Same game, different players

When 25 members of the Ultras Ahlawy fan club were arrested in October following clashes with airport security forces, many recalled the ongoing conflict between a group of youths largely seen as dissidents, and a police force that has slowly been regaining its power since the January 2011 revolution. 

In the airport incident, police accused the Ultras of forcible attempting to enter a public institution, attempted murder and possession of weapons and firearms. But Mohammad Eid Haikal, the group’s attorney, asserts that there is no proof of these charges.

“On that day, hundreds of Ultras Ahlawy members were going to the airport to support Ahly’s football team following their loss in the African Cup final game, since members of the Ultras are friends with some of the team. An argument broke out between a member of the group who’s younger than 16, and a Central Security Forces conscript in the force assigned to airport security,” Haikal says.

“Within minutes, the heated situation led airport security officers to think the group was trying to break into the arrival hall. They fired tear gas and arrested 150 members, only to release the minors two hours later and continue detaining 25 others. Nozha prosecutors were called later during the night to interrogate the detainees inside a security camp in the airport, while lawyers couldn’t reach them due to the curfew,” he adds.

Haikal says that the defendants’ denial of the charges should have sufficed during the preliminary stage of the investigation.

“There must be a video recording proving the charges, so why haven’t they been submitted by the Interior Ministry yet? The Ministry of Civil Aviation denied any forced entry to the hall that day. I’m absolutely confident that none of the young men carried any weapons or firearms. All they had were fireworks, which they had carried on other previous incidents in the airport without any objection from the Ministry of Interior,” Heikal continues.

“So what are the charges?”

The incident could be framed within an ongoing conflict between the Ministry of Interior and the Ultras — one that is marked by the latter occupying the front lines of protests during and after January 25 revolution.

February 2012 was a landmark in this ongoing conflict with the Port Said stadium massacre, when 72 football fans — most of them Ultras Ahlawy — were killed in an incident widely attributed to police neglect, or, some say, in an act of police retaliation against their active participation in the January 25 revolution.  

But others have conflated this ongoing conflict with the emerging one between the Muslim Brotherhood and the pro-military government following the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi on July 3. The latter was removed by military mandate following mass popular protests to demand his resignation, which later provoked a state-led campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood.

Some have even speculated that Islamist groups are penetrating the Ultras to use them as a spark for street riots in a quest to destabilize the country. For them, the Brothers would be using a rising anger and concern among the Ultras that the security is restoring its pre-revolutionary prowess. They cite as evidence this airport incident, as well as an earlier one that occurred in September, whereby the Ultras White Knights clashed with police in Gamaet al-Dowal street. Omar Hussein, one of the White Knights, died in the incident.

But the Ultras vehemently deny these claims. A leader of Ultras White Knights who requested to remain anonymous tells Mada Masr that the group’s core belief is in freedom. He dismisses all claims of the group’s politicization.

“The Interior Ministry doesn’t want to change their ways of dealing with us. They still and will always view us as a group of rioters who can be used as an organized force in the street to achieve political goals,” he says.

“That’s a misconception. For the millionth time, our beliefs as Ultras — whether Ahlawy, White Knights or any other group anywhere in the world — are to consecrate the values of freedom, as well as the passion of a group of youth toward their teams. All our contributions in protests or clashes with security forces come from a place of defending these principles,” he adds.

Although spokespeople for different Ultras groups denied any direct communication with the anti-coup movement, the recently created “Ahrar” movement may suggest otherwise. The group consists of youths from different Islamic groups, including  the Hazemoon campaign that supported former presidential hopeful and Islamist preacher Hazem Abou Ismail; “Revolutionaries without a Current”, a group of Islamist youths; and the Ultras White Knights. 

Security raids that took place days after Morsi’s overthrow, especially on July 8, resulted in the arrest of seven of Ahrar leaders, who were charged with forming an armed militia and opposing the army.

The Ultras White Knights member claims that those who joined Ahrar from his group did so under their own personal aegis, not that of the club. He affirms it’s not the group’s general policy.

“Even if we have the same struggle now, the idea is different. Let me assure you that many members of Ultras groups, especially White Knights, are also members of Hazemoon, but at the same time there are a lot of members from the April 6 Youth Movement,” he explains.

“I can confirm that the number of Ahrar members in the White Knights does not exceed dozens of people, while our group has about 6,000 members. Had we been Islamists or Brotherhood-affiliated, we wouldn’t have been on the front lines of Mohamed Mahmoud and many other battles that opposed the army rule and Interior Ministry aggression, when the Brotherhood were allies of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces. In the end, they have their motives and we have ours.”

Similarly, Mohamed al-Qassas, a former Muslim Brotherhood member and a leading figure in the Egyptian Current Party, dismisses the possibility the Brothers infiltrating the Ultras.

“I started dealing with the Ultras around the time of the revolution, and it’s quite difficult to penetrate or direct them,” Qassas says.

“But it’s natural for the Brotherhood to attempt that, since they want to promote their cause everywhere. Still, the bigger problem lies in the media and the security institutions behind it, which help delude people into thinking everyone who’s against authorities is necessarily a Brotherhood member, or at least sympathizes with them, which is not true.”

“Moreover, the Ultras leadership system is a hierarchical one, much similar to the Brotherhood’s, and these sort of organizations tend to scare security apparatuses.”

However, Hany Abdel Latif, the spokesperson for the Interior Ministry, refutes any allegations that the security apparatus is out to antagonize the Ultras.

“The Ministry of Interior doesn’t have any deliberate intentions against any movement or group of people. We only consider the rule of law and safety of citizens. What the Ultras did at the airport was illegal and was dealt with according to the law. At the end, the general prosecution and judiciary [will] rule between us and them,” Abdel Latif says.

“First and foremost, the safety of citizens is at the top of our priorities. We will not allow any party to disturb public order,” he adds.

Omar Halawa 

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