I have never been interested in football and I don’t recall watching one single game from beginning to end and I have no idea how different a midfielder is from a quarter back. The things I am familiar with are basically that Egypt won the Africa Cup of Nation two or three times in a row and that matches between Real Madrid and Barcelona are called El Clásico, but I am totally capable of distinguishing between stadium riots and pre-meditated murder.
Football is known to be the sport with the most fanatic audience and that explains why it is maybe the only sport in which supporters of rivaling teams are seated separately and why clashes, especially in important games, have for so long been seen as common news. That is exactly the logic behind the extreme security measures seen in any football match and the urgency of safeguarding lives and property in a context where adrenaline rush becomes more hazardous than a thunderbolt. I am also totally capable of distinguishing between cases when the situation spirals out of control and the police become unable to contain the crisis, like what happened in the 1989 Hillsborough Stadium disaster in the UK, and when the police make sure the stage is perfectly set for a blood bath and watch while it materializes, like what happened on February 1, 2012 in the Port Said Stadium in Egypt. Let me add that I am also totally capable of distinguishing between a human crush as in the first case and a homicide as in the second case.
For the longest time, I had thought of conspiracy as the easiest way out for those, usually average citizens, who do not want to bother with analyzing a specific incident and find it more comfortable to throw the blame on some sneaky power that is out to destroy the nation or those, usually the authorities, who want to distract the people from some grave mistake they have committed through keeping them busy with some imaginary culprit until they figure out what they can do to fix the problem. Yet right now I declare myself a conspiracy theorist and I insist that every single detail before, during, and after the stadium massacre was planned, coordinated, and executed with “malice aforethought” and falls, therefore, under the category of first-degree murder.
A quick look at the circumstances in which 70-plus football fans were killed and more than 1,000 injured allows the conspiracy to manifest itself in its most conspicuous form and without any effort on the part of anyone who is still wants to believe it was an accident. Fans with clubs and knives and illegal fireworks were allowed into a place where cigarette lighters and nail clippers are prohibited. Security forces were less than one fifth the numbers required to offer minimum safety to a crowd of this magnitude. Port Said governor and head of security made no appearance at the game in a suspicious violation of both protocol and tradition. The moment the game ended around 3,000 from the winning team’s part of the stadium rushed into the field from the gates that are supposed to stay locked until everyone leaves towards the losing team’s seating areas. At that very moment, the stadium’s lights were turned off. A few moments later the security barrier guarding the losing team’s area was opened to attackers who started climbing towards the seats of their targets. The terraces were turned into a battlefield as fans got fatally stabbed, strangled, hit on the head, and pushed from high altitudes while those who ran up the stairways in an attempt to escape with their lives found exist gates bolted and army officers standing on the other end not responding to their calls for help and it was only when the gates gave away under the pressure of the terrified victims that they managed to flee. Some managed to take refuge in the changing rooms and this was also where the injured, many of whom died later, were transferred. In the meantime, ambulances were no show and police and army no action.
A quick look at the victims allows the conspiracy to crystallize in a way that explains beyond doubt the motives of the murderers and the choice of the murdered. The dead and the injured are all members of the Ultras of the losing team. It might sound illogical since Ultras are mainly supporters of soccer teams who though always fanatical and at times violent are not generally involved in battle-like confrontations nor are they usually party to murder crimes whether as culprits or victims, but it does becomes absolutely logical upon remembering the role those Ultras in particular have been playing in the Egyptian revolution. Their organizational skills, physical fitness, and large numbers have not only made of the Ultras an indispensible part of the revolution and rendered their support vital in any confrontation between protestors and security forces, but also placed them as the most untamable of “trouble makers” and as the most draining challenge for the ruling junta. Add to that the Ultras’ incessant calls for toppling the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and putting its members on trial and which were deafeningly voiced all over the stadium in the last game played by the team they support. Terrorizing this group of Ultras and sending a message to other football fan groups that have started to follow in its footsteps and which were starting to join forces to organize massive rallies against the regime was just another chapter in that pathetic guide the army has been consulting every time its throne got shaken by the revolutionary tide and every time its leaders mistakenly thought the revolutionaries can be scared into abandoning the cause.
A quick look at the statement issued by the targeted Ultras group, entitled “We Demand the Execution of the Field Marshal,” reveals the plot to crush the brave youth to have turned out a miserable failure. “The Field Marshal is sending the Ultras a clear message: either we become content with practicing our freedom within the confines of stadiums or get exterminated for demanding freedom for the entire nation,” said the statement which made it clear that the retaliatory plan only made them more adamant on uprooting all forms of tyranny attempting to abort the revolution and that they are not going to wait until each and every single one of them perishes and they vowed to do all it takes to protect the revolution and make sure those who killed their brethren are duly penalized. “Yes, we have received your message,” they wrote addressing the Field Marshal. “Now, wait for the reply.”
And a quick look at the official response to the massacre puts the last piece of this self-resolving puzzle where it belongs not only because it serves as a tacit admission of involvement, but also because when placed in stark contrast with the Ultras’ reaction demonstrates how cheap Egyptian blood is for those who claim to defend it. Suffice it to compare this reaction, which is supposedly coming from the compatriots, let alone alleged protectors, of the victims to that of FIFA president the Swiss Sepp Blatter. “This is a black day for football. Such a catastrophic situation is unimaginable and should not happen,” he said expressing how “saddened” and “shocked” he feels and insisting that the incident cannot by any means be categorized under football rage. Not sure if it is relevant to mention the reaction of the Cameroonian Issa Hayatou, president of the Confederation of African Football who used words like “shock,” “tragedy,” and “deep mourning” in reference to the massacre. The Egyptian head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and the de facto ruler of the country, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, made a slightly different statement. “This can happen anywhere in the world,” he said nonchalantly then added a few fragmented sentences in which as far as I understood he encouraged Egyptians to track down the murderers and promised to pay compensation to the families of victims. He then ruled out any plan to dismiss the governor or the head of security in the near future and inquiring about the minister of interior would have been too stupid at that moment.
I am not sure if we have become too experienced in deciphering conspiracies or maybe conspiracies nowadays have become too brazen to require any kind of deciphering in the first place. I am only sure of one thing: creating gladiator arenas of squares and stadiums or throwing revolutionaries to the lions is the key to the fall of tyrants and the triumph of revolutions and the fiercer the counter-revolution becomes the more forceful the revolution grows.
(Sonia Farid teaches English Literature at Cairo University. She can be reached at: email@example.com)