Backgrounder: Last year, 74 Al Ahly football fans were killed in a stadium riot in the canal city of Port Said. On January 26th, 2013, 21 of the defendants were given death sentences, with the remainder of those charged to hear their verdicts on March 9th.
On Saturday March 9th, the courts ruled on the remainder of the defendants from the Port Said Massacre. I was at the Al Ahly (Gazeera) Club early in the morning as thousands of hardcore football fans (known as 'Ultras') packed the streets. These Ultras have amazing organizational ability- with a single hand gesture, 4 thousand rowdy youth are immediately quieted. The tension was palpable in the air as the verdict came in. Ears were pressed against small radios and mobile phones. The Ultras broke into groups of 3 or 4, all sharing earpieces. When the courts announced the death sentence for the original 21 would be upheld, a roar erupted. This was outdone only by the fireworks and flares that pierced the sky and dusted the crowd with swaths of red and orange. The emotional outpouring that followed was so intense, that it was difficult to figure out where to point my camera. The chanting grew louder and louder, drums beat furiously and the bangs flares and fireworks persisted.
The jubilation soon turned to anger and frustration as the news came through that all but one of the police officers had been acquitted. A general sense of uncertainty followed, with no one certain what the next course of action was.
Some Ultras then decided to attack the Police Social Club and Football Association in the upscale Zamalek district. I got there as the fires were still burning at the Police Club. The insides had been gutted- both by looting and fire. Workers sat on the grass, visibly shaken.
For those hoping for a return to stability in Egypt, yesterday's verdict deviated even further from stability. The days are becoming increasingly confusing, as different factions and powers clash, both in politics and through the proxy battles being fought on the street.