Egyptian authorities have remanded in custody the former head of crowned Cairo soccer club Zamalek SC in the first post-Mubarak arrest of a senior football figure.
Controversial lawyer Mortada Mansour is being held for 15 days as authorities investigate his role in the February 2 attack on anti-government protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. These attacks have been attributed to supporters of ousted President Hosni Mubarak; they were riding camels and donkeys. Several protesters who forced Mr. Mubarak to resign on February 11 were killed in the attack dubbed the “Battle of the Camels.”
Prosecutors, citing eyewitnesses, charge that Mr. Mansour aided the attacks. Mr. Mansour has denied any involvement in the attack.
He is being held in Tora prison alongside several other prominent figures, including Mr. Mubarak’s sons, Gamal and Ala’a, suspected of corruption and responsibility for the deaths of an estimated 365 people killed in the 18 days of mass anti-government protests in January and February that toppled the Egyptian leader.
The memory of Cairo’s “Battle of the Camels” is engraved in Ahmet Fondu’s mind and on a scar on his forehead. It marks a milestone in the breaking down of the barrier of fear that long kept Egyptians from taking to the streets to demand change.
“We told people not to run away,” Mr. Fondu, a leader of the Ultras White Knights (UWK) – the militant, highly organized, street-battle hardened Zamalek soccer fan group–recalls as he and his group fended off the camel attack. “We told them that the attacks may have bullets, but we have stones.”
“Lots of people were injured. The camel riders were animals, but we caught 17 of them. We locked them overnight into the Sadat metro station and handed them the next day to the army. I jumped on to one of the camels. The rider didn’t resist, he knew he was doing something wrong,” said Ahmed Morgan, a heavy-set UWK leader who wears thick glasses.
Mr. Mansour is among several soccer figures under fire. Fans are demanding the resignation of Zamalek board member Ibrahim Hassan and his brother Hossam, the team’s coach, for publicly supporting Mr. Mubarak, while they were manning the frontlines on Tahrir Square defending protesters against attacks by police and Mr. Mubarak’s supporters. Egyptian national team coach Hassan Shehata has also come under fire for coming out in favour of Mr. Mubarak during the protests.
Fans have denounced soccer players for their failure to join them in the anti-Mubarak protests.
“We will never forgive them for supporting Mubarak. The Hassans are whores,” said Muhamed Hassan, another UWK leader, who was injured in fighting the police in Tahrir Square.
Ibrahim Hassan is a particular focus of fan ire because he led a demonstration against the protesters and called for preventing food and medical supplies from reaching the square where protesters camped out for 18 days until Mr. Mubarak resigned.
Mr. has repeatedly said that he supported the protesters demand for an end to corruption but did not want to see Mr. Mubarak humiliated.
Prosecutors are also looking into corruption in Egyptian soccer. A number of senior officials, including Egyptian Football Association president Samir Zaher, National Sports Council Chairman Hassan Saqr, national goalkeeper coach Ahmed Soliman and the head of Al Ahly SC, Egypt’s most popular club, Hassan Hamdi, are reported to be under investigation.
A former political prisoner who was jailed for 12 years by the government of former President Hosni Mubarak last month accused Mr. Soliman of assaulting and beating him in prison. Magdi Zaki, who was detained for 17 years, said the incident happened when Mr. Soliman, widely believed to be an undercover Egyptian police officer, intervened in an altercation between Mr. Zaki and a police informer. The police are widely despised as the henchmen of Mubarak’s repressive regime.
In a video posted on YouTube, Mr. Zaki points to scars from stitches on his face and head, which he says were the result of Mr. Soliman’s beatings. Mr. Soliman has yet to comment on the allegation.
For much of his time in prison, the dreaded State Security Investigations SSI, whose offices were last month raided by UWK members and other protesters, held Mr. Zaki.
“I spent 12 years in the political section of Liman Abu Zaabal prison - without charge, without visits. When I saw my two kids I did not recognise them and they did not recognise me. But worst of all was the month I spent in the state security building,” Egyptian media quoted Mr. Zaki as saying.
(James M. Dorsey is a senior researcher at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute, and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, as well as of a forthcoming book on soccer in the region. He can be reached at: email@example.com)