At least 16 killed as Egyptian protests over football sentences turn deadly

By IndepthAfrica
In Egypt
Jan 26th, 2013
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At least 16 are killed in Port Said after 21 defendants are sentenced to death over clashes between rival fans last year

Egyptian fans of Al Masry football club protest outside the Port Said prison

Egyptian fans of Al Masry football club protest outside the Port Said prison against the death sentences of the 21 men held inside. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

At least 16 people have been killed in the Egyptian city of Port Said amid violent protests that followed a court’s sentencing of 21 people to death on charges related to clashes between rival football fans last year.

Those killed on Saturday morning included two policemen shot dead at a prison in the north-eastern city where demonstrators had gathered to protest against the death sentences of the 21 men held inside. There are reports that more than 200 people have been injured.

The Egyptian army has deployed armoured personnel carriers and military police on the streets of the city.

The death sentences, which were announced live on television, relate to clashes in Port Said on 1 Febraury 2012 after Cairo’s Al Ahly beat the local team, Al Masry. Supporters of Al Masry attacked Al Ahly fans, causing a stampede for the exits. The police did not intervene in the violence except to switch off the stadium lights, and in the confusion the Cairo fans were crushed as crowds pushed against a locked gate which gave way under the pressure. Seventy-four people were killed.

Fans in Cairo cheered the verdict as those in Port Said protested, blocking streets and attacking police.

The death sentences must be confirmed by the grand mufti, Egypt‘s senior religious authority, and can also be appealed. A further 52 defendants are to be sentenced in March, including nine security officials.

Many football fans have taken a leading role in wider political protests over the past two years, often forming the vanguard of violent resistance to the police and army. Supporters of Al Ahly and Al Masry believe that former members of Hosni Mubarak’s regime helped instigate the Port Said violence, and that the police were responsible for gross negligence at the very least.

Judge Sobhi Abdel-Maguid said in his statement that he would announce the verdict for the remaining 52 defendants, and explain his decision to impose the death sentence, on 9 March.

In recent days, Al Ahly fans had warned of bloodshed and retribution, and hundreds gathered outside the Cairo football club in anticipation of the verdict, chanting against the police and the government.

“This was necessary,” said Nour al-Sabah, whose 17-year-old son Ahmed Zakaria died in the melee. “Now I want to see the guys with my own eyes when they are executed, just as they saw the murder of my son.”

But the lawyer of one of the defendants sentenced to death said the verdict was nothing more than “a political decision to calm the public”.

“There is nothing to say these people did anything and we don’t understand what this verdict is based on,” said Mohammed al-Daw, a Port Said resident.

The verdict comes after a day of deadly clashes between security forces and protesters opposed to Egypt’s Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi. The clashes continued into Saturday morning in several Egyptian cities as thousands of demonstrators protested against Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood and police brutality on the second anniversary of the start of the revolution that forced Mubarak from power.

The military was also deployed overnight in the city of Suez after eight people died in clashes between security forces and protesters opposed to Morsi.

On Friday, at least seven people died in Suez and 379 were injured across the country as riots broke out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and cities including Alexandria, Mahalla, and Ismailia. Police fired tear gas across much of central Cairo and protesters pelted them with stones, bringing parts of the city’s road and metro networks to a standstill.

According to Tahrir Bodyguards, a group protecting female protesters, at least nine women were sexually assaulted in the square.

Hisham Abdel-Latif, another protester who took part in one of several feeder marches that snaked their way towards Tahrir from the Cairene suburbs, said Egyptians were “now ruled by a gang that is exactly the same as the Mubarak gang, except they now have beards”.

One of the stone-throwers, Karim Ali, said it was revenge for the protesters killed by police since 2011. “The police are behaving the same as they did during the Mubarak years,” he said.

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