Demands for Civilian Rule: Soccer Ultras and National Protest in Egypt

Analysis, posted 02.15.2012, from Egypt, in:
Demands for Civilian Rule: Soccer Ultras and National Protest in Egypt (Photo: Qantara.de)

Egyptians are rendering their verdict on who is to blame for the deaths of 74 people in a soccer brawl in Port Said following a match in which the city's Al Masri SC defeated Cairo's crowned Al Ahly SC. For the first time in months, thousands have joined militant soccer fans – ultras –in violent anti-government protests.

Support for the ultras – well-organized, highly politicized, violence-prone soccer fans modelled on similar groups in Italy and Serbia – had waned in recent months in a protest-weary country that retains confidence in the military despite its brutality and political ineptness. Many Egyptians are frustrated with the lack of immediate economic benefit from last year's toppling of President Hosni Mubarak and yearn for a return to normalcy so that the country can return to economic growth.

The ultras characterize their organizations as non-political and thus don't have a political program. They demand however a return to civilian rule, the rooting out of corruption and nepotism, holding accountable ancien regime officials as well as those guilty of abuse of power post-Mubarak, a clean-up of Egyptian soccer and a more pro-Palestinian foreign policy.

"Saviours of the revolution"

The demonstrations targeting the Egyptian interior ministry in the wake of the Port Said killings contrast starkly with protests in November and December around Cairo's Tahrir Square when the ultras battled security forces largely on their own in clashes that left some 50 people dead and more than 1,000 wounded. Some commentators have argued that in protecting peaceful protestors from police and their henchmen the ultras were the "saviours of the revolution".

The waning public support for the ultras' post-Mubarak contentious street politics aimed at forcing Egypt's military rulers to hand over control to civilians and return to their barracks highlighted their increasing isolation after Egyptians had opted for a return to electoral politics and the backroom political horse trading associated with it by voting in the country's first post-revolt parliamentary elections.

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By James M. Dorsey

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