Cairo-based journalist Bel Trew described the scene as the security forces used teargas tried to disperse around a thousand protesters near the Ministry of Interior.
“That day the head of security of the Port Said stadium said to us everything is going to be fine,” said Diaa Aly, 21, a professional footballer who was watching the Al-Ahly and Al-Masry match on Wednesday evening.
But everything was not fine – the match descended into a bloodbath in which 74 people died, including one of Mr Aly’s friends, a 23-year-old student called Karim Ahmed.
The atmosphere between the rival fans of Al-Ahly, a Cairo team, and Cairo-based Al-Masry was tense from the start, and worsened when Al-Ahly scored first. “Al-Masry were holding up rude signs and getting more aggressive,” said Chaker Fahmy, 23, a sales assistant who was with the Al-Ahly supporters.
At half-time, Al-Masry’s supporters managed to jump over the 3m perimeter barricades and run on to the pitch. “They started to shoot fireworks at the Ahly football players while they were playing,” Mr Aly added.
Security forces managed to remove aggressive fans from the pitch as Al-Ahly’s supporters begged for the match to be abandoned. “Even the players looked scared but the guy managing security said, ‘No, we should continue the game’,” Mr Aly said.
In the second half, Al-Masry scored three to win 3-1 but Al-Masry fans were on the pitch even before the final whistle blew. Mr Fahmy said: “The security must have opened the gates – that’s the only way it was possible.”
A mob chased Al-Ahly players into the changing rooms. “We tried to leave and security forces told us we couldn’t because it was not safe,” said Mr Aly said. By this point, armed gangs had broken into the Al-Ahly stands. “I saw the mob throw about 40 people out of the stadium – it’s a seven-metre drop. Then they tried to throw me over too,” he said. “Their faces, the way they spoke, they way they held their knives and sticks, they didn’t look like football fans.”
Thousands gathered at Ramses train station, downtown Cairo, in the early hours of Thursday morning to meet beleaguered Ahly fans coming back from Masry-Ahly league match following Egypt’s worst football disaster.
Agonised by the death of 70 of their fellow supporters in the coastal city, the Ahly supporters marched to Ramses Station from their headquarters shouting slogans against the military council and the Central Security Forces (CSF). The marchers were joined by Zamalek football fan club, the Ultras White Knights.
“Police are the thugs” and “Down, down with the military rule” were among the chants repeated by the heartbroken young fans as they congregated by the platforms. One fan waved the large flags of Egypt, Ahly and Ultras White Knights (UWK) together.
On Wednesday afternoon thousands of Masry fans stormed the pitch immediately after the final whistle, chasing Ahly players and technical staff members, who ran for their lives.
The People’s Assembly will convene an emergency session Thursday morning to discuss the melee, with many pro-democracy activists calling on them to demand an immediate transfer of power from the military junta to a civilian authority.
Ahmed Gaffar (@Heemalization on Twitter) was inside the stadium and described what happened. “Police opened the way for hordes of Masry fans to reach us… when Ahly fans tried to run away they found exits which are normally open at the end of the match were locked.” The fans found themselves stuck in a corridor “6 x 10 metres in size” crushing many.
When the gates, he said, collapsed the ensuing stampede resulted in more deaths. The security forces, Gaffar added, only started firing shots to disperse the Masry fans “20 minutes after the incident” when deaths had already occurred.
Many in Ramses Station blamed the reduced presence of the Egyptian security forces, who usually protect the football players and separate the fan groups, for the massacre. The UWK burnt banners and CSF trucks at the Cairo International Stadium on Wednesday in protest of the police reaction.
Heated discussions took place by the railway tracks at Ramses station about the behaviour of the security forces, with some saying it conspiracy by the state to stir up national unrest in order to justify heavy-handed security tactics by the ruling military council.
“The police deliberately absented themselves from this match to increase the violence,” says Mahmoud Hani, 21, who lost friends in the clashes. “It is clear that the fight was arranged and the security forces participated in this, to take the spotlight away from the revolution. The state needs people to be focused on something else.”
Tens of people waiting for the return of the Ahly supporters gathered around television screens in the train station cafeteria as the names of those confirmed dead were read out. As the news filtered in of the fans who had lost their lives, family members and friends broke down in tears inside and outside the station.
