Port Said Soccer Violence Leads To 21 Death Sentences, Which Kick Off City-Wide Riots

Today, nearly a year after 79 died when supporters of rival soccer teams Al-Masry and Al-Ahly fought in the Al-Ahly stadium after a Feb. 1 game in the Egyptian city of Port Said, a court sentenced 21 people to death in connection with the riot. Trouble began to brew in Port Said shortly after the verdicts were announced, and the sentencing, according to the Associated Press and others, "touch[ed] off an attempted jailbreak and a riot that killed at least 16 in the Mediterranean port city that is home to most of the defendants." Hundreds more have been wounded in the ensuing tumult, and the flare-ups are ongoing.

The anger is partly a reaction to who wasn't sentenced today. Many Egyptians hold police responsible for the original soccer stadium violence. None of those sentenced to death were from the police force, though two police have died in today's riots. A lawyer for a defendant said the sentences that were handed down were politically motivated, and that "kids were taken from their homes for wearing green T-shirts," the color of Al-Masry's jerseys.

The situation is complex, but the simple way to understand today's ruling is that the court has, for the moment, ignored the alleged police involvement and instead split factions of soccer hooligans—they're called "ultras" in Egypt, too—into victims or defendants, generally blaming those that support Al-Masry for instigating the initial violence at the February game; Al-Masry fans bore the brunt of today's rulings. The English-language Egypt Independent pointed out that, violence notwithstanding, reaction has been positive in some places, particularly among Al-Ahly fans—the picture above shows supporters of that side celebrating the verdict today at the stadium where 79 died last year.


The Egypt Independent has been continually updating on the situation in Port Said, first to note that the nine police officers that stand accused will hear their verdicts on March 9 (that link also has a full list of those sentenced to death and the crimes of which they stand accused), then to say that military, deployed today to Port Said, has brought the city mostly under control.

The updated death count given in that article puts the total at 26; a newer update says 30, bringing the combined deaths from the Feb. 1 violence and today's riots to 109, not including the 21 that will be executed by the state. Two of today's casualties, reports the AP, were soccer players, "one from Port Said's Al-Marikh club and the other a former player of its Al-Masry club." Though historians may categorize the events differently, the Port Said violence seems to have surpassed the Hillsborough disaster in terms of the human cost of an individual soccer match.

As part of its response, the Egyptian government is currently considering a curfew in areas where violence has broken out in reaction to today's verdicts and other grievances.

[Egypt Independent]
Death Sentences In Egyptian Soccer Violence Case Spark riot, killing dozens [AP]