Cairo Burning: The Great Soccer Riots of 2013 and the Revolution

Some two thousand angry youth in Port Said attempted to block ferries and sent speedboats into the canal zone, aiming at disrupting shipping in the Suez Canal on Saturday (they failed), while in Cairo soccer ruffians angry about a court verdict set fire to the HQ of the Egyptian Soccer Federation and to a nearby police club. The new round of violence was sparked by an appeals court ruling on soccer violence from a year ago, but was wrought up with post-revolutionary passions and divisions in Egypt.

Since these events were predictable, President Muhammad Morsi’s inability to prevent the violence was seen by many observers as a sign of his weakness and lack of organization. Policing in Egypt is in crisis because many police feel unfairly treated in post-revolution Egypt, saying they are blamed for trying to keep order, and many decline any longer to do so, staying in their barracks on a kind of work slowdown. Many of these police spent years repressing the Muslim Brotherhood, which has now come to power, and so don’t have good relations with their own president.

In February of 2012, a massive soccer riot broke out at the Port Said stadium, in which more than 70 people were killed in a stampede. The ultras or soccer ruffians of the visiting al-Ahly team were known as stalwarts of the 2011 revolution against the Hosni Mubarak regime. (Soccer ruffians are always having run-ins with the police and security officials, and therefore formed a natural ally of the revolutionaries, often organizing to guard Tahrir Square.) The suspicion was that Port Said officials and the Ministry of the Interior, tied to the old regime, had paid the Green Eagle ultras who support Port Said’s al-Masri team to attack the al-Ahly fans who had come from Cairo, as a form of payback for the revolution. In essence, the Green Eagles were charged with playing the reactionary role in the Egyptian Revolution of Benedict Arnold in the American, or of the Vendee in the French.

I had personally suspected that the theory of the soccer ruffians provoking the riot and stampede as revenge on the al-Ahly ultras for the revolution was a conspiracy theory. But the Egyptian courts took it seriously. This winter, the court sentenced many of the over 70 accused Green Eagle ultras to death, and also found some security officials guilty.

In the appeals verdict that came down on Saturday, however, the police were largely let off the hook (only 2 of 9 accused were sentenced), while 21 of the death sentences were reaffirmed and 28 other accused soccer ruffians were acquitted. The result pleased no one. Port Said, which has been in virtual rebellion since the initial verdict, saw more protests at the port on the canal, as the army moved in to provide security and the police in the city were virtually decommissioned because of charges of systematic brutality against demonstrators.

Egypt Independent has a smart run-down of how the various Egyptian newspapers and political tendencies are covering the fires and violence.

Aljazeera English reports on the violence in Egypt:

The Egyptian revolution of 2011 was about many things, but aspiration for a better deal for youth, the unemployed and workers was one driver of it. That aspiration has not been met.

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3 Responses

  1. I find it amazing (still) that a ‘sport’ like association football^ is responsible for so much violence around the World. Of course, the obvious conclusion is that it has to do with the perfidious Albions, they who initiated codification of a ‘sport’ in order to peacefully settle intergroup rivalries.* But, in characteristic fashion, they succeeded only in creating more problems than the ‘sport’ could ever hope to solve. One might wonder if this is because association football is one of the most boring spectator sports ever devised, leaving the spectators more fanatical due to having spent so much time watching groups of players running one way while moving a ball then running the other way, back and forth and back and forth, with so little to show for their efforts at the end of the matches.

    It’s not a difficult thought process to see that the ‘sport’ is related to the orginators’ penchant for exporting violence from their realms to other countries, thereby bringing to the otherwise unwitting new subjects of conquest a new level of ‘sophistication’ that has now become a World-wide phenomenon, that of organising a ‘sport’ for the express purpose of destablising the social orders into which it has been introduced, that of devolving the breakdown of social mores to subjugated peoples.

    There has been, apparently, an inherent confusion wrought by the perpetrators and promoters of the ‘sport,’ that of being unable to distinguish between ‘peace’ and ‘boredom.’ Because the terms have not been satisfactorily defined and explained at the source of the problem, the result has been to export not the benefits of ‘peace’ but the inevitable consequences of ‘boredom’ (restlessness, agitation, and the like) to countries and societies that are less well equipped to manage the anxieties among themselves. This is seen often enough when ‘Western’ influences are visited upon societies evolved from different perspectives.

    And, the consequences? Now, Egypt – for one- is reeling from their efforts of the ‘Arab Spring,’ only needing slight pressure to begin venting their hostilities about various issues that affect their nascent renaissance, not-so-ironically demonstrated in the recent association football crisis. So, from a ‘sport,’ the activities at the events have taken on political dimensions extending beyond the stadium grounds into the communities as a whole. And, who benefits? The Egyptians? Or, the cabal of countries that seek to ultimately benefit from developing and yet unstable nations – like Egypt – remaining smeared with the blood shed in a ‘friendly competition.’ And, can we wonder what the cabals’ real ‘sport’ is?

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  2. This is the kind of thing the Great Game players miss as they plan out out how their own game is going to go. “No problem” gives way later to “I didn’t realize”. Of course they never think of everything and it comes back as a big unexpected body count for those who cheer and follow such arrogance, and those who got in the way because they lived on teh gameboard. Blair (bad Saddam), Bush (opportunity knocks), Wolfowitz (they’re all wrong,it will pay for itself), Rummy (known, unknown, partly known, guessing), the Neocon shakers and assorted Generals, all had to backtrack, hopefully on page 19. Cheney, no; never admit anything. There were quite a few “I didn’t realize’s” after the Iraq debacle, but those never get the media attention given to “This is how it’s going to go.” Or “A little destabilization might not be a bad thing”. It’s all so complicated now downstream of the Arab Spring, compared to how simple it sounded coming from the Bush team.

  3. Could it maybe be just another manifestation of tribal identification, coupled to the activities of that other part of the brain’s limbic system, the amygdala? Ever been in a Big 10 or PAC 8 college town or (name the major city with an MLB or NFL team) after a “big win?” How about a “rock event” or a large First Amendment gathering, where the COPS might be the “in-group” doing the clubbing and stomping? Humans do this kind of stuff. There’s some effort to understand the “why,” in part because there’s POWER in the behavior if it can be directed, but so little effort to figure out how to defuse the occasions and diffuse all that horrific energy…

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