“Me and my friends from the Ahly fans are extremely upset,” said Adul Zenzi, 19, an Ultras White Knight club member whose friend was killed in the fight, “Karim was only 19 years old, he was still at school, we don’t know how he died. We heard people were being killed from being beaten with sticks, or having to jump out of the stadium.”
Abdul was also missing another friend Ahmed Ezet, 21, a business university student in Cairo. Abdul and his friends had come to the train station to see if he had made it back. “We don’t know where our friend is,” he added, “We blame the Central Security Forces for not separating the fans and for standing by doing nothing.”
The army reportedly sent helicopters to Port Said to rescue the football team members, whilst planes were flown into Cairo carrying 25 injured fans. The youngest fatality is said to be just 13 years old. Field Marshall Tantawi, the head of the ruling military council, received the injured at the airport, further angering the fans.
As the train arrived from Port Said at 3.30am, approximately 30 fans jumped on top of the vehicle demanding the execution of Tantawi. Most of the fans alighting at Ramses were injured, including head and leg wounds. Soon after groups marched through downtown Cairo, chanting against the ruling military council.
There have been calls for mass marches tomorrow to the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defence starting at 4pm, in protest of the lack of security surrounding the match. Thousands are expected to participate.
‘Leave!’ protesters shouted on the “Friday of Honour and Dignity” on 27 January, a chant revolutionaries have directed at Egypt’s ruling military council in the past few months. However, this time they were waving their shoes and pointing at the Muslim Brotherhood’s stage during the Friday protests marking one year of the January 25 Revolution. The Muslim Brotherhood responded by playing the Quran so loudly it drowned out their voices.
The Muslim Brotherhood angered many when it publicly announced it would not join protesters during November and December crackdowns on protests by Egypt’s security forces, yet turned up on Wednesday to stage a large celebration.
Mohamed, 29, diving instructor and protester, has been sleeping on the square for three months. He tried to arrange a public discussion with the Muslim Brotherhood on their stage, on Friday 27 January, a day of that saw large demonstrations and marches, as well as the explicit tension between protesters and the Brotherhood in front of their stage. Instead the debate was conducted in a tent with Abdel-Nasser, 43, a Muslim Brotherhood member and French teacher. Ahram Online recorded the rare meeting between the two sides.
Mohamed: How does the Muslim Brotherhood feel about the protesters raising their shoes at them?
Abdel-Nasser: When I saw this, I thought either they don’t know much about the Muslim Brotherhood or they are against us, for example some liberal groups.
I don’t understand. Lots of writers in Egypt wrote about how important the Brotherhood was in Tahrir Square last year. The Muslim Brotherhood members are the most tortured people in Egypt – both by the military and the police. I have been imprisoned four times from 1999 to 2008 by the authorities for being in the Muslim Brotherhood, including being detained with 6 April Youth Movement founder Ahmed Maher.
However, the protesters are always trying to say that we didn’t protest and that we do not play a vital role in the square.
Mohamed: We feel the Muslim Brotherhood has betrayed us. At a really important and difficult time for the revolution in Tahrir, like the Mahmoud Mahmoud and Qasr El-Aini clashes in November and December, your group left us fighting the Central Security Forces (CSF) and the military alone. While people were dying, you were working on your election campaign. Now you are the majority in parliament. Why didn’t you turn up?
Abdel-Nasser: In Mohamed Mahmoud Street, Qasr El-Aini Street and now Maspero, it was a deliberate decision not to join. Sometimes we do not go to Tahrir because we know there are other ways of communicating our demands that are more effective than going to the streets. In our opinion it was not necessary.
Mohamed: How does the Muslim Brotherhood make these decisions?
Abdel-Nasser: Before we come to the square there are a lot of discussions. From our experience, we know there will be a lot of violence.
Even though we reject the way the police and military dealt with the protesters, it wasn’t essential to be part of the clashes. Is it really necessary, in your point of view, to be part of this situation?
Mohamed: Wouldn’t true Muslims protect their people in Tahrir Square? Why do you avoid putting pressure on the ruling authorities?
Abdel-Nasser: We always have to keep the balance between establishing a system of government and the spirit of revolution. Any civilian country should have a very good internal system. If we don’t follow a very organised way of establishing this system of government, like management departments inside courts, it’s not good. One of the ways to do this is to keep the peace within the country around the election period.
