Egypt’s police under criticism after 22 die outside soccer stadium

World Today

Ultras Al-Ahly soccer fans, left, and an Ultras White Knights soccer fan, right, pray for people who were killed on Sunday from a riot outside the Air Defense Stadium, at Cairo University in Egypt, Monday, Feb. 9, 2015. Egypt’s Cabinet has indefinitely suspended the national soccer league after more than 20 fans were killed in a stampede and clashes with police outside the Cairo stadium. (AP Photo/Roger Anis, El Shorouk Newspaper)

The killing of more than 20 soccer fans outside a Cairo stadium in a brawl with security forces has resulted in scrutiny of police tactics in Egypt less than a month after a woman was shot dead during the dispersal of a peaceful protest marking the anniversary of the 2011 uprising.

The violence late Sunday, which prompted the Cabinet to suspend the national football league indefinitely, dealt a further blow to the military-backed government’s attempt to project an image of stability after four years of political turmoil.

In Sunday night’s violence, riot police clashed with hundreds of young soccer fans trying to get into the Air Defense stadium, located in a military facility in an eastern Cairo suburb.

Police fired tear gas into a narrow corridor full of fans leading into the stadium, setting off a stampede, witnesses said. Authorities said all 22 victims died of suffocation from tear gas and the stampede, according to Hesham Abdel-Hameed, spokesman for the state’s forensics agency.

Despite the deaths, the match — between Cairo-based clubs Zemalek and ENPPI — went on, further fueling criticism of insensitivity by authorities. One Zemalek player who refused to play in solidarity with the dead, Omar Gaber, was disciplined with a suspension, according to media reports.

Egypt’s public prosecutor ordered an investigation of the violence. Authorities said it was sparked when hard-core Zamalek fans known as Ultras White Knights tried to force their way into the stadium without tickets.

On Monday, pro-government media and the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the police, sought to deflect blame from the security forces. One TV commentator, Ahmed Moussa, called the victims “thugs” who were breaking the law. Others on TV talk shows accused the government’s top rival, the Muslim Brotherhood, of causing the violence.

The president of the Zamalek club, Mortada Mansour, echoed that idea, telling one private TV station that the violence was “orchestrated” to taint upcoming parliamentary elections. “There are people who don’t want a state or nation,” he said.

Mansour is a staunch supporter of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the former army chief who has waged a sweeping crackdown on dissent since he led the 2013 overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected leader.
Critics blamed police for a callous disregard for life.

“This is a very clear incident with only two parties: youth who wanted to go watch a game and police who prevented them and, in doing so, killed them,” said Mamdouh Eid, the executive director of an organization of fans of the Al-Ahly club, Egypt’s other top soccer team.

Report complied with information from The Associated Press