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Dispatches From Cairo: Game of Death

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Posted on Feb 5, 2012
AP / Ahmed Gomaa

Egyptian fans set fire at the Cairo International Stadium following the news of the violence in the Port Said soccer match.

By Lauren Unger-Geoffroy

We asked Lauren Unger-Geoffroy, an international artist who lives in Cairo, to share her perspective of life in Egypt after the revolution. In this entry, amid breaking news and ongoing violence, she writes about Egypt’s stunned reaction to a soccer riot that killed scores of fans.

CAIRO—Oh, Egypt. Oh, Arab Spring. Another tailspin into the worst of expectations and reactions, the worst of reactionary strategies, the no-plan of emotional and boiling resistance, leaves us in a gray confusion of deception and distrust, with the young revolution holding a single, understandable focus in fury: Get out! Get out!

We have been in shock since Wednesday when the boldly rebellious and prone-to-violence “Ultras”—a national collection of fan clubs supporting clashing football [soccer] teams that has been at the front line of the revolution—fell into the easy trap of their own tendencies. Against a backdrop of past, frequent scuffles between opposing fans, the stage was set for a tragedy.

Now, there is gore on stadium seats, and post-riot images include a blood-soaked Reebok shoe lying against the fence, its lace trailing.

Seventy-six people were killed in 15 minutes at a football match, many of them innocent teenagers. More than a thousand were injured. A TV announcer yelled in horror “Oh God! What are they doing!” as thousands among the 20,000 Ultra fans of the Masry team, the winning team, incomprehensibly rushed the field after the final goal and chased and attacked the losing team, Cairo’s el Ahly, and its 2,000 Ultras and regular supporters. Many in the stadium rushed down to the field, either in panic or to participate in the mayhem. People were trampled and heads were smashed, people were stabbed. The lights went out. The TV announcer was shrieking and sobbing. Minutes before this insane violence started, the massive crowd had been chanting in unison “Down with the military regime!”


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At the same time this was transpiring at Port Said Stadium, a football match at Cairo International Stadium was halted and somehow the structure caught on fire. In that case, no deaths were reported.

* * *

The facts are these:

1. Port Said Stadium security personnel, who hold a grudge against the Ultras, did not keep out thugs who entered the stadium with bludgeons and knives and fireworks. Many Egyptians believe these thugs to have been hirelings of the government, men paid to create a distraction to bolster the agenda of military authorities.

2. The security people did not intervene when the Ultras rushed the field and began attacking the visiting Ahly team and its Ultra supporters, who some months ago trashed the Port Said Stadium.

3. Innocent spectators who could not escape were mowed down.

4. Security had padlocked a fence, preventing pursued spectators from escaping.

5. Stadium lights were turned off at the peak of the violence.

Doctors say most of the deaths and severe injuries in the riot were caused by concussions, cuts and suffocation.

The Ahly team and some of its supporters ended up barricaded in the team’s media room and locker room. TV spectators heard one player screaming, “Another guy just died in front of me in here!”

Across the country, Egyptians were in shock and sickened.

Call-in lines were set up for people to find out if relatives had survived the violence. A mother was on TV as she phoned from the Cairo train station, where she waited with thousands of others for the train returning from Port Said. When the names of the dead were announced, she heard that of her 17-year-old son. Her screams and sobs were heart-wrenching. Many of us wept throughout the night.

One military spokesman said, “We could not intervene, that was the job of the minister of the interior CSF [Central Security Forces]. We don’t want any confrontations with the people.”

It all stinks. All of the purported causes and conspiracy theories are sickening. There were more people killed last Wednesday night than in the worst night of the revolution.

In the three days after the riot, and since the first anniversary of the revolution’s terrible Jan. 28, 2011, a rare wave of crime occurred in Cairo—five bank robberies (one armored car), almost unheard of in Egypt; four kidnappings; three shootings. All so uncharacteristic and oddly clumped.

Egyptians are divided into those disgusted with the uncontrolled violence of the football fans and those whose anger is directed at the source of ongoing public frustration: the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Fifty-one people were eventually arrested in the stadium violence, and most Egyptians agree that the security personnel behaved poorly. An investigation is under way. Theories among the public about the cause of the bloodletting vary, but most center on the SCAF.

