An Egyptian parliamentary inquiry into the deaths of 74 people in a soccer stadium disaster has found both fans and lax security to blame for the worst incident of its kind in the country’s history, the legislator leading it said late Sunday, as hardcore fans of al-Ahly soccer club, known as Ultras, called for a protest march to the office of Egypt’s public prosecutor on Wednesday to demand “retribution” for the Port Said deaths.
The preliminary findings of the inquiry into the Port Said deaths offered little to support the view of those Egyptians who believed the deaths were the result of a plot hatched by elements within the establishment seeking to create chaos.
Ashraf Thabet, the member of parliament who headed the inquiry, listed factors including incitement by sports TV channels as the cause of the incident which touched off several days of violent protests in which 16 more people were killed, according to Reuters.
The incident occurred at the end of a match between Port Said-based al-Masry and Cairo’s al-Ahly, the most successful club in Africa.
Witnesses to the Feb. 2 incident had said hundreds of al-Masry supporters surged across the pitch to the visitors’ end causing panicked al-Ahly fans to dash for the exit. But the steel doors were bolted shut and dozens were crushed to death in the stampede. Many believe the incident was sparked by hired thugs.
Thabet spoke of instigators who had used thugs and hardcore soccer fans to take “advantage of the tension surrounding the game to achieve some political gains,” but without giving further details. “We will announce their names,” he said.
Critics of the military-led authorities had laid the blame on the government, some saying the violence was planned to create an air of chaos that would add to the case for army rule.
Thabet said fans were not inspected while entering the stands and there was a lack of order inside and outside the stadium. “Security facilitated, allowed and enabled this massacre,” he said. The security forces had failed to predict trouble and control the crowd stampede, he added.
He also laid blame on “Ultras”, the hardcore soccer fans who regularly confront riot police at matches and have been on the front line of confrontations with the security forces since the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak from power.
Most Egyptian teams have their own group of Ultras.
Thabet said there had been tension between the fans before the match. “Both ultras and thugs attacked Ahly fans and this is part of Ultras' culture,” Thabet said.
Similar instances of pitch invasions had occurred in Port Said in the past few months, Thabet said, but without causing casualties.
Demonstrators blaming the security forces for the deaths targeted the Interior Ministry in downtown Cairo in protest at what some saw as police complacency. Others said the security forces had a role in igniting trouble.
The committee said investigations were still ongoing and that it would announce final results in its final report which would assign political responsibility for the events.
Meanwhile, the planned march by al-Ahly Ultras to the office of the public prosecutor represents the first action taken by the hardcore fans, who have been observing a period of mourning for the victims.
A statement by al-Ahly Ultras on their official Facebook page listed on Sunday three demands, threatening to take their rights with their “own hands” if the demands weren’t met, according to the online edition of Egypt’s al-Ahram.
The demands include the punishment of police officers involved in the disaster, including the interior minister, the Port Said security director, the Port Said governor and the manager of Port Said Stadium.
The group has accused the Interior Minister himself of inciting violence against its members, according to the report carried out by al-Ahram.
The group further accused security forces of intentionally neglecting the stadium security which was the main reason for the high death toll.
An Egyptian protester, meanwhile, died of his wounds earlier Sunday after he was injured in clashes with police last week, the official MENA news agency said.
His death at a Cairo hospital brings to 16 the death toll from five days of clashes in Cairo and the canal city of Suez, following the Port Said carnage.