number of members, who are now in police custody, received threats from security forces that they would meet the “same fate” as their martyrs, according to a statement on the Ultras Ahlawy’s Facebook Page.
Wednesday marks five years since 72 ultras were killed in the Suez Canal city of Port Said in February 2012, during a football match between Ahly and Masry clubs.
On Monday, the Ultras Ahlawy had said they would go ahead with commemorations for the fifth anniversary, just a few hours after Cairo district prosecutors detained five ultras for 15 days, pending investigations, on charges of establishing and leading an outlawed group, instigating illegal protests and disturbing the peace. The detainees were also accused of possessing fireworks, according to a statement by the fan group’s legal defense team.
“We know very well your plots, and your desire to exploit the pent-up emotions of Ahly fans on this day, as they wanted to be present to commemorate our martyrs,” the statement on the Ultras Ahlawy’s Facebook page read, addressing the Interior Ministry directly and referring to its “objective to tarnish the image of the group and accuse its members of causing chaos.”
The Ministry of Interior is denying the involvement of security forces in this tragedy and continuing to focus only on the violence perpetrated by Masry Football Club fans, the ultras’ statement added.
The Interior Ministry had previously suggested fans could commemorate the anniversary at Fustat Garden in Cairo if they wished to, an offer they did not accept.
The government refuses to allow public commemorations of martyrs in public spaces, lawyer Mounir said, and has sought to prevent them from taking place, as evidenced by the strategic arrests of five members from their homes in advance of the anniversary.
One of the five detainees is a Zamalek Football Club fan, who was imprisoned from 2007 to 2009, when Ultras Ahlawy fans were still establishing themselves. T-shirts and jerseys, scarves, stickers, cans of spray-paint, drums, fireworks and CDs containing songs and chants by Ahly fans were confiscated from the homes of the five detainees by security forces.
The charges against them do not stand, as they relate to an event that didn’t take place, Mounir argued, explaining that peaceful commemorations have taken place at Port Said stadium, and at the Ahly Club’s Mokhtar al-Tetsh Stadium in Cairo, without incident in recent years, and without disrupting traffic or clashes with security forces.
Authorities fear a repeat of the tragedy at Cairo’s Air Defense Stadium in February 2015, when 22 Zamalek Football Club fans were killed in a stampede as fans were trapped in a large cage installed by security forces to facilitate crowd control. Police forces at the stadium claim fans tried to enter without tickets, while fans say security forces fired teargas into the cage causing the crush.
Zamalek Club fans, the Ultras White Knights, accused the president of the Zamalek Club, Mortada Mansour, of colluding with security forces to deliberately kill members of the Ultras White Knights (UWK).
Tensions have been ongoing between ultras and Egypt’s authorities for years, with fans claiming security forces have a vendetta against them for their involvement in the January 2011 revolution that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak.
Prior to Mansour’s claims, officials accused ultras of assaulting former Minister of Sport Al-Amery Farouk in 2013, which the UWK and Zamalek Club deny.