Thousands massed till 4 a.m. at the train station in Cairo to await the dead and the injured and other survivors returning from Port Said, and they marched the following day to Tahrir Square and the Ministry of the Interior. Many others sympathizing with them and frustrated with the regime’s suspected continued dissimulation and manipulation joined their number. There were similar demonstrations in Alexandria, Suez—all over Egypt. Once again, the people were in the street, in rage and armed with rocks, faces covered with gas masks in preparation for the confrontation they were itching for.

For some time now, on social networks and signs and in graffiti, many young men have been expressing a desire for martyrdom. It is a cultural phenomenon one must understand. Being a martyr, dying for a cause, is an honor. It is heroic. Life has no future, and martyrs are heroes revered and immortalized in media, on walls, in images for all the people, for history. Their families will be sad over their loss but honored. Heaven is assured for heroes.

Thus it was with leaden hearts that Egyptians expected the worst in the riot’s aftermath.

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By truedigger3, February 10, 2012 at 9:55 am Link to this comment

Re: By Mark E. Smith, February 10 at 12:30 am


With all due respect, no offense intended, your last post lacks logic and commonsense.
The US does not need “veneer” to support any government or dictators that are currently in favour. The world is full of dictators, kings and Sheikhs who are supported by the US without any “veneer” of “Democracy” whatsoever.
Mubarak was “elected” and there was a council of “elected” representatives.
The record of the US with its so called “friends” is dismal and not encouraging. The SCAF will not be the last “friend” of the US who get shafted.
The SCAF might fight for its survival and take a chance by confronting the Muslim Brotherhood head on and let the chips fall as may be. That requires resolve and acumen they might have it or might not.
Again as they say TIME WILL TELL.

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Mark E. Smith's avatar

By Mark E. Smith, February 10, 2012 at 1:30 am Link to this comment

Sorry, Truedigger, but that’s not how the US government does things.

When the US government wanted regime change in Iraq, it invaded Iraq.

When the US government wanted regime change in Libya, it invaded Libya.

If the US government wanted regime change in Egypt, it wouldn’t be talking about elections, it would be dropping bombs.

Don’t listen to what they say, watch what they do.

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By truedigger3, February 10, 2012 at 1:15 am Link to this comment

Re:By Mark E. Smith, February 9 at 8:56 pm

Mark Smith wrote:
The US is sending $1.3 billion a year to SCAF, not to the Muslim Brotherhood. The US is sending weapons to SCAF, not to the Muslim Brotherhood.

That was in the past and now it is a NEW CHAPTER. The relation between SCAF and the US is deteriorating rapidly as the US is insisting that the SCAF relinquish power to the “democratically elected” party which is the Muslim Brothehood Party “Freedom and justice” and is threatening SCAF of cutting the yearly $1.3 Billion and who knows maybe much worse threats.
As they say TIME WILL TELL and again I hope I am wrong because Egypt and many people are liable to get severely hurt if the Muslim Brotherhood assume power in Egypt. I hope I am wrong.

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By Mark E. Smith, February 9, 2012 at 9:56 pm Link to this comment

Truedigger, the US in not bent on bringing the Muslim Brotherhood to power. The US wants the Muslim Brotherhood to play the part that the Democrats and Republicans play in the US, as puppets of the ruling military junta, obedient to the ruling military junta, giving the ruling military junta everything it wants, constantly increasing the military junta’s budget, and providing a sham “civilian government” to make it look as if there’s a democracy instead of a ruling military junta.

If you want to understand what the US really wants, follow the money. The US is sending $1.3 billion a year to SCAF, not to the Muslim Brotherhood. The US is sending weapons to SCAF, not to the Muslim Brotherhood. And look up the word “power” in the dictionary. Power does not mean either obeying a military junta or being assassinated as JFK was. The real power in the US is the military-industrial complex and the multinational corporations it serves, not the impotent puppet civilian government it controls.

