Thursday, February 2, 2012

Egypt Soccer Tragedy Blamed on Military Government

by Rick Moran

With 74 dead and more than 1000 injured in a preventable soccer riot in Port Said on Sunday, Egypt's activists took to the streets of Cairo and other cities, using the tragedy as an excuse to protest against military rule.


Addressing angry lawmakers in parliament, the military-appointed prime minister said senior security chiefs in Port Said and the city's governor had been suspended and the soccer federation's board had been sacked. But he disappointed those seeking tougher steps, such as sacking the interior minister.

Young men blocked roads in Cairo's landmark Tahrir Square in protest, and a crowd gathered at the city's main rail station hoping to see relatives returning from the game in Port Said, a city at the mouth of the Suez Canal on the Mediterranean coast.

As bodies from Egypt's worst soccer disaster were unloaded from trains, covered by blankets, thousands chanted "Down with military rule."

"Where is my son?" screamed Fatma Kamal, whose frantic phone calls seeking news of her 18-year-old had gone unanswered. "To hell with the football match ... Give me back my boy."

At least 1,000 people were injured in the violence on Wednesday evening when soccer fans invaded the pitch after local team al-Masry beat visitors from Cairo's Al Ahli, the most successful football club in Africa.

Hundreds of al-Masry supporters surged across the pitch to the visitors' end and panicked Ahli fans dashed for the exit. But the steel doors were bolted shut and dozens were crushed to death in the stampede, witnesses said.

"I suddenly heard a commotion and ran to the door to find people getting crushed ... with their legs stuck in between the iron bars," said Ahmed Moustafa Ali, an electrician employed at the stadium who witnessed the incident.

"The doors were locked because the rules stipulate that we don't let fans leave at the same time," he said.

The gate lay broken outside the ground. Under it lay a pool of blood and shoes were scattered around. The front page of one Egyptian newspaper declared "A Massacre in Port Said."

I suppose one could stretch the point and blame the military government for the stupidity and criminal negligence of stadium officials, but that matters less than the activists who are using the tragedy to promote their political agenda. In the midst of all the finger pointing and blame making, one would think that measures would be announced that might prevent such a tragedy in the future. No such announcement has been forthcoming as the government would rather sack anyone remotely connected to soccer or the town the incident occurred than attempt to improve safety at soccer matches.

Rick Moran


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