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Dima Khatib writes on the prominent role played by the 'Ultras' football fans in the revolution, and speculation of regime complicity in the crowd violence at Wednesday's match.

Do you remember this?

Let me refresh your memory. It was on the 2 February 2011, one year ago. Tahrir Square was attacked by thugs on camels, horses and donkeys, which came all the way from the Pyramids, about 17 kilometers away. These clashes that lasted for hours and hours, being 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 up with toppling Hosni Mubarak on 11 February 2011.

Now look at this ! On 1 February 2012 :

So one year later, at a football stadium in the city of Port Said, chaos breaks after a football match and somehow violence ends up with a death toll of almost 80 people and almost 300 injured !

Now going back to that famous Camel Battle a year ago, anyone who was there that day in Tahrir would tell you that the Ultras showed amazing bravery in standing up to the thugs and protecting the protesters from them. 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 2 February. They were there from day 1 (25 January 2011) chanting, leading and protecting the protesters.

I did not know about them until I went to Egypt after Mubarak's fall. It was on 19 June 2011 that I first met an Ultra. It was on 19 June 2011 that I first heard an anti-SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) slogan too, chanted by the Ultra.


Ultras in Tahrir

It was outside the Military Prosecution's Office. A very small group of activists were gathered while journalist and activist Rasha Azab was being questioned inside. Civilians like Rasha were being tried, in the thousands, in military courts. The Ultra was chanting : Down with the Military Rule. I was impressed with his energy and internal force, especially in the heat of midday. I was melting in the sun while he never stopped chanting for the whole time that I was there.

Hardly anyone back then dared chant against the military, or even dared have bad thoughts about the military. The military was the one that "saved the day", "saved the people from Mubarak", "saveguarded the revolution", etc. The Army of Egypt was sacred in the heads of Egyptians.

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 because they were brave and were "real men".

Now back to the present. So many Ultras are dead. Suprisingly - or maybe not surprisingly - from Al Ahly football club. Al Ahly Ultras have been among the most vocal and most 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 and louder on TV stations and social media. Let's not forget that Egyptians have had quite an eventful week since 25 January 2012 when more people 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, continued sit-in outside State TV, etc.

In the beginning of this video you can see clearly how security forces stood by watching while violence was breaking at the stadium. Such footage coupled with countless accounts by witnesses with details of how things turned ugly only came to emphasise people's doubts that the ultras may have been tragetted.

Whether or not that is true, the damage is already done.

As the train from Port Said arrived at Cairo Station after 3am, carrying some of the Ultras, inlcuding injured ones, their family members and friends were waiting to see who would come out of the train, alive. Some did come out, safe and sound. Others came out injured. But some did not make it! It was a very emotional moment.

And.. thousands were gathered at the station.

The chanting was becoming 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 Mashall"

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.

From وريقـات من ديمة

Tagged under: Middle East
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