Egypt’s prime minister has dissolved the Egyptian Soccer Federation’s board and referred its members for questioning by prosecutors after post-match clashes that left 74 dead.
Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri announced the decision during Thursday’s emergency parliamentary session, a day after a match between al-Ahly and al-Masry soccer teams in the Mediterranean city of Port Said turned deadly.
Egyptian security forces, meanwhile, fired tear gas at protesters near the Interior Ministry in central Cairo on Thursday, prompting hundreds to flee, witnesses said.
Thousands of demonstrators had filled the streets around the ministry to protest against Egypt’s army-led government following the deaths of 74 people in the country’s worst ever soccer disaster.
Al-Ganzouri also said the governor of Port Said governorate and the police chief have resigned, according to The Associated Press.
Witnesses had said that riot police stood by as supporters of home team al-Masry rushed the field after their 3-1 win over al-Ahly.
Footage from local television stations showed crowds rushing onto the field as police forces stood by following al-Masrys 3-1 home victory against al-Ahly. Seventy-four people were killed, the state-run Middle East News Agency reported, citing the health ministry. Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim said 47 had been arrested, the news agency reported.
Ibrahim has said most of the deaths were caused by the crush but medics said some people were stabbed. Hundreds were also reported wounded, according to AFP.
The violence, the worst in the history of Egyptian soccer, reflects the breakdown of security after the political upheavals of the past year, which has seen repeated clashes between security forces and protesters demanding that the ruling generals hand over power.
The governorate’s security chief Essam Samak was also sacked, the official MENA news agency reported.
An Egyptian lawmaker called on the country’s interior minister and public prosecutor to step down after Wednesday’s violence.
Ossama Yaseen, the head of the youth committee in parliament, made the comments in a televised debate in Cairo. Earlier, Parliament Speaker Mohammed al-Katatni said there was police failure in controlling the violence in Port Said.
Katatni began the emergency session by saying there was a security failure in controlling the violence.
This is planned, lawmaker Ziad al-Elaimi told the state-run Nile News television about the violence. We will call for withdrawing confidence from the government and for the formation of a national salvation government to take the duties of the military council during the transitional period.
Al-Elaimi, known for his political activism during and after the anti-Mubarak rallies, submitted a request to question the interior minister, prime minister and the head of the ruling military council, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi.
The online edition of the state-owned al-Ahram cited two witnesses as saying police did little to prevent al-Masry fans from invading the pitch. One of them said there was a semi-deliberate hostile escalation by some fans.
“I have ordered an investigation,” Tantawi told reporters on Wednesday night. “Those responsible will be punished.”
“The violence aims to scare Egyptians and extend the ruling of the military,” Egyptian lawmaker Amr Hamzawy said on his official Facebook page, adding that he will demand the resignation of the interior minister.
The Muslim Brotherhoods Freedom & Justice party, which holds the largest bloc in parliament, condemned the violence in a statement, saying the riot aims to block the peaceful democratic transition of power through internal parties who still have strong relations with the former regime.
Black day for football
The Egyptian Soccer Federation said on its website that it has indefinitely suspended all league matches.
“This is a black day for football,” Sepp Blatter, president of the world soccer governing body, FIFA, said in a statement. “Such a catastrophic situation is unimaginable and should not happen.”
On Thursday, Egyptians incensed by the deaths staged protests and accused the ruling generals of failing to prevent the deadliest incident since Mubarak was overthrown.
Young men blocked roads near the state television building and the capital’s landmark Tahrir Square, and a crowd gathered at Cairo’s main rail station hoping to see relatives returning from the game in Port Said, according to Reuters.
As covered bodies from Egypt’s worst soccer disaster were unloaded from trains, thousands chanted “Down with military rule.”
“Where is my son?” screamed Fatma Kamal, whose frantic phone calls seeking news of her 18-year-old had gone unanswered. “To hell with the football match ... Give me back my boy.”
Hundreds gathered near the stadium in Port Said on Thursday, chanting: “Port Said people are innocent. This is a conspiracy.”
The army's fiercest critics regularly accuse it of sowing disorder in Egypt to scupper a transition to civilian rule. The military has pledged to step aside by mid-year.
“The military council wants to prove that the country is heading towards chaos and destruction. They are Mubarak’s men. They are applying his strategy when he said ‘choose me or choose chaos’,” said Mahmoud al-Naggar, 30, a laboratory technician and member of the Coalition of Revolutionary Youth in Port Said.
“The people want the execution of the field marshal,” fans chanted at the Cairo rail station. “We will secure their rights, or die like them,” they said as covered bodies were unloaded from the trains.
“The security forces did this or allowed it to happen. The men of Mubarak are still ruling. The head of the regime has fallen but all his men are still in their positions,” Albadry Farghali, a member of parliament for Port Said, screamed in a telephone call to live television.
Some saw the violence as orchestrated to target the “Ultras”, al-Ahly fans whose experience confronting police at soccer matches was turned with devastating effect against Mubarak's heavy-handed security forces in the uprising.
They played a significant role in defending Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the heart of the uprising against Mubarak, when men on camels and horses charged protesters last year. Thursday is the anniversary of the notorious Feb. 2 camel charge.
“All that happened is not for the sake of a game. It’s political. It was orchestrated by the military council to target the Ultras,” Abdullah el-Said, a 43-year-old driver in Port Said, told Reuters. “The military council wanted to crush the Ultras because they sided with protesters ever since the revolution began.”
Yet many Egyptians still see the army as the only guarantor of security. When one activist in a group outside a hospital accused the army of sowing chaos, a man chimed in blaming the youths: “Security has to return to the streets. Enough with all those protests that caused this security vacuum,” he yelled.
Some blamed the violence on “thugs”, the hired hands or plain clothes police officers of Mubarak’s era who would often emerge from police lines to crush dissent to his rule.
“Unknown groups came between the fans and they were the ones that started the chaos. I was at the match and I saw that the group that did this is not from Port Said,” said Farouk Ibrahim.
“They were thugs, like the thugs the National Democratic Party used in elections,” he said, referring to Mubarak’s former party and the polls that were routinely rigged in its favor.
(Additional writing by Abeer Tayel)