Egypt soccer tragedy ‘polically motivated’
Cairo – Egyptian opposition lawmaker Amr Hamzawi believes Wednesday’s deadly rioting, following a football game in the coastal city of Port Said, was deliberate and politically motivated, to keep the country’s military rulers in power.
“It was premeditated chaos, aimed at making the Egyptians cower in fear and stop demanding that the military cede power,” Hamzawi said.
Seventy-one people were killed in the violence that began when fans of the home side, al-Masri, invaded the pitch seconds after their side won 3-1 against the Cairo-based al-Ahli team.
The win was the first by al-Masri over al-Ahli, one of Egypt’s top clubs, in 20 years.
State television showed footage of fans chasing al-Ahli players and supporters as riot police stood by, watching.
“The interior minister must go. And the [ruling] Supreme Council of the Armed Forces should go too. Egypt cannot stand more bloodshed,” added Hamzawi, one of very few liberals to win in recent parliamentary elections, which were swept by Islamists.
The opposition is sharply critical of the military junta, which has controlled the country since a popular revolt forced former president Hosny Mubarak to step down last year.
Protest groups have been camping out in central Cairo’s Tahrir Square for more than a week now, demanding that the military rulers transfer power immediately to a civilian administration.
They accuse the military of mishandling the transitional period and of being tainted by human rights abuses.
Wednesday’s violence, the worst ever in Egypt’s football history, is also seen by the opposition as an attempt to revive 30-year-old emergency laws, partially abolished last month.
Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim told parliament on Tuesday that these laws were necessary to re-establish security in the country, hard hit by turmoil that followed the revolt against Mubarak.
“What happened in Port Said was not a mere coincidence, given it occurred just a day after the minister’s talk about the importance of the emergency laws,” said Zyad al-Aleemi, a young lawmaker affiliated to a protest group.
“It is the latest in a series of happenings planned to punish the Egyptians for their revolution against the Mubarak regime,” he added.
Opposition and human rights groups say that, before Wednesday’s mayhem, around 90 people had been killed by the police and army since the military took over last February.
The head of the ruling military council, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, said on Thursday that an investigation would be conducted and those responsible for the violence would be punished.
“Those planning to destabilise Egypt will not succeed,” state television quoted Tantawi as saying, without elaborating.
“We are going ahead as planned,” he added, referring to a pledge by the junta to hand over power to an elected president by July.
He announced a three-day national mourning period over the Port Said tragedy.
Tantawi served as defence minister under Mubarak for 20 years. The opposition claims he is part of the toppled regime and demands that he resign too.
The Muslim Brotherhood – Egypt’s biggest political group, holding nearly half of the newly elected legislature – disagrees with calls to oust the military.
While believing that the Port Said violence was planned in advance, Essam al-Erian, a senior official in the group, blamed it on Mubarak’s loyalists.
“Before his ousting, Mubarak warned that chaos would prevail after him. This incident is part of this conspiracy, which should not go unpunished.”