Mohamed: But isn’t the point of a revolution that we need to dismantle the broken system and get rid of the corruption from the roots, not just from the head? Now whenever there is a fight between the Muslim Brotherhood and those on the square, the military use the Egyptian media to say that the protesters are fighting the legal authority, as the Muslim Brotherhood are in parliament. So we become thugs.
When I said I wanted to go on stage and open a discussion, the Brotherhood refused. Why won’t the Brotherhood meet protesters like me?
Abdel-Nasser: For you to talk on stage like this would work against the situation in Tahrir. If we were to start a public debate it would make people more angry and cause more problems.
We are always arranging communication between the different parties and movements.
Mohamed: Why does the Muslim Brotherhood trust the military council even though they use increasing violence and haven’t got rid of emergency law or handed over power, despite promises made in the Constitutional Declaration? It’s clear the Brotherhood have made a deal with the military. Former vice-president Omar Suleiman said in one of his statements on Egyptian television that if the Muslim Brotherhood wanted to do a deal with the military, they should come to talk to him. We know during the Mohamed Mahmoud clashes, the Muslim Brotherhood met with the military council. Now the Muslim Brotherhood have the overwhelming majority.
Abdel-Nasser: The army is wearing a mask. The Muslim Brotherhood accept this play.
We don’t trust the military but we have to work with them. A lot of Muslim Brotherhood members were taken in by the military and tortured during January and February but we don’t want to talk about this. We don’t want to start a conflict with the army.
We are stuck between two choices. The first option is defeating the military.
The second option is to ignore the acts of the army in the 18 days in order to keep the military peaceful. It’s a careful balance. If we clash with the army then this will destroy the country because we are the two strongest forces.
We must keep the balance for the benefit of the country during this hard period not for the advantage of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Mohamed: But you have benefited. You have the majority inside the parliament. The Brotherhood didn’t care about what was happening in Tahrir Square last year, then this year, you came and had a party.How can you continue reform as the parliament has almost no legislative power in the current constitutional declaration?
Abdel-Nasser: Right now, the parliament has the power for making, monitoring and carrying out laws. Since parliament first met we already cancelled one of the points of the Constitutional Declaration that reduced the power of parliament. We can work within parliament to make change.
We should respect parliament even if people started to lose faith in it and have doubts that the Muslim Brotherhood are capable of running it. We must fix this.
Mohamed: Why are you leaving Tahrir Square?
Abdel-Nasser: We took the decision beforehand that we would leave on Saturday. The chief of the Muslim Brotherhood told us we are going to celebrate from 25 January until Saturday.
Mohamed: It is a big difference between what you intend to do, and what you actually do. The Muslim Brotherhood have what they were looking for, the parliament, and now they don’t need Tahrir, they don’t need to talk to us protesters.
The state-run Egyptian Radio and Television Union (ERTU)’s headquarters in Cairo’s Maspero district has become the latest pressure point in the ongoing revolution, with the recent appearance of a growing encampment set up outside the building’s walls.
Since first-anniversary celebrations of Egypt’s January 25 Revolution last week, when a protest march moved from nearby Tahrir Square to Maspero, activists camped out in the area have continued to call for the “purge” of state media, which revolutionaries hold responsible for disseminating what they say is pro-regime propaganda.
State media remains a primary target of recent revolutionary initiatives. For example, the popular if decentralised Kazeboon (“Liars”) public-awareness campaign aims to counteract discourse peddled by state-run media by screening footage – usually on busy streets and in public squares – of abuses committed by Egyptian security forces.
“The media is attempting to discredit the revolution by saying that we’re not protesters but thugs; that we’re not the people of the January 25 Revolution,” says Mahmoud, 21, a filmmaker who has been camped out in Maspero since Thursday. “Maspero is one of the most powerful places in Egypt. It broadcasts straight into everyone’s homes; it can control what the nation thinks.”
Notably, Maspero was also the scene of one of the bloodiest incidents since last year’s January revolution, when military personnel in October killed 27 Coptic-Christian protesters.
Frustrated by Wednesday’s anniversary festivities in Tahrir Square, many revolutionaries wanted to stage a new round of popular protests in hopes of ratcheting up pressure on the ruling military regime.
