Egypt Soccer Game Turns Deadly For Fans
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Egypt has declared three days of mourning. That's the response after 74 people were killed when soccer fans rushed a field and attacked players as well as rival fans. Egyptian security forces are being blamed for failing to stop the stampede. And this situation highlights the deteriorating security situation in Egypt a year after that country's revolution.
We're going to talk about this with NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, who's in Cairo. Hi, Soraya.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: How did this fight start at the soccer game?
NELSON: Well, the Al-Masry team, which was up in Port Said, scored a rare, 3-1 victory. I mean, in fact, they'd never won before against the perennial favorite, Al-Ahly, which is based in Cairo. And what happened is, fans of the winning team stormed the field and began attacking players and supporters of Al-Ahly. And they even chased players into the dressing room.
It's important to note that the winning team fans did outnumber the others by 10 - or more - to 1. So it was quite chaotic. Health officials say that victims were stabbed, trampled and beaten. And the dead were said to include police officers.
INSKEEP: I suppose it's hard to get into the crowd psychology of what would cause people having had their side win the game to lose control like that.
NELSON: Well, many blame security officials, for one thing, for not stopping this. But they also blame these rowdy fans. There's like, organized fans; they're called ultras. They take their soccer very seriously here.
And they've also been involved - they've had, actually, an important role in the revolution against former President Hosni Mubarak. They have rallied against military rule. They've been very antipolice. And so some felt that perhaps, you know, these crowds sort of ran amok, and the police didn't stop it because they were sort of seeking revenge, if you will.
INSKEEP: Didn't video of this event actually show police on the field, in the midst of the violence?
NELSON: Yes. They were there. But most of the hundreds of black uniformed riot police, they had helmets and shields on. But they stood in lines and did nothing as soccer fans chased each other. And the Alhayat announcer - that's the independent Egyptian television channel that was broadcasting the game, and ended up broadcasting the attack - they said that security forces were trying to turn off the lights to empty the stadium and calm things down.
But that did not help and in fact, the violence only got worse. The fans ended up going to the train station in Port Said, and they were attacking each other there. And also in the neighboring province of Suez, there was violence reported.
INSKEEP: OK. So other than declaring days of mourning for the 74 people killed at this soccer game, what is the Egyptian government doing now?
NELSON: Well, the top prosecutor in Egypt has said that they're going to go after who's responsible. And Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, who's the ruling general, has also said that people will be punished. This is not going to go unpunished, if you will; justice will be sought. He also tried to reassure the victims, and the families of the victims, that the military was helping. Meanwhile, Parliament's called for an emergency session.
But having said that, there's a lot of anger with the military and the police today. The feeling is that this really highlights the problems with security in this country; that since the revolution, the police and the security forces have not really been engaged in ensuring law enforcement - in even guiding traffic around Cairo or major cities. I mean, they sort of take a stand-back position.
And in fact, security officials have said that the Interior Ministry issued directives following clashes between security forces and protesters in November not to, quote-unquote, engage with civilians. So this stand-back approach is something that the military is going to have to answer for now.
INSKEEP: Soraya, thanks very much.
NELSON: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Cairo, Egypt. In Egypt, at least 74 people were killed at a soccer game yesterday.
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