Violence in Port Said At Least 74 Dead in Football Clashes in Egypt
At least 74 people were killed and over a thousand injured in clashes following a soccer match in the Egyptian city of Port Said on Wednesday evening. The ruling military council has announced an investigation. Some Egyptians believe the violence was politically motivated and planned in advance.
The violence on Wednesday night in the football stadium in the Egyptian city of Port Said was nothing short of a battle. At least 74 people are dead and the toll could still rise. Over a thousand were injured, many of them with life-threatening stab wounds.
There had been minor provocations during the game, but the real violence broke out seconds after the final whistle blew. Supporters of the home club al-Masry stormed the pitch immediately after the end of the game and attacked the opposing team al-Ahly, the current leader of the Egyptian league -- even though al-Masry had just won the game 3:1.
Footage from the incident showed fans chasing each other. According to Egyptian state television, al-Masry fans surrounded supporters of the opposing team, threw stones at them from close range and tried to stab them with broken glass bottles.
Al-Ahly's players and fans fled into the catacombs below the stands and tried to barricade themselves in dressing rooms. "One of the fans died there," said Ahmed Nagi, al-Ahly's goalkeeper coach, on Egyptian state television. "Hundreds of wounded people are lying in the hallways."
'The Biggest Disaster in Egypt's Soccer History'
Hesham Sheiha, Egypt's deputy health minister, told the station that most of the injured had suffered serious bruises and cuts. News agencies quoted eyewitnesses as saying that most of the dead had been trampled to death in the panicked crush. "It is the biggest disaster in Egypt's soccer history," Sheiha said.
The news of the Port Said massacre spread quickly throughout Egypt on Wednesday evening. Ongoing football games were interrupted, provoking more violence. In Cairo, local fans set the stadium on fire, after the game between Zamalek and Ismaily was halted with the score at 2:2.
The tragedy at Port Said, which is located 200 kilometers (125 miles) from the capital Cairo on the Suez Canal, reflects the precarious security situation in Egypt, which is steadily deteriorating. The political conflict in the country is also coming to a head between, on the one hand, the forces that rebelled in 2011 and overthrew the regime of Hosni Mubarak, and on the other the military council, which replaced Mubarak as the country's leadership.
On Wednesday night, some Egyptians argued that the riots had been planned in advance and were politically motivated. Al-Alhy's team doctor Ehab Ali told the club's own television station Ahly-TV that the violence in the stadium was "a war that had been planned."
Calls for Minister's Resignation
Albadry Farghali, a member of the Egyptian parliament for Port Said, accused the Egyptian government and the security forces of allowing the disaster to happen and perhaps even instigating it. "The security forces did this or allowed it to happen," he shouted in a telephone call to live television. "The men of Mubarak are still ruling. The head of the regime has fallen but all his men are still in their positions."
Amr Hamzawy, an independent member of parliament, called for the resignation of Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim. The minister, for his part, announced that the police had arrested nearly 50 suspects.
Egypt's highest-ranking military officer, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, announced on Thursday that he would appoint an investigative committee to look into the events. His desire to appease the population was shown by the fact that he gave a telephone interview shortly after the violence. "These incidents happen anywhere in the world," he told a television station. "We will not let those behind it go." The victims would be compensated after the investigation was completed, he said.
Tantawi said that the country would "leave this phase" behind it and become "stable again." Those who tried to destabilize Egypt, would not succeed, he said. "Everyone will get what he deserves." He denied that the military bore any responsibility for the incident, stressing that the police were responsible for security at the football game. On Thursday, the Egyptian parliament will debate the events at Port Said in a special session.
Sepp Blatter, the president of football's international governing body FIFA, said in a statement he was "shocked and saddened" by the deaths. "This is a black day for football. Such a catastrophic situation is unimaginable and should not happen."
In the days to come, the revolutionaries of Cairo's Tahrir Square are likely to accuse the military leadership of having ordered the massacre. Ever since the revolution in January 2011, various opposition groups, including young people, liberals, leftists and even some Islamists, have been accusing the ruling military council of merely perpetuating the old regime. They claim that the generals are part of the old guard and that their main goal is to thwart the democratic process and try to stay in power. The newly elected parliament first convened in Cairo 10 days ago, and a new president is supposed to be elected in the summer. The opposition, however, claims that the military wants to delay the election.
Ayman Hamed, an editor at the reformist newspaper Tahrir, believes that policemen in civilian clothes incited the crowd in the Port Said stadium. "The military wants to make us beg them to stay and ensure public safety," he told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "The military council benefits if the situation is unstable. It is a political maneuver."
On Wednesday evening, the military demonstrated its strength by sending two helicopters to Port Said to evacuate injured players and fans.
According to Hamed, it is significant that most of the victims in Port Said were al-Ahly fans known as ultras. The well-organized supporters of the Cairo club were very active politically during last year's revolution, and fought in the front lines in Tahrir Square to bring about an end to the dictatorship. "Tonight, someone has taken revenge on the revolution," said Hamed. He predicted more violence in the coming days. "The ultras will not simply accept this. They will be in Tahrir Square tomorrow. And then the situation will escalate."