Since the country’s revolution, the relationship between Egyptian police and sports fans has been extremely tense.
The death of Zamalek sports club fans on Sunday has expanded the cycle of violence in Egyptian sports. The last deadly sports event took place in February of 2012, when more than 70 fans of Al-Ahli sports club, Egypt’s most popular football club, were killed in a similar stampede at the Port Said Stadium.
On the third anniversary of the Port Said “massacre”, Al Ahli Ultras wrote on their Facebook page: “Three years have passed since 72 men were martyred. Their memory will always remain in our hearts. Three years without accountability until now. We will neither forget not forgive.”
Since the January 25 uprising in 2011, the relationship between Egypt’s police and sports fans known as Ultras has been very tense. The Ultras led anti-regime protests and were thought to have played a major role in breaking down the police forces on January 28, 2011, leading to the downfall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime.
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Since the fourth anniversary of the Egyptian revolution, the country has witnessed a general surge in violence. According to Human Rights Watch, at least 20 protesters were killed during demonstrations marking the anniversary.
New protest groups, such as the “Revolutionary Punishment”, were formed to create an “armed revolution against military dictatorship”. The group has claimed responsibility for several attacks on police and military personnel and institutions in Cairo, Alexandria and other provinces.
In Sinai, a coordinated attack on various military and police sites on January 29 by groups affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Syria (ISIL) killed more than 40 people, raising Egyptians’ fears that the strategic peninsula could be slipping out of government control. An October attack by the same group left more than 30 military members dead.
Reacting to Sunday’s events, Zamalek club fans, known as the White Knights, in a Facebook post accused police of plotting a “massacre” against them: “A planned massacre. A conspiracy prepared by wicked people.”
The expanding cycle of violence could not have come at a more sensitive time for the regime of Abdel Fatah el-Sisi, who is struggling to portray an image of a stable Egypt to attract foreign investment at an international donors conference next month.
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The call to hold the conference was initiated by the late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, immediately after Sisi took office. Analysts say it was an indication of the commitment by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf counties to support the Egyptian regime. Holding the conference became an end in itself, as Egypt’s economy continued to suffer on various levels, including the rising deficit and debt, as well as the decreasing value of the Egyptian pound to the dollar.
The conference became a bedrock of Sisi’s political propaganda and economic plans. Some investors even suggested Sisi should postpone parliamentary elections, due to be held in March, to maintain an image of a politically stable Egypt ahead of the economic conference.
In the last few weeks, pro-revolution parties who led the opposition against Mohamed Morsi’s rule have said they would not take part in the upcoming parliamentary elections. These include al-Doustor Party, founded by Mohamed al-Baradei; the Strong Egypt Party, headed by former presidential candidate Abdel Monem Aboul Fotouh; and the Popular Current Party, founded by Hamdeen Sabahi, the only candidate to run against Sisi.
Growing disenchantment with Sisi regime, coupled with the increasing violence, is fuelling concerns in Egypt. And despite several local and international calls to restrain the country’s security forces, they have continued to act with impunity.
VIDEO: Al Jazeera World: Ultras
On Sunday night, as Egyptians were glued to their television sets to follow news of the deadly events, activists expressed outrage at how prominent pro-regime media pundits reacted.
As the game continued as planned, despite the large number of casualties among fans outside of the stadium, one TV presenter was quick to blame the fans and call for their prosecution.
“There are people who are going to create trouble … When we speak to them nicely and softly, we give them the wrong message,” the presenter said. “We send them the message that they can do anything and they will not be jailed for it. I tell you now: The public prosecutor will have no mercy on anyone.”