Egyptian soccer clubs reject responsibility for security


CAIRO—Egyptian soccer clubs have responded angrily to an Interior Ministry letterholding them responsible for security when Premier League matches re-starton Wednesday after having been suspended for three months because of the country’s political turmoil.

The letter was written in answer to a request by the Egyptian FootballAssociation (EFA) for permission to organize a friendly match on Wednesdayin Cairo between Egypt and Libya.

“Zamalek sent a letter to Prime Minister EssamSharafto express itsdismay at the content of the interior ministry letter. The clubs’ securitypersonnel are not qualified to deal with the large number of fans who attendleague matches,”government-owned Al Ahram Online quoted Galal Ibrahim, chairman ofCairo club, Al Zamalek SC, as saying.

Mr. Ibrahim said clubs would have to hire security staff, which they cannotafford. Egypt's ruling military authorities agreed onlyreluctantly earlier in Aprilto the resumption of league games after clubs warned that thecontinued match suspension could bankrupt them. Professional matches havebeen banned since January 24 to prevent the pitch from becoming a rallying point for anti-government protesters.

Mr. Ibrahim’s protests were echoed by Ismailia SC chairman NassrAboul-Hassan.

“The clubs are not and should not be responsible for security. Our missionis to organize the games, not to secure them. If the interior ministrycannot secure the league games then the competition should be cancelled toavoid any disastrous consequences,”Mr. Aboul-Hassan said.

EFA president Samir Zaher was seeking an urgent meeting with InteriorMinister Mansour Eissawy to discuss the issue, the EFA said.

Security at soccer matches has become a major concern since militantsupporters of Zamalek earlier this month invaded the pitch during Africanchampionship match in the Cairo International Stadium between their team and Tunisia’s Club Africain. Angry fans destroyed goalposts and everything else
in their path and attacked the referee and players. Police were barelypresent during the incident and refrained from intervening.

In its letter, the ministry said clubs would have to ensure that fans areprevented from bringing weapons, fireworks and fares into the stadium. Itsaid the police would only play a supervisory role.

The ministry said clubs would also have to ensure the safety of the players,coaching staffs, referees, linesmen and match commissioners. The new policyis in accordance with regulations of FIFA, soccer's world governing body.

The letter marks a radical change in policy compared to the regime of oustedPresident Hosni Mubarak when police mounted heavy handed security operationsat matches and clashed regularly with ultras—militant, highly politicized, violence-prone supporter groups.

The new policy is part of an effort by the Interior Ministry and the police,widely viewed as repressive henchmen of the Mubarak regime, to avoid clashesand repair their tarnished image.

(James M. Dorsey is a senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer as well as of a forthcoming book on the subject. He can be reached by email at: [email protected])