The resumption of league football in Egypt this coming weekend, after a year’s suspension, remains in doubt after the declaration of a partial state of emergency following fatal weekend riots in the wake of the Port Said stadium verdicts.
At least 37 people were killed and more than 700 injured in two days of riots in the Port sparked by Saturday’s decision of a Cairo court to order 21 death sentences at the end of the football disaster trial.
Altogether 73 people were on trial, accused over the Al-Masry tragedy in which some 72 Al-Ahly fans died when violence erupted at the end of an Egyptian league game on February 1 last year. The other 52 will be sentenced on March 9. All sentences must be reviewed, under the new constitution, by religious authorities.
The conclusion of the trial, held at the Cairo Police Academy, was always certain to inflame further the already-tense situation in the country after the second anniversary of the revolution which overthrew long-time dictatorial President Hosni Mubarak.
Nine deaths had already reported in street protests on Friday over the governmental direction being taken by President Morsi.
At the time of the match it was considered that a plot targeting Al-Ahly’s highly-politicised ultras exploded out of control, resulting in so many deaths and thousands of injuries.
In Cairo the verdict prompted celebrations with fireworks and chanting from the thousands of Al Ahly ultras who had assembled at the club’s centre in the Zamalek distract. Crowds chanted: “Dogs of the interior ministry killed my son,” and: “Vengeance, vengeance for the mothers of the martyrs.”
But the scene was very different around the General Prison in Port Said where the accused had been held. The 73 included nine security officials, three Masry football club officials and a number of fans.
The Interior Ministry had ordered that the defendants remain in prison and should not be transferred to Cairo to hear the verdicts so as to reduce the risks of trouble but that hope proved in vain after hundreds of relatives and supporters of the accused staged a counter protest.
On Saturday two police officers and 30 civilians were killed and 300 injured; on Sunday a further seven more deaths were reported with more injuries following trouble during the funeral processions. The Ministry of Interior denied reports that officers used tear gas and counter-claimed that some mourners threw Molotov cocktails and shot at police stations.
On Saturday EFA director Mahmoud El-Shamy insisted that the long-awaited resumption of the league programme would go ahead. According to agency reports he said: “The Premier League new season will begin as scheduled on 2 February after the court’s decision. We cannot comment on the verdicts as we trust in the Egyptian judiciary.”
However on Sunday President Mohamed Morsi declared a 30-day state of emergency in Port Said, Suez and Ismailia incorporating a curfew from 9pm to 6am.
He said: “I always said I’m against any exceptional measures but I also said I might resort to such measures if I had to. I may even do more for the sake of Egypt, it’s my duty.
“The recent acts have nothing to do with the revolution, they are against the law and incited by counter revolution. The Egyptian people reject such actions, which are condemned by honorable revolutionaries.”
Whether “even more” means postponing the football league’s resumption, given the highly politicised organisation of champions Al Ahly fans in particular is uncertain.