At least 30 people reported dead after crowd trouble at Egyptian match


Zamelek supporters clash with police in Cairo in country’s third football disaster since 2011 revolution.
Policemen soccer fans barbed wire
Policemen and soccer fans face off as fans attempt to enter the stadium before the match Photograph: Al Youm al-Saabi/Reuters

At least 30 Egyptian football fans were killed on Sunday evening after police fired teargas and shotgun pellets on supporters queueing to enter a Cairo stadium, according to state media, in the latest spasm of state-led violence that has characterised much of Egypt’s post-revolutionary history.

Survivors claimed that police fired on ticket-holding fans from Zamalek SC, Egypt’s second biggest club, as they tried to enter the Air Defence stadium, a military-owned stadium in eastern Cairo, to watch a league game. But the interior ministry, which governs the police, said they began firing after ticketless fans tried to break in, and that the deaths were caused by the ensuing panic. “They tried to break the stadium gates by force, which forced security to stop them,” the ministry said in a statement that claimed that the deaths were “because of the stampede”.

The incident is the latest in at least a dozen mass killings since the 2011 revolution and at least the third to be connected to football. More than 70 fans died in a massacre in 2012, when supporters from Al Ahly SC were killed in a riot in Port Said. Authorities blamed those deaths on fans from a rival club, but Ahly’s followers believed they were targeted because of the role their hardcore support base played in both the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and in subsequent demonstrations.

Zamalek’s fans have played a similar role in pro-democracy protests since 2011, leading some of them to suggest on Sunday that their treatment constituted an act of state vengeance. In recent months, they also locked horns with their club chairman, Mortada Mansour, a counter-revolutionary lawyer who makes no secret of his contempt for revolutionaries and Zamalek’s ultras.

In the aftermath of Sunday’s deaths, witnesses said the police’s attack was an unprovoked assault on people holding tickets. Amr, a musician who survived a shotgun pellet to his chest, said that around 1,000 fans became trapped in a narrow pathway leading to the stadium gates shortly after 4pm. Many of them had held up their tickets, including Amr, but they were prevented from entering as police closed off the passageway with barbed wire. “We stayed there for a very long time and people started to injure themselves on the barbed wire,” he said. “We were stuck inside and people started moving and shouting. So the [police] thought we were trying to make problems, so they fired a teargas canister.”

By Amr’s account, one fan fired back a firework, which was in turn met with more teargas – and then a stampede started, which the police met with gunfire. “After that, people started to run in every direction. They didn’t know where to go. It was a very chaotic situation and they didn’t stop shooting during all this time.”

After 10 minutes of mayhem, survivors crept back. “The passage was empty,” said Saad Abdelhamid. “On the ground were just bodies and corpses. Some people tried to get inside the passage to rescue the bodies, but the police shot them with birdshot.”

According to Amr, fans responded with more fireworks and stones. When the Zamalek team bus arrived in a police convoy, people tried to prevent the bus from entering the area, and attacked a nearby police car, sparking another round of clashes.

A video circulated online shows hundreds of fans hemmed in by the barbed wire, and police firing straight at the crowd – but the sequence of events is unclear.

Nevertheless, for their part, mourners outside the Zeinhom morgue were certain that their friends had been targeted on purpose. “Witness this,” said one man, holding up his bloodied hands. “Witness what our government is doing to our kids.”

A few metres away, Saad Abdelhamid said: “The massacre that took placed today was revenge on those who took part in the revolution.”

More widely, the deaths have revived a debate about persistently aggressive police tactics, and about the logic of opening up football matches, a frequent flashpoint, to fans. For much of the past four years, most games have been played behind closed doors.

“I’m wondering in the first place, why barbed wire, why gas and why fireworks?” asked Amr. “Why are you responding to fireworks with live ammunition?”

The match was played as normal.

Additional reporting by Manu Abdo.

Relatives of Zamalek soccer club fans react and wait outside a morgue in Cairo

Relatives of Zamalek soccer club fans react and wait outside a morgue in Cairo Photograph: Hamada Elrasam/EPA


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