On Wednesday evening, al-Masry, a club from the city of Port Said based in the East of Egypt welcomed al-Ahly, Egypt’s reigning champions. Al-Ahly are very much the Manchester United of the Egyptian Premier League (EPL), holding the record number of league titles.
After a comprehensive 3-1 victory for the hosts, supporters from al-Masry got onto the pitch and marched to the other end of the stadium to confront the away supporters. What happened next were scenes of destruction and devastation, reminiscent of the protests in Egypt around a year ago.
Ever since Hosni Mubarak resigned on the 11th February 2011, the nation has been under military rule. While media attention focused on other uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa in 2011, there has still been tension and rioting in the country mainly due the lack of progress in initialising a civilian Government.
This incident underlines the social unrest still prevalent in the country, but also shows the different factions that are appearing in the post-Mubarak world. The police in Egypt have been heavily criticised for not regulating the al-Masry and al-Ahly game and some (including the Ultras of al-Ahly) see it as retribution for the violence that the police have received over the past year.
Sport in general is perceived as an activity that should be devoid of any politics; as the saying goes ‘let the talking be done on the pitch’. So after what happened at the Port Said Stadium on Wednesday, the world must be wondering how Egypt is going to create a new infrastructure that will prevent violence like this from happening again.
Another consequence from the game was more riots in Cairo, in which even more people were killed. With this level of hostility among the citizens, it would be a mistake for the season to continue as more people could lose their lives.
However, in the continent of Africa football is very much the topic of conversation with Gabon and Equatorial Guinea currently hosting the 2012 African Cup of Nations, Egypt did not qualify. Therefore the country has no focus in sporting terms and the EPL stopping for a second season in a row would possibly make the citizens even more disillusioned with society. Watching local football can be a release and alternative to what is happening in other areas of the community.
Egypt has a history of hooliganism with more aggressive sections of fans affiliated to some of the larger teams in the EPL causing disturbances in recent years. However, Wednesday’s incident and the continued confrontations that have followed are some of the most shocking and damning in the history of global sport. When football and politics come together they can promote peace and prosperity, however this week’s actions show how this formula can be manipulated.
When Egypt does gain a fixed Government, hopefully its league football can return to what it’s supposed to be – a democratic ritual enjoyed by the masses.