Egyptian football fans and politicians on Thursday vented their anger at the ruling army for failing to prevent a football riot in Port Said that left 74 people dead, in the worst violence since Hosni Mubarak was ousted as president a year ago.
In the country’s polarised politics, the violence quickly became the focus of argument, with supporters of the ruling military council alleging on television that the mayhem on Wednesday night was a result of a security vaccum created by the continued protests by opponents of military rule and by those who criticise the police for its human rights record.
The Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice party has the most seats in parliament, blamed an “invisible” hand for provoking the violence and accused the authorities of negligence.
“We fear that some officers are punishing the people for their revolution and for depriving them of their ability to act as tyrants and restricting their privileges,” it said.
Parliament held its first emergency session in 40 years on Thursday to discuss the violence. Saad al-Katatny the speaker proposed that the live TV transmission be stopped but faced loud objections from the floor and it was voted down.
Osama Yassin, the head of the youth committee in the newly-elected parliament called for the sacking of the interior minister, the Port Said police chiefs and the governor of the province.
“First, we hold the interior minister completely responsible for what happened, and we also hold responsible alongside him the police chiefs of Port Said.” he said. “We call for their sacking to give an opportunity to others…we also want legislation to purify the police and all ministries from corrupt elements.”
The session, taking place in the presence of both the prime minister and interior minister, gives Egyptians their first whiff of parliamentary democracy in action. Under Mr Mubarak ministers were shielded from criticism and were rarely exposed to such hostility in parliament.
A security official and a doctor quoted by the Associated Press news agency said supporters of the home team, Al-Masry, swarmed the pitch on Wednesday night after a rare 3-1 win against Al-Ahly, the country’s leading team. The security official said some police conscripts were among the dead.
State television reported that Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Egypt’s de facto leader who heads the ruling military council, was sending two military aircraft to evacuate the Ahly players to Cairo. He also made the rare move of calling a TV station to try to calm the situation and promising to catch and prosecute the culprits.
The army announced three days of national mourning.
The Egyptian stock exchange fell 4.6 per cent on Thursday morning, its biggest fall in seven weeks.
Games between the two clubs have traditionally been tense, but this is the worst football violence witnessed in Egypt for decades.
“This is not football. This is a war and people are dying in front of us. There is no movement and no security and no ambulances,” Abo Treika, an Ahly player, told the club’s television channel. “I call for the premier league to be cancelled. This is a horrible situation and today can never be forgotten.”
Kimo Tamer, an Ahly supporter described to the Financial Times how after the game the gates were opened to Masri fans allowing then to overrun the section of the stand reserved for Ahly supporters. He said the visiting supporters had rushed to exit but found their own gates locked.
“People pushed against the metal gates, but these fell on us crushing some to death,” he said, in a disturbing echo of the Hillsborough disaster at a British football ground in1989. “People were piled on top of each other and those at the bottom died. We were in one big heap and could not move. Army troops fired in the air to disperse the Masri supporters .”
Television footage showed hundreds of people swarming over the field and chasing players and other supporters. They threw stones, fireworks and bottles. Eyewitnesses said there was poor security at the game and that officials should have been able to predict the violence given the history of bad feelings between the rival sides and their supporters. There were also complaints that ambulances were late in arriving.
Hundreds of thousands demonstrated in Tahrir Square in Cairo last week to call for an immediate handover of power from the military to civilians. The protests on the first anniversary of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak , the former president, have continued, though on a smaller scale, this week.
Mohamed Abu Hamed, a member of parliament representing the Free Egyptians, a liberal party, on state TV accused the country’s military rulers of deliberate negligence. He said members of the public were able to enter the game armed with knives.
State television quoted Hesham Sheiha, deputy health minister, as saying that most of the injuries were caused by concussion and deep cuts.
Sherif Ikramy, the goalkeeper of Ahly told ONTV, the private channel, that the number of security personnel at the game was too few for the number of spectators attending. He described being attacked by hundreds of supporters of Masri
“The changing room was like a morgue,” he said. “People were dying in front of our eyes. The team doctor was carrying out artificial [respiration].”
Egypt has witnessed a break down in security since the fall of Mubarak last year. The country’s hated police force, known for its brutality, was overwhelmed by protesters and had to be withdrawn.
The newly elected parliament will devote its session on Thursday to discussing the violence in Port Said.
Get alerts on Egypt when a new story is published