Ultras bolster protesters in battles on Cairo’s Tahrir Square

Mil­i­tant soc­cer fans bol­stered this week­end the ranks of demon­stra­tors in Cairo’s Tahrir Square demand­ing an end to mil­i­tary rule in a re-enact­ment of the protests that oust­ed Pres­i­dent Hos­ni Mubarak in February. 

Like ear­ly this year, the ultras – mil­i­tant, high­ly politi­cised, vio­lence-prone fan groups mod­elled on sim­i­lar orga­ni­za­tions in Ser­bia and Italy – took the lead in con­fronting mil­i­tary police seek­ing to clear Tahrir Square. With­in an hour of their arrival on late Sat­ur­day after­noon, police retreat­ed from the square as bat­tles con­tin­ued for sev­er­al hours on the side streets. 

“The Ultras are here. I know that because they’re the only ones fac­ing the CSF (Egypt’s para­mil­i­tary Cen­tral Secu­ri­ty Force) with force while singing their (anti-secu­ri­ty police) hymns,” tweet­ed a pro­test­er from Tahrir. “The ultras are kick­ing the police’s ass,” tweet­ed anoth­er protester. 

The ultra’s sayaadin or hunters sim­i­lar to the bat­tles in Feb­ru­ary on Sun­day hurled tear gas can­is­ters fired by the police back into the ranks of the law enforcers. The tac­tic that worked against Mr. Mubarak’s police and secu­ri­ty forces ear­ly this year failed how­ev­er to stop the mil­i­tary police from forc­ing demon­stra­tors out of the square in a mass stampede. 

Nonethe­less, once they had regrouped, the ultras led thou­sands of pro­test­ers back into Tahrir. The ultras quick­ly erect­ed bar­ri­cades in prepa­ra­tion of expect­ed fur­ther clash­es that this week­end caused at least one death and the injur­ing of hun­dreds of others. 

Pro­test­ers had called for the street bat­tle-hard­ened ultras to join them as the bat­tle for Tahrir raged through the after­noon on Sat­ur­day, with skir­mish­es spread­ing through Cairo’s war­ren of tight streets and small­er squares. 

The ultras — sup­port­ers of arch rival, crowned Cairo clubs Al Ahly SC and Al Zamalek SC – played a key role in the protests that top­pled Mr. Mubarak. They have since been vocal in their demand that the mil­i­tary which suc­ceed­ed the oust­ed pres­i­dent stick to its pledge to lead Egypt to elec­tions with­in six months. That timetable has already slipped with the first stage of elec­tions sched­uled for Novem­ber 28, nine months after the down­fall of Mr. Mubarak. 

Ultras have clashed repeat­ed­ly with secu­ri­ty forces in recent months and in Sep­tem­ber led pro­test­ers in an attack on the Israeli embassy in Cairo that forced Israel to evac­u­ate its diplo­mat­ic per­son­nel. Israel’s ambas­sador returned to the Egypt­ian cap­i­tal this weekend. 

Fuelled by a belief that they own the sta­di­um as the only uncon­di­tion­al sup­port­ers of their team, the ultras gar­nered their street fight­ing expe­ri­ence in years of week­ly bat­tles with the police and rival fans. Much like hooli­gans in Britain whose atti­tudes were shaped by the decay­ing con­di­tion of sta­di­ums, Egypt­ian ultras were dri­ven by the Mubarak regime’s attempt to con­trol their space by turn­ing it into a vir­tu­al fortress ringed by black steel. 

The strug­gle for con­trol pro­duced a com­plete break­down, social decay in a micro­cosm. If the space was expend­able, so was life. As a result, mil­i­tant fans would con­front the police each week­end with total aban­don­ment. It was that aban­don­ment that won them the respect of many Egyp­tians and that they brought ear­ly this year and again on Sun­day to Tahrir Square. It was also cou­pled with their street bat­tle expe­ri­ence what enabled them to help pro­test­ers ear­ly this year break down bar­ri­ers of fear that had kept them from con­fronting the regime in the past and cement­ed resolve this week­end on Tahrir Square. 

The join­ing of forces of arch rival ultras from Ahly and Zamalek, who for much of the past decade fought one anoth­er vicious­ly ear­ly this year in the strug­gle to top­ple Mr. Mubarak and again this week­end serves as an indi­ca­tion of how deep-seat­ed the demand is for the mil­i­tary to relin­quish control. 

Dis­il­lu­sion with the mil­i­tary that was cel­e­brat­ed at the time of Mr. Mubarak’s demise because of its refusal to back the pres­i­dent and open fire on the demon­stra­tors has been under­mined by the fact that the mil­i­tary since tak­ing over the reins has stum­bled from cri­sis to cri­sis and extend­ed the peri­od for a han­dover of pow­er until 2013 when Egyp­tians will elect their pres­i­dent on the basis of a new con­sti­tu­tion to be draft­ed by an elect­ed con­stituent assem­bly. Anger at the mil­i­tary was fuelled by the military’s tabling ear­ly this month of supra-con­sti­tu­tion­al prin­ci­ples that it want­ed to be bind­ing on the com­mis­sion that will draft the new con­sti­tu­tion and that would have allowed the armed forces to impose their ver­sion of democ­ra­cy based on con­tin­ued military. 

About The Author:
James M. Dorsey is a senior fel­low at the S. Rajarat­nam School of Inter­na­tion­al Stud­ies at Nanyang Tech­no­log­i­cal Uni­ver­si­ty in Sin­ga­pore and the author of the blog, The Tur­bu­lent World of Mid­dle East Soc­cer.

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist GlobalDefence.net im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. GlobalDefence.net war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →