Hardcore soccer fans driving force behind Egypt violence

The World

Story by Ursula Lindsey, PRI’s The World. Listen to audio for full report.

Friday was a long, hot, busy day in Cairo. As darkness fell, protests were taking place in Tahrir (against the proposed election law and suspected collusion/incompetence in Mubarak’s trial) and in front of the High Court (in favor of judicial independence). Young, energetic, overwhelmingly male crowds were also busy knocking down the recently erected protective wall around the Israeli Embassy and reportedly removing the large eagle motif and most of the letters from the wall of the Ministry of Interior, leaving anti-army and anti-police graffiti in its place.

A lot of these young men were reportedly soccer ultras. These obsessive and aggressive fans – who have experience clashing with the police – were also at the vanguard of a lot of the revolution’s fighting. In fact, I heard so much about them that I sat down with one, a Zamalek White Knight, a few months back.

A self-described anarchist, “G” has shoulder-length hair, and a sweet, shambling manner. I wouldn’t have guessed his long and deep familiarity with violence. Police beatings broke one of his eardrums, afer a soccer match, and his jaw, after a demonstration (he is a rare ultra/activist – most fans are not overtly political, with the exception of the Palestinian cause). He also got shot in the leg on January 28. He says ultras are “freedom fighters” and “against everyone” – especially any figure or sign of authority. The revolution, in its early days, “was a fight with the police, and that’s our fight.” Ultras, he says “don’t give a [expletive] about politics or the stability of the country. Zamalek is our country and Al Ahly is their country.”

It’s thanks to him that I know that the acronym A.C.A.B. — which I know notice everywhere on the walls of Cairo — means “All Cops Are Bastards.”

Zamalek and Al Ahly — the two Cairo teams whose rivalry in Egypt is historic and identity-defining — came together Friday to take on the police (who seemingly decided to skip the date) after huge clashes a few days ago following a soccer match at the end of which the police reportedly shut off the lights and charged the stands. What drove them to it? Apparently, this chant by Ahlawy ultras:

The incredibly disciplined and terrifying hyped-up fans are chanting:

“He was always a loser, a jest/he barely got 50 percent on his high-school test/with a bribe the rich kid’s a fool no more/got 100 diplomas hanging on his door/You crows nesting in our house/why are you ruining all our fun? We won’t do as you tell us/Spare us your face/Cook up your case/That’s what the Interior does/I’m arrested and charged as a terrorist/Just for holding a flare and singing Ahly.”

The chant is one long taunt of police officers, the “losers” who have to bribe their way through life and who fabricate charges against anyone they lay hands on. This follows on a much more foul-mouthed gem of a chant from the Zamalek White Knights, performed shortly after the revolution.

The words are: “We haven’t forgotten Tahrir, you [expletive]! The revolution was your naksah [catastrophe], we’ll tell anyone, officers, pimps, you took a beating like you haven’t had in years.”

In the end, most of the ultras’ violent energy got focused on the Israeli Embassy on Friday. Which seems pretty convenient for the authorities (although now, as diplomatic and political repercussions make themselves felt, they may think so less). If the embassy hadn’t been there, what might they have torn down?

Read the full report at TheWorld.org.


PRI’s “The World” is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. “The World” is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. More about The World.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.