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By truedigger3, February 9, 2012 at 8:41 pm Link to this comment

Re: By Mark E. Smith, February 9 at 6:17 pm


I didn’t equate wise with right! There is a big difference.
You are partially right but not totally right!
Of course I know that “friendship” in international politics does not gurarantee anything, especially with the all mighty powerful, as history proved.
Do you have any practical alternative. Did you want Egypt to confront the US and face immediate destruction or hope for the best since history sometime takes unexpected turns!.
As I said the US is hellbent on shafting the SCAF and bringing to power the Muslim Brotherhood, which will signal a very dark destructive period in Egypt future. The prognosis for Egypt is not good at all and I hope I am wrong!

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By Mark E. Smith, February 9, 2012 at 7:17 pm Link to this comment

Truedigger, the US trains SCAF officers, pays SCAF $1.3 billion a year, and supplied SCAF with more than twenty tons of tear gas just before the “elections.”

If you think it is a wise policy to maintain good relations with the US because it is the world’s only superpower, you must believe that might makes right. Do you? Do you prefer scorpions to butterflies because scorpions are more powerful? Would you rather have scorpions than butterflies in your garden?

Many countries tried to maintain good relations with the US. Iraq did, Libya did, but in the end it didn’t help them at all. As John Foster Dulles once said, “The US doesn’t have friends, it has interests.” It may be in the US interest to befriend you one day and the next day it may not. Scorpions are more powerful than butterflies, but they don’t make good friends and it isn’t wise to get too close to them.

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By truedigger3, February 9, 2012 at 4:10 pm Link to this comment

Re:By Mark E. Smith, February 7 at 8:42 pm

Mark Smith wrote:
“SCAF is kept in power, armed, trained, and paid by the US to protect Israel.”


On what basis you are basing such false and unfair accusation.
Yes, the policy of Egypt in the last 30 years was and is peaceful coexistence with Israel and consequently good relations with the US which was and is the wise policy since the US is the only Super Power in the world!!
SCAF is the only glue that is holding Egypt together.
Unfortunately, the US is hell bent on bringing the Radical Islamist the Muslim Brotherhood to power which will signal a dark future,  bloodshed and destruction to Egypt first of them is the loss of Sinai Penninsula in contrived war provoked by Israel.

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zoskia's avatar

By zoskia, February 9, 2012 at 2:43 pm Link to this comment  An interesting,short interview with DR Gene Sharp and the BBC…About Violence and repressive governments.

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By Mark E. Smith, February 7, 2012 at 9:42 pm Link to this comment

What is going on in Syria appears to be a repeat of what happened in Libya.

In Libya we were told that Gaddafi had killed peaceful protesters. It turned out to be a lie and the “peaceful protesters” turned out to be violent Al Quedah terrorists trained by the CIA who had violently attacked the Libyan government. 100,000 deaths later, with Libyan oil in the control of western corporations and the Libyans deprived of their drinking water, which Gaddafi had spent billions to provide, and the free health care, higher education, housing, and other benefits he had given them before the US invasion, when Libya had the highest standard of living in Africa, the truth is starting to come out.

I’m sorry that some Egyptians are apparently falling for the same scenario again in Syria. Most of those I follow on Twitter have not—this time they recognize CIA propaganda for what it is. But then I work diligently at unfollowing the gullible, so my Twitter timeline is different from others.

Whatever Assad may have or may not have done, it is nothing compared to what will happen if the US and NATO are allowed to invade Syria. There were a few of us back when the Libyan propaganda began and the CIA-trained “rebels” were asking for NATO intervention, who kept trying to remind them of Iraq, but they already knew about Iraq and they wanted to do the same to Libya, which they did.

I guess you can fool some of the people all of the time.

SCAF is kept in power, armed, trained, and paid by the US to protect Israel.

Neither US Americans nor Egyptians can ever dream of the benefits that Libyans had under Gaddafi. Assad isn’t that benevolent, but he does have a lot of support in Syria, and if the US and NATO go in and slaughter a few hundred thousand Syrians, the survivors will cherish his name.

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By Howard, February 7, 2012 at 2:20 pm Link to this comment

well, tuf to make the usual complaint that its all
Israel’s fault.
  THEN there would be 678 comments !

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By gerard, February 7, 2012 at 1:41 pm Link to this comment

When we don’ comment, it isn’t because we are not interested, concerned, worried.

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