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Egyptians mourn those killed in soccer violence


This news story was published on February 2, 2012.
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By Jeffrey Fleishman and Asmaa Al Zohairy, Los Angeles Times –

CAIRO — The coffins came down the hill in intermittent procession Thursday as families focused their rage on security forces for not preventing a soccer riot that left 74 people dead and heightened the lawlessness threatening Egypt’s unfinished revolution.

Mothers wept and fathers railed as coffins were carried one by one from the morgue in Cairo. Sisters fainted and brothers, some with their own wounds bandaged, turned their heads as names were called and bodies, many wrapped in sheets, were collected and driven over a rutted road toward cemeteries across the city.

“I only had one child,” sobbed a mother, held up by friends. “He was my only one.”

Moments later, another name was called. A man’s hands reached toward the sky, his knees crumpled: “My precious is gone.”

Egypt’s military ruler declared three days of mourning for those killed Wednesday when hooligans from a soccer club in the coastal city of Port Said attacked opposing fans for the Cairo team Ahly with knives, clubs and chairs. The speaker of parliament condemned the violence as the “work of the devil.”

By Thursday evening thousands of protesters had marched on the Interior Ministry in central Cairo, their flares lighting the sky. Many were hard-core Ahly fans, known as Ultras, who have been the muscle at the forefront of some anti-government rallies. They sought vengeance, hurling stones and attempting to yank down barricades with ropes. Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas across barbed wire.

“Down, down with the military!” the Ultras chanted, as nearly 400 were injured, mostly by tear gas. “Tomorrow we step on the face of the field marshal,” a reference to Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the military leader.

A nation that has known little repose for more than a year was digging graves and dealing with another bewildering affront to the stability it craves. The Port Said governor was forced to resign and his security chief was reportedly arrested. But it was the police and military council who were vilified for incompetence if not complicity.

“They killed my cousin and now they want to give us money as compensation for him,” said Yasmin Mohamed, who waited outside the morgue with dozens of other women and girls draped in black.

Family members and politicians said the riot was instigated by security forces and thugs loyal to toppled President Hosni Mubarak, perhaps in retaliation for Ahly fans’ support of the revolution that overthrew the former 83-year-old leader.

“The dogs of Mubarak did this,” Mohamed said.

Whether such accusations are true may never be known. But they have become part of the conspiracy narrative in a land that has grown increasingly lawless.

“This was an organized crime,” Hussein Ibrahim, a lawmaker, said on the floor of parliament. “The military wants to give us a choice between martial law or chaos. They are the ones accountable for the nation’s security.”

At the morgue, young men in bandages and slings sat outside waiting to collect the bodies of friends. They said Wednesday’s attack appeared to be planned. Police did not check for weapons at entrances before the game and stood by while Port Said hooligans raced across the field. Stadium doors were locked and there was no escape.

“They came at us with knives, swords and guns,” said Karim Hakim. “They threw some people off the stadium walls. This is what Mubarak wanted.”

“Yes,” said his friend, Mohamed Khaled, “but the field marshal is involved too.”

Such suspicions played out in a special session parliament as well. The newly elected chamber, dominated by Islamists, has been negotiating with the military for a transition of power in June. That relationship was strained as Muslim Brotherhood members criticized the army for its heavy-handed rule and lawmakers said that Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim should face criminal charges over the soccer deaths.

“The military council lost its legitimacy today given the blood that has been shed,” Mustafa Nagger said in a spirited parliament debate that tested the bounds of challenging the military.

Back out on the streets, Mahmoud Moukhtar waved an Ahly flag in the sun. He’s been a fan for 30 years, as long as Mubarak was in power:

“The military is working for the old regime,” he said. “The military doesn’t want change. They want revenge on the revolution and to keep the country corrupt.”

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