“We needed a new sit-in, as Tahrir is a bit of a lost cause right now,” says Mahmoud. “Since Tuesday night, the Islamists have been trying to co-opt it,” he added, referring to the recent appearance of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist activists in the flashpoint square – even though both groups had publically distanced themselves from a series of Tahrir Square sit-ins late last year.
Since this 25 January, the region’s oldest state-run broadcasting organisation has become the scene of almost daily protests. On Thursday, some 3,000 people marched from Tahrir Square to Maspero, where many stayed overnight. During a “Second Day of Rage” on Friday, one of the marches initially scheduled to head to the square from Cairo’s Shubra district set out instead for the TV building.
And on Saturday, a group of Egyptian paramedics parked around 40 ambulances next to the ongoing protest at Maspero to demand permanent contracts – a further sign that the area had become a new locus of Egypt’s post-Tahrir revolution.
Maspero currently hosts a full-fledged sit-in in which hundreds are taking part. The small strip of pavement between the Nile corniche and the TV building has become home to two large tents and a large banner reading, “Down with military rule.” One protester brandishes a hangman’s noose with a sign making reference to the still-ongoing trial of ousted president Hosni Mubarak. Smaller tents are erected every evening, while food and tea vendors set up shop in increasing numbers.
At night, groups crowd around small fires while others chant, “Leave!” and “The people demand the purge of state media!” Army soldiers and officers, meanwhile, peer at protesters from behind barbed wire set up around the building’s entrance.
The building is heavily guarded with around a dozen soldiers permanently deployed along the barbed wire perimeter. Units from the interior ministry’s Central Security Forces (CSF) have also been stationed inside, changing shifts at approximately 5am – inevitably causing an uproar among protesters when the infamous blue CSF trucks roll in. Ten armoured personnel carriers sit around the back of the building.
Every evening, Kazeboon footage is replayed on the walls of the television building. Hundreds of spectators join to watch key events, like the November clashes on Cairo’s Mohamed Mahmoud and Qasr Al-Aini streets.
“We watch the army try to avoid watching the Kazeboon films, ” says Ahmed, 20, an engineering student and Maspero protester. “It’s hard for them to see what they’re responsible for.”
On Friday, prominent Egyptian blogger Alaa Abd El-Fattah, detained by the military after October’s Maspero clashes and a key proponent of the current sit-in, was interviewed by Egyptian state television inside the ERTU building. During the interview, Abd El-Fattah accused state television of systematically lying and trying to discredit Egypt’s ongoing revolution.
“We have officially sandwiched #Maspero,” tweeted protester Karim El-Hayawan at the time. “Protests on its outside and with Alaa from its inside… #Knockout.”
Other familiar faces have also been seen at the new, post-Tahrir protest venue. Early Sunday morning at around 2:30am, Ramy Essam, the well-known revolutionary singer who was detained and tortured by the military last march, gave an impromptu concert for dozens of protesters. Half hour later, revolutionary activist and would-be presidential candidate Bothania Kamel joined the sit-in. Gamila Ismail, who unsuccessfully ran in Egypt’s first post-Mubarak parliamentary polls as an independent candidate, has also been attending the protests on a daily basis.
In the meantime, getting the true story out to Egyptians outside Tahrir Square remains one of the biggest challenges faced by the revolutionaries, with many seeing the Maspero protests as the new frontline.
“Some people were protesting outside the defence ministry, but Maspero is more important,” insists Mahmoud. “In order to discredit an entire revolution, you have to lie to the people. And the easiest way to do that is to use the media through Maspero. That’s why we’re here – to stop this.”
As the first anniversary of the Egyptian revolution draws to a close, hundreds of thousands of protesters remain in Tahrir Square, which saw a bigger turnout today than on 11 February of last year – the day that longstanding president Hosni Mubarak stepped down.
Reports suggest that from the marches alone, 300,000 people entered Tahrir, coming from Mostafa Mahmoud Mosque and from Cairo’s Ramses, Ghamra, Shubra and Giza districts.
The Egyptian security forces were noticeably absent. Despite promises that they would participate in Tahrir, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) appeared to have cancelled their proposed celebrations. The black-clad Central Security Forces, who battled protesters in clashes in November and December, also vacated the streets, allowing people to demonstrate unhindered.
