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Lebanese Nejmeh fans to be deported days after arrest at Borg al-Arab Stadium

Seven fans of Lebanese football club Nejmeh SC are expected to be deported to Beirut from Cairo tomorrow, four days after they were arrested by Egyptian police at Borg al-Arab Stadium in Alexandria on Monday.

The Lebanese nationals had travelled to Egypt to attend a match between Nejmeh and Egypt’s Ahly SC as part of the Arab Club Championships Cup.

Nader al-Moalem, the defendants’ lawyer, told Mada Masr that the ordeal began before the start of the match at Borg al-Arab Stadium. The Nejmeh fans, who were wearing t-shirts with “Ultras Supernova” — the football team’s official slogan — written across the front, were arrested by Egyptian security forces.

“We were not previously aware of the problematic nature of this slogan, or of the connotations it has in Egypt,” Moalem explained, referring to the term “ultras” to denote supporters of a football team. “We understand that now.”

Egypt’s two main football clubs have large fan bases, namely Ultras Ahlawy and Ultras White Knights. Both have a long history of animosity with the state’s security agencies, a relationship that escalated following the involvement of ultras in the 2011 revolution and resulted in frequent clashes between fans and police forces at football stadiums.

According to Moalem, fans of Nejmeh SC — one of the oldest football clubs in Lebanon — who are known as Ultras Supernova, appeared before Egypt’s Public Prosecution on Monday, which ordered their release that day.

But the decision was suspended, pending approval by the National Security Agency, which decided on Monday that the fans would be deported to Lebanon via Borg al-Arab International Airport, southwest of Alexandria.

Flights to Lebanon were not available before the end of Eid al-Adha, however, which meant that the Lebanese fans would have to remain in detention in Egypt until Friday, August 24. The Lebanese Ambassador to Cairo intervened to convince Egyptian state bodies to deport the football fans from Cairo International Airport instead, which would allow them to return to Lebanon tomorrow.

Dozens of members of Ultras Ahlawy and Ultras White Knights have been arrested on numerous occasions across Egypt, some of whom have been sentenced to prison in various cases, stemming from the May 2015 decision by the Urgent Matters Court to outlaw membership in these groups and declare them terrorist organizations.

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