CAIRO - Some of the Egyptian soccer fans who had a front-line
role in toppling Hosni Mubarak have a new target - the man who replaced him at
Egypt's helm, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi.
"We want your head,
you traitor Tantawi. You could have carved your name in history, but you were
arrogant and you believed Egypt and its people could take a step back and forget
their revolution," the Ultras Tahrir Square (UTS), a group of soccer fans, wrote
on its Facebook page.
The rage of these "ultras", as dedicated soccer
supporters are known, was sparked by a pitch invasion on Wednesday after a match
between Port Said's al-Masry and rival Al Ahli of Cairo, Egypt's most successful
club. In the violence that ensued, 74 people were killed and at least 1,000 were
For the ultras, as for many politicians and ordinary Egyptians,
the anger was not that soccer fans clashed but that security forces appeared to
have done little to stop them. It has added to the mounting frustration at the
army's failure to restore law and order almost a year after taking
"Today, the Marshal and the remnants of the regime send us a
clear message. We either have our freedom or they punish us and execute us for
participating in a revolution against tyranny," the group said in the statement,
quickly circulated online.
Residents of Port Said, as well as some
politicians and ultras themselves, feel the group was the target.
are very popular and respected among the revolutionaries," said 45-year-old Port
Said trader Ahmed Badr.
"The ultras were the target (on Wednesday). This
was a setup for them, a massacre. The military council and the security forces
are the only parties held accountable for such events." Ultras staying at the battlefront
employed years of experience dealing with police at matches to devastating
effect against Mubarak's security forces when they used heavy-handed tactics to
try to crush the revolt.
The ultras are not a single, coherent body.
Major soccer clubs each have their own ultras fan groups, such as Ultras Al Ahli
or Ultras White Knights, fans of Zamalek, another major Egyptian soccer club.
UTS, which said Tantawi was in its crosshairs, is a group of fans from various
clubs who united in Tahrir Square, the focus for revolutionary
Daring cat-and-mouse tactics by ultras, often teenagers or
men in their early 20s, and steadfastness at front-line barricades under tear
gas and rubber bullets wore the police down until they cracked. Within days of
the anti-Mubarak uprising erupting, the police were replaced by the
Since then, ultras have stayed at the battle-front, scuffling with
the army and police, in the upsurges of violence since Mubarak's downfall in and
around Tahrir, where protesters have demanded the army hand over power
immediately to civilians.
Ultras for months chanted in stadiums against
the army, sending their message into people's living rooms as ordinary Egyptians
turn on their televisions to watch matches. Many Egyptians, though worried by
lax security, still feel the army is still the best placed to keep
"Military police, you are dogs like the Interior Ministry. Write
it on the prison's walls, down down with military rule," one chant they coined
rings through stadiums.
Soccer fans on Thursday reflected the hardening
lines. "The people want the execution of the field marshal," thousands of
Egyptians chanted at Cairo's main train station early on Thursday as fans
returned from the Port Said match.Army, Tantawi mourn soccer deaths
Responding to the violence,
Tantawi said the army would not let anything derail the transition, which the
military says means handing over power to civilians before the end of June. He
also vowed to track down the culprits of Wednesday's violence.
statement announced three days of national mourning.
Ultras Al Ahli
responded with a statement on one of their Facebook pages saying that mourning
should not be just for the dead but "for everyone who lost his morals, mourning
for everyone who sold his soul, mourning for everyone who did not care for the
The violence flared on Wednesday after Al Ahli fans unfurled
banners insulting Port Said's al-Masry. One man went onto the pitch carrying an
iron bar at the end of the match, which al-Masry won 3-1. Al-Masry fans reacted
by pouring onto the pitch and attacking Ahli players before attacking fans on
the terraces. The police appeared to have no ability to stop it.
first time in the history of matches between these two teams, we did not find
police officers or state security. Police withdraw from the stadium and yes,
your plot is as clear to us as daylight," the UTS group said in its
Echoing condemnation by politicians, presidential candidate
Hamdeen Sabahy said those killed in Port Said were victims of "systematic
chaos". He said: "What happened was black vengeance against the Ultras because
of their role in the revolution."