“Are you from the ultras?” asked one of the Ahly club football fans in a reserved manner, amid roaring crowds gathering in front of the club on Saturday afternoon, following the Port Said massacre verdict.
“Yes. Ultras of Shubra. Why are you asking?”
“Because I can see you running around, burning things. Did you not hear our capos (leaders) saying that the ruling is satisfactory until now; let’s go so that violence doesn’t spread?”
“The capos can say whatever they want to say. The ruling today did not give the death sentence to the policemen of the Interior Ministry. That way, nothing happened.”
This conversation between two members of the Cairo football team fans took place hours after the Port Said Criminal Court confirmed the death sentence of 21 defendants accused of killing 72 Ahly fans after a game turned violent last year in the Suez Canal city. The court found seven of nine policemen accused in the case innocent, while two senior officers got 15 years in jail and a life sentence, including the former head of the Port Said Security Directorate. The seven officers are among 28 defendants found innocent.
The stringent Ultras Ahlawy, one of the main fan groups of the Ahly Club, had posted on its Facebook page before the verdict that if the ruling was postponed, chaos will spread in the country, main roads will be blocked and public agencies will be closed. If policemen are found innocent in the case, the post continued, the Ministry of Interior would be occupied and completely burned down.
But following the verdict, the leaders of the ultras promptly asked their followers not to push for violence. They said that the ruling was relatively satisfactory and that the country is going through a difficult moment. They also said there should be respect for the mothers of those killed in the Port Said massacre and who asked for no violence following the verdict so that no more victims would fall.
The resort to violence yesterday however showcased a certain division within Ultras Ahlawy, with many followers expressing shock at the rather passive position of their leaders.
“The capos’ position is not understandable. The moment we heard that the death sentence for 21 defendants was confirmed, we cheered. But when we heard the policemen were found innocent, there was a state of disappointment and confusion in our ranks. We asked ourselves, what should be the next step,” said Mohamed Abdel Alim, 20, a member of the group.
“To hell with the capos. I think many of them will go back in their decision,” he added.
Mahmoud Allam, 18, agreed with him on the disappointment from the rulings. “The ruling is not satisfactory at all. Seven policemen are found innocent. Where is justice? Where is the death sentence for these policemen and their collaborators in the massacre? We should have gone to the Interior Ministry and taken revenge for our friends.”
As Egypt Independent was interviewing Allam, smoke could be seen coming out of the premises of the Egyptian Football Association and the Police Club, both near the Ahly Club in the Gezira area of central Cairo, where thousands of ultras congregated ahead of the verdict.
The violence started worrying some among those gathering, including the mother of Mohamed Ashraf, who was one of the 72 ultras killed in Port Said during the massacre. “Enough victims. I don’t want to see another mother in pain. The ruling is not satisfactory but I don’t want the youth of the ultras who stood by us all that time clash with police and drop dead.”
When the smoke appeared, there was confusion about who started the fire among the ultras. A fan, Ahmad Zeidan, 24, said that it was indeed members of the ultras who were behind the fire.
“The problem with the ultras lies in their divisions. There is a big gap inside the group between the 17 and 18-year olds and the 25-year olds. The younger groups are more impulsive and couldn’t take the ruling as it is.”
“I see the ruling as satisfactory,” he continued. “This is the first time the head of a security directorate gets a jail sentence in all cases of killing protesters since the revolution started. Also the ruling is just initial and can be appealed, in which case, others can also be convicted.”
In order to avoid rumors and divisions, the Facebook administrators of Ultras Ahlawy were quick to write on their page an hour after the fires started. “What’s happening now in Cairo is the beginning of wrath. Wait for more if not all of those responsible for the massacre are revealed. We won’t be satisfied with rulings limited to those who were paid to execute the crime and only two of the dogs of the Interior Ministry.”