In the aftermath of a soccer game in Port Said, Egypt on Wednesday evening, rioting and fights led to the deaths of at least 79 people. Hundreds more were injured as fans were trampled and suffocated in a rush toward locked exit gates. Numbers of combatants threw bottles and rocks, and some were said to be carrying knives. It was the worst incidence of soccer-related violence in Egypt’s history, and the worst such occurrence anywhere since at least 78 people died during a stampede at the stadium in Guatemala City before a World Cup qualifier in 1996.
Some at the scene in Port Said accused the country’s ruling military and the police of doing nothing to stop the violence. Among the victims were members of a fan group called “the ultras,” who have aggressively protested police actions in the past, in stadiums and elsewhere.
The Egypt Football Association has ordered an indefinite suspension of league games, Egypt’s Prime Minister has dissolved the Soccer Federation’s Board of Directors, and the governor of Port Said Province and the local police chief have both resigned.
In the days that followed the deaths in Port Said, demonstrations outside the Interior Ministry in Cairo mobilized thousands of Egyptians, and there were demonstrations in Suez as well.
Obviously this terrible and deadly business did not begin with soccer.
Just a year ago, demonstrations in Egypt led to the departure of Hosni Mubarak, who had ruled for 30 years. Since then, a military government has been in charge of the country. Many people who were elated at Mubarak’s ouster have come to feel dismay with the military. In a context of disappointment, mistrust, confusion, anger, and mutual blame, the aftermath of a soccer game became a bloody battlefield on which a great many people with no wish to be combatants were killed or injured. In the wake of the events in Port Said on Wednesday, there have been charges that the military and police allowed the riot to develop in order to support their contention that stricter controls on the population are necessary.
On the days that seem easiest to understand, it feels as if there is a clear line between our grievances and our delights, between that which oppresses and threatens us, and that which can temporarily banish our troubles by entertaining us. To the people who lost loved ones on Wednesday in Port Said, it must feel as if there is no safe place at all.