Over 30 people were killed and more than 300 were injured in rioting in the coastal city of Port Said on Saturday after a Cairo court sentenced 21 people to death for their role in a deadly soccer riot last February. This dovetailed with anti-government riots in cities all over Egypt. Soccer fans of the Egyptian soccer club Al-Ahly celebrated after a court sentenced 21 people to death in clashes last year that killed 74 Al-Ahly fans.
In Port Said, hundreds of relatives and friends of the convicted defendants tried to breach prison walls to spring the convicts from jail. The 21 people sentenced to death on Saturday were among 73 defendants, including several police officers, accused of participating in one of the worldâ€™s deadliest soccer riots. Rulings for the rest of the defendants will be read on March 9th. The verdict for the 21 announced Saturday isnâ€™t finalâ€”the defendants are almost certain to appeal and the head of Al Azhar, a government-managed Islamic university, must first accept or reject the capital sentences. The head of Al Azhar has historically served a rubber-stamp religious role, and he is likely to approve the judgeâ€™s decision.
Egyptian soccer hooligans, known locally as Ultras, have been demonstrating in Cairo for the past week in anticipation of the court verdict over the alleged murder of 74 soccer fans during a stadium riot last February. Ultras backing the Port Said-based Al Masry team rushed the pitch following their win over the Cairo-based Al Ahly team. The ensuing melee saw dozens of Al Ahly fans suffocate while trying to leave the stadium. Others were tossed from the bleachers or slashed with knives.
Ultras supporting Al Ahly dubbed the incident a massacre and blamed Egyptâ€™s police for the deaths. The soccer fans accused the ministry of interior of doing little to stop the violence as part of a decade-long vendetta between soccer hooligans and the police. Others accused the police of deliberately orchestrating the attack. â€œThey are to blame for derelection of duty and the murders happened under their watch,â€ said Mahmoud Adel, a member of the Al Ahly fan club committee who was at the game last year. Mr. Adel said thousands of Al Ahly fans erupted into cheers and applause at the Al Ahly club in Cairo when the decision was read. â€œItâ€™s a strong verdict, but what happened deserves an even stronger verdict,â€ he said.
The courtâ€™s ruling in the Port Said case came a day after protesters descended on city squares across Egypt on Friday to mark the second anniversary of the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarakâ€™s 30-year autocracy and to press their demands against Egyptâ€™s Islamist leadership. The Muslim Brotherhood and its conservative Islamist allies have dominated every national vote since Mr. Mubarak stepped down. In statements this week, the Brotherhood championed Egyptâ€™s â€œglorious revolutionâ€ but warned of the â€œevil forces of darkness [who] desperately endeavor to spoil the celebration [by] spreading chaos and terror across the country.â€
In a statement on his official Twitter account, Mr. Morsi expressed his sympathy for the deaths of protesters and police officers in Suez and vowed to pursue those responsible. In Egyptâ€™s capital, marchers converged Friday from across the city onto Tahrir Square, the nerve center of the 2011 revolution. Demonstrators chanted anti-Islamist slogans. â€œThis is not a memory or a memorial,â€ said Sayyid Gouda, a 36-year-old accountant who was wearing a gas mask around his neck as he gazed out on the crowds on the square. â€œThis is a new wave of the revolution to restore our country.â€ In condemning the Muslim Brotherhood, which exercises expansive control over Egyptâ€™s government, Mr. Gouda stated, â€œPresident Morsi and his Brotherhood backers are â€œfascistsâ€ who should be imprisoned for trying to take over Egypt and turn it into an Islamist state.â€
The violence was still boiling over in cities across the country. Egyptâ€™s state news agency reported hundreds of unknown assailants attacking government facilities and Brotherhood offices. In the coastal city of Suez, rioters stormed and looted a police station and shops and attacked a police administration building.
The protests also marked the first major appearance of a new group of masked protesters calling themselves the â€œBlack Block,â€ after a protest strategy historically associated with the violent European anarchist movement. Sporting black clothing and concealing black face-masks, members of the group were responsible for blocking a tramway in the coastal city of Alexandria to make way for protesters and clashed with police in front of the presidential palace in Cairo, state media said.