By Martin Roth
Egypt is in turmoil. And it is not just political. Sport is involved, too.
In my novel “The Coptic Martyr of Cairo” the main villain, named Mohamed Marzouk and responsible for the murder of a priest and the kidnap of a young Egyptian Christian, is a huge soccer fan. He is a member of the Ultras, the super-fanatical group that supports Cairo’s Al Ahly team.
Here is a part of what I wrote:
The Ultras specialized in beating up the supporters of their opponents. Mohamed was just thirteen when he and his friends began traveling down to Cairo to watch Al Ahly games. The best were always those against their hated Cairo rivals Zamalek, when the taunts and provocations of players and supporters alike usually turned the pitch into a war zone. In fact, the Egyptian soccer authorities often imported foreign umpires just for this game, such were the passions on and off the field. Just as enjoyable – and bloody – were the matches between the Egyptian national team and their hated rivals the Algerians.
It was their fighting prowess that led the Muslim Brotherhood to recruit the Ultras when the Arab Spring uprisings began. Mohamed had been on the front lines in Tahrir Square, braving the tear gas and the bullets, along with the other Ultras, fighting for an end to the hated Mubarak regime. He had little doubt that it was the muscle of the Ultras, not the weak-kneed protests of the democracy advocates, that had brought down the government.
Of course, the authorities had to take revenge, and they did so in February 2012 when a riot broke out at an Al Ahly game against Al Masry in Port Said and seventy-nine people died, with more than one thousand injured. Fortunately Mohamed had run out of money that weekend, and hadn’t traveled to watch the match, otherwise he would surely have been in the thick of the violence, and might have ended up among the dead.
But he remembered angrily discussing the disaster with friends later. “You saw it all on television. The authorities didn’t even attempt to search the Al Masry supporters.”
“When have you ever gone to a soccer match where you aren’t searched for weapons?”
“Exactly. The Al Masry supporters were all carrying knives. It was allowed by the authorities.”
“Allowed? It was encouraged. And then when our boys were attacked the police did nothing.”
“They even locked some of the gates, so our boys couldn’t escape. Then they just stood by and watched.”
An Egyptian court has just handed down a verdict in the trial of some of the instigators of that soccer riot in Port Said, sentencing 21 of them to death. This has led to more rioting, with several dozen further deaths. According to a report:
In Cairo, the divisive nature of the trial was on display. Relatives of those killed at the soccer game erupted in joy in the courtroom after the verdict was announced.
Families yelled “Allahu Akbar!” Arabic for “God is great” and pumped their fists in the air. Others held up pictures of the deceased, most of whom were young men from Cairo’s poor neighborhoods.
…Fans of Al Ahly, mostly young men in their teens, promised more violence in the days leading up to the verdict if the death penalty was not handed down. Their main Facebook page had called for bloodshed.
“This was necessary,” said Nour al-Sabah, whose 17-year-old son Ahmed Zakaria died in last year’s melee. “Now I want to see the guys when they are executed with my own eyes, just as they saw the murder of my son.”