Haitham El-Tabei, AFP
Last updated: 1 February, 2013

Egyptian canal city of Port Said vents anger a year after football tragedy

Several thousand Egyptians marched in Port Said on Friday’s first anniversary of a deadly football riot in protest against the Islamist government, unfazed by a heavy troop presence after bloody clashes.

“The people of Port Said want independence!” the crowd chanted as they marched past the governorate building in a tense atmosphere.

On this day last year, clashes erupted between fans of home side Al-Masry and Cairo’s Al-Ahly after the final whistle.

Al-Masry fans invaded the pitch after their team beat the visitors 3-1, throwing rocks, bottles and fireworks at Al-Ahly supporters, causing chaos and panic as players and spectators fled in all directions.

The violence left 74 people dead and sparked days of violent protests in the capital, where another 16 people were killed.

After a lengthy trial, an Egyptian court on Saturday sentenced 21 Port Said residents to death over last year’s stadium riot, sparking more deadly violence between residents and police in the city and neighbouring canal cities.

“We are paying the price of a crime we did not commit. All of Egypt wants revenge against our city,” said Ali Mabrouk, 28, who works at a car hire firm.

No one in Port Said believes that the 21 fans sentenced to death are to blame. Many Egyptians believe last year’s football riot was orchestrated either by the police or by supporters of ousted president Hosni Mubarak.

Last Saturday’s death sentences sparked deadly riots in Port Said in which around 40 people have been killed over the past week.

But anger against the death sentences turned political, with residents furious that President Mohamed Morsi used them as a scapegoat to maintain order.

Thousands of supporters of Al-Ahly club demonstrated in Cairo ahead of the trial to demand severe punishment for 73 people on trial for the dozens of deaths in Egypt’s worst football disaster.

The Cairo club’s more hardcore fans, known as the “Ultras,” threatened “justice or chaos.”

Scrambling to control the unrest, Morsi declared a state of emergency in the three cities on the Suez Canal and imposed a curfew which was ignored by residents in show of angry defiance.

“The minister of interior is killing us and Morsi congratulates him,” read a large banner in the centre of Port Said.

On Friday, thousands of people took to the streets, chanting slogans against Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood.

“I will never again vote for Morsi,” said Ali al-Sayyed, 57.

Signs carried by protesters summed up the feeling in the city.

“Two we cannot trust — Morsi and al-Ahly,” read one.