However, later in the afternoon, Prime Minister Kamal El-Ganzouri made a speech thanking and commemorating those killed and injured in the revolution. He also thanked Egypt’s newly-elected parliament, the police and the SCAF.
Morale in the square was high. “For those who think the revolution is over, have a look at the streets right now,” said Ahmed, 27, a student, who took part in the Mostafa Mahmoud march.
“It’s very beautiful. Today shows how many people still think there’s much left to be done,” asserted Nasser, 42, a driver who was one of the thousands who had to pause on Qasr Al-Nil Bridge because Tahrir was too full. While people waited on the bridge, protesters recited prayers for the revolution’s fallen.
The Maspero Youth Coalition donated a large wooden obelisk inscribed with the names of slain protesters, which was carried along the march from Shubra. A two-metre long effigy of SCAF chief Hussein Tantawi, meanwhile, was transported during the Mostafa Mahmoud protest.
Although the day remained peaceful, there were nevertheless tensions between those demanding the immediate end of military rule and those who came to the square solely for the anniversary festivities.
Friends and relatives of protesters killed during last year’s January 25 Revolution were reportedly angered by the Muslim Brotherhood, which staged a marriage on its podium in front of Omar Makram Mosque, located adjacent to Tahrir Square, saying that today was not a day to celebrate.
“In the marches, we’re the believers of the revolution, not the celebrators,” said Karim, 32, who works in marketing and made the distinction between the marches and particular groups in the square who see the revolution as having ended. “But I’m optimistic – today has shown that, although there’s still the ruling military council and the parliament, there continues to be street action and individuals protesting for our rights.”
Although the resounding chant was “Down, down with the military regime,” today’s events were unique, with Egyptians’ motivations for visiting the flashpoint square varying widely.
“We’re here to celebrate the fall of the regime and the passing of the year,” said Naglaa, 35, who wore the niqab, or full Islamic face veil. “My friends and I are going to wait until June and trust the SCAF to hand over power; we have no doubts they will do this. We think the demands of the revolution are being met: for example, we just had our first free and open parliamentary elections.”
The Muslim Brotherhood, which said it would vacate the square at 4pm, was still very much in evidence five hours later. The Islamist group had publically distanced itself from anti-SCAF sit-ins in November and December, but were out in full force: their podium continued to lead the festivities, playing patriotic songs.
“The Muslim Brotherhood was pressured by the authorities not to participate in November and December,” claimed Ali, 47, an Imam at a Cairo mosque and member of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, (FJP), which swept recent parliamentary polling. “But now the FJP is here to put pressure on the SCAF to accelerate the transition of power and to speed up Mubarak’s trial.”
Many demonstrators wore masks bearing the likenesses of slain activists such as Khaled Said, Mina Daniel and Sheikh Emad Effat. Others wore “V for Vendetta” masks, in reference to the revolutionary graphic novel and to protest assertions by the Muslim Brotherhood that those who wore them were anarchists.
As the afternoon wore on, one group of marchers set out for Maspero, the Cairo district that is home to Egypt’s State Television building and which last October was the scene of a bloody crackdown by the military on a Coptic-led protest march.
As of 9:30pm, around 500 protesters remained at Maspero, with some calling for a sit-in on Twitter. “Maspero is important for several reasons,” said Nazly, 28, standing outside the media building. “One is that it is a propaganda machine against the revolution and against revolutionaries. It is involved in spreading state lies.”
Some protesters are expected to stay overnight. “We need to stand by – not only tonight, but for the coming two nights, until revolutionary demands are met,” asserted Gamila Ismail, an independent parliamentary candidate who joined the Mostafa Mahmoud march, retracing the route she took one year ago.
The April 6 youth movement and the National Front for Justice and Democracy, for their part, have both announced plans to stage an open-ended sit-in in Tahrir Square. As of press time, however, other revolutionary movements and parties that participated in Wednesday’s demonstrations had yet to declare whether or not they would participate.
“I’m not sure, as we head towards Friday, how peaceful it will remain,” Ismail said. “We took the same route today, but this year we’re different – we’re more confident and we expect more. Today was very successful.”