EGYPT: Deadly riots at soccer stadium, at least 73 dead, 1,000 injured

RIOTS that broke out after a soccer match in Egypt’s Port Said  is the worst incident of soccer violence in Egypt and the deadliest worldwide since 1996. One player said it was “like a war.”

National Post  4A security official said the violence erupted as soon as the referee blew the final whistle. Fans of Al-Masri, which beat Al-Ahly 3-0, invaded the pitch and began to throw rocks, bottles and fireworks at the Al-Ahly fans.

Reports keep changing about the number of dead and injured after soccer fans rushed the field in the seaside city of Port Said Wednesday following an upset victory by the home team over Egypt’s top club, setting off clashes and a stampede as riot police largely failed to intervene.

It was a bloody reminder of the deteriorating security in the Arab world’s most populous country as instability continues nearly a year after former President Hosni Mubarak was swept out of power in a popular uprising.

The melee – which followed an Egyptian league match between Al-Masry, the home team in the Mediterranean city, and Al-Ahly, based in Cairo and one of Egypt’s most popular team – was the worst case of soccer violence in Egypt and the deadliest worldwide since 1996. One player said it was “like a war.”

In Cairo, fans angered that another match between Al-Ismaili and Zamalek was halted because of the Port Said violence set fire to the bleachers at the main stadium in the Egyptian capital, authorities said. 

The clashes and ensuing stampede did not appear to be directly linked to the political turmoil in Egypt, but the violence raised fresh concerns about the ability of the state police to manage crowds. Most of the hundreds of black-uniformed police with helmets and shields stood in lines and did nothing as soccer fans chased either, some wielding sharp objects and others hurling sticks and rocks.

Security officials said the ministry has issued directives for its personnel not to “engage” with civilians after recent clashes between police and protesters in November left more than 40 people dead.

The violence also underscored the role of soccer fans in Egypt’s recent protest movement. Organized fans, in groups known as ultras, have played an important role in the revolution and rallies against military rule. Their anti-police songs, peppered with curses, have quickly become viral and an expression of the hatred many Egyptians feel toward security forces that were accused of much of the abuse that was widespread under Mubarak’s regime.

Essam el-Erian, a Muslim Brotherhood lawmaker, said the military and police were complicit in the violence, accusing them of trying to stop critics demanding an end to state of emergency that give security forces wide-ranging powers.

The manager of the Al-Masry, Kamal Abu Ali, announced he also was resigning in protest. “This is not about soccer. This is bigger than that. This is a plot to topple the state,” he told the same station, using an often-cited allegation by the military against protesters.