Egypt: Regime implicated in Port Said massacre

February 4, 2012

Do you remember what happened on February 2 last year? On that day, one year ago, Tahrir Square was attacked by thugs on camels, horses and donkeys.

These clashes, which lasted for hours and were watched live on TV all over the world, came to be known as the Camel Battle. It was an unforgettable day in Egypt's 18 days of protests that ended with the toppling of Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011.

One year later, on February 1 at a football stadium in the city of Port Said, chaos broke out after a football match and the violence led to a death toll of almost 80 people and almost 300 injured.

Anyone who was there the day of the Camel Battle in Tahrir would tell you that the “Ultras” ― organised groups of football fans ― showed amazing bravery in standing up to the thugs and protecting the protesters.

Yes, I am talking about football Ultras who usually spend their time and energy cheering and chanting for football teams.

In fact, Egypt's Ultras have played a very important role in the revolution, not just on February 2. They were there from day one (January 25, 2011) chanting, leading and protecting the protesters.

It was on June 19 last year, when I went to Egypt after Mubarak's fall, that I first met an Ultra. It was on that day I first heard an anti-SCAF (the governing Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) slogan too, chanted by the Ultra.

It was outside the Military Prosecution's Office. A very small group of activists were gathered as journalist and activist Rasha Azab was being questioned inside. Civilians such as Rasha were being tried, in their thousands, in military courts.

The Ultra was chanting: “Down with the military rule.” I was impressed with his energy and internal force. I was melting in the sun while he never stopped chanting for the whole time I was there.

Hardly anyone back then dared chant against the military. The military was the one that "saved the day", "saved the people from Mubarak", "safeguarded the revolution".

By early July, many more were chanting against the military rule and were camped in Tahrir Square. Ultras were there too.

One of them got me a tent to rest in on the first night while I was doing a “Night in Tahrir” story for Al Jazeera about the sit-in. He stood outside the tent to make sure nobody would harm or bother me.

Many female protesters told me they felt safer when Ultras were around.

Now after February 1, many Ultras are dead. Suprisingly ― or maybe not surprisingly ― from Al Ahly football club. Al Ahly Ultras have been among the most vocal and active revolutionaries.

As the news travelled around the world about those Ultras being killed and injured, many probably thought: oh this was just another hooligans fight. But in Egypt, conspiracy theories and accusations grew louder on TV stations and social media.

Let's not forget that Egyptians had quite an eventful week post January 25 ― when more protesters than ever before turned up at Tahrir Square.

That was followed by a major bank robbery, clashes between protesters and Muslim Brotherhood supporters outside parliament, and a continued sit-in outside the state TV building, among other incidents.

In video footage from the violence on February 1, you can see clearly how security forces stood by watching as violence broke out at the stadium.

Such footage, coupled with countless accounts by witnesses with details of how things turned ugly, only came to emphasise people's suspicions that the Ultras may have been targetted.

As the train from Port Said arrived at Cairo Station after 3am, carrying some of the Ultras, including injured ones, their family members and friends were waiting to see who would come out of the train alive.

Some came out safe and sound, others injured. But some did not make it.

It was a very emotional moment. And thousands were gathered at the station.

The chanting became louder and clearer: "Either we get their rights, or we die like them"; "Down with the military rule"; "The people want to execute the field marshal".

Ambulances took the injured to hospitals while the Ultras marched on to Tahrir Square, a square they know very well, a square where they have survived many battles before and are ready for any new ones to come.

It was yet another unforgettable day and an unforgettable ― sleepless ― night in Egyptians' long struggle for freedom.

[Abridged from .]

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.