Several hundred Ultras Ahlawy members, Ahly club's hardcore football fans, embarked on an open-ended sit-in starting Sunday in front of the People's Assembly demanding retribution for the Port Said football disaster that saw over 74 Ahly fans killed by groups who appeared to be rioting Masry supporters.
The sit-in was planned in the wake of the Egyptian Football Association’s (EFA) Friday announcement about sanctions imposed on the Port Said club. The Masry team have received a two-season ban and their stadium has been closed for three years, as a result of the deadly riots after an Egyptian Premier League match in the coastal city on 1 February.
The sit-in was originally planned to be held in front of the EFA's headquarters but the Ultras Ahlawy announced a change of location Sunday morning on its Facebook page, which they described as "camouflage."
The page's administrators also lashed out at the EFA. "Such an association is too frivolous to stage a sit-in in front of," the group's announcement reads. "We are on our way to the People's Assembly where the sit-in will be held, and we invite all Egypt revolutionaries to join us to fight for the rights of all martyrs [who were killed during the January uprising and ongoing demonstrations]."
Protesting Ultras members, whose number was less than expected in comparison to previous protests, appeared at the parliament. They were greeted by a heavy Central Security Forces (CSF) presence who were armed with batons and teargas launchers.
Demonstrators seemed to lack organisation. Most of them massed in the People's Assembly Street, at the closest crossroad to the parliament's headquarters, with CSF blocking the way leading to the parliament. Many were not repeating slogans. Only a group of Ultras were chanting their songs, mainly hitting out at the Interior Ministry.
Protesters did not carry many placards or banners. The few that were there bore the photos of those who were killed in Port Said.
"I finished work [in the field of electronics] and decided to join the sit-in right away in solidarity with the families of the martyrs," an Ultras Ahlawy member, who identified himself as Hazem, told Ahram Online. "Hopefully, this sit-in will pay off."
Apart from the zealous Ultras Ahlawy supporters, a few agonised mothers of those who were murdered in Port Said took part in the protest while holding pictures of their deceased sons. Some of the women said they intended to stay with the rest of the protesters until their demands are met.
One of them was Karima El-Sayed, mother to Islam Ahmed, a 14 year old killed in the stadium massacre.
"I felt that something bad would happen in that game [between Masry and Ahly] but he insisted on going, saying 'I'm a man and won't be afraid, as I wasn't during the revolution'," she said. "These youth are from Egypt's finest. Please do not defame them; they are heroes who sacrificed themselves in the revolt.
"I will stay here along with other protesters until our demands are fulfilled. I call on all Ultras members and everyone to join us," she added.
The gathering was largely peaceful, however there was tension from the enraged Ultras members, which was reflected in heated discussions going on during the protest.
Sherif Hassan, an expert on the Ultras movements who went in solidarity with Ultras Ahlawy, told Ahram Online, "I don't think violence will break out today but clashes might flare up in the coming days.
"Most of the protesters seemed to be set to clash with the CSF … The CSF also still have the wrong idea about the Ultras groups; I heard a trooper today saying to his colleague 'take care, these are the Ultras. They are suicide bombers'," he added.
"Everyone is here as a result of the absence of justice. It is not about the sanctions on Masry but the general lack of action taken by Egyptians authorities."
Seventy-five people, including 9 security officials in Port Said, were referred to criminal court earlier this month to face trial over the tragedy. Many Masry fans are charged with premeditated murder while security officers are accused of negligence.
Another protest was held simultaneously on Sunday also in front of the People's Assembly by public transport workers. The unrelated demonstration chanted against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and military de-facto ruler, Hussein Tantawi, while demanding bonuses and entitlement to financial incentives, among other demands.