At least 25 fans of the Egyptian Zamalek football team died in violence in front of the Air Defense Stadium in the Nasr City in the province of Cairo where a football match between the Zamalek and ENPPI teams was getting started.
The Zamalek fan group “Ultras White Knights” and the Egyptian Interior Ministry took to Facebook to state opposing versions of the events.
The Ultras White Knights official Facebook page began posting on the events at 5.56pm with a post which read: “Breaking/ The interior [ministry] begins firing gas in front of the Air Defense Stadium and many cases of fainting and choking.”
Approximately 40 minutes later, the Ultras announced that they had received reports of “martyrs dying.”
At 6.53pm, the official Facebook page of the Interior Ministry issued a statement claiming that a large number of Zamalek fans arrived at the Air Defense Stadium without tickets to the game and attempted to storm the gates by force, and the security forces were summoned to prevent the fans from damaging the stadium's property. The ministry then called upon the fans to follow the rules and guidelines for attending the games.
At 7.19pm, a photograph of the steel cage corridor that fans had to pass through before it collapsed was uploaded to the page. Minutes later, photographs of what seemed to be casualties from the events were also uploaded.
At 7.45pm, the Ultras had reported that the number of dead had reached five. The page's cover and profile photographs were changed to plain black moments later.
At 10.16 pm, the Interior Ministry issued another statement on its Facebook page claiming that the number of fans who had gathered at the gate without tickets was over 10,000 and that they attempted to push their way through and jump over the fence. Tens of them were injured as a result, and those injured were transported to nearby hospitals, according to the statement. The statement continued:
“The forces dispersed them. They [the fans] then moved to the road leading to the stadium and blocked both ways of the traffic, forced the vehicle that was carrying the Zamalek Sports Club players to stop, prevented it from reaching the stadium, and set fire to one of the police cars. They have been dispersed, and the players’ and the coaching staff's arrival at the field has been secured. We have heard reports of cases of fatalities among the injured due to the stampede; the public prosecution has been informed and the completion of the investigation process is underway.”
The Zamalek fan page labeled the event as a “planned massacre”, pointing out that the “steel cage” – in a reference to a narrow steel corridor that the crowds of people had to pass through to enter the stadium – was set up one day before the match. The page also claimed that Mortada Mansour, the chairman of the Zamalek Sports Club, had purchased all of the tickets to the match in cooperation with the Ministry of the Interior.
A video that has been circulating among Egyptian social media users shows the early moments of the incident. A large crowd of fans are seen hoping to enter the stadium. A group of security forces blocked the way to the stadium. Voices can be heard from the crowd shouting, “People are dying!” The security forces did not move. After approximately a minute and a half, a voice near the camera shouts: “The people are dying! Open up! The people are dying!” Moments later, the steel caged passage collapsed on those inside under the weight of a number of people who had gotten on top of it. The security forces are then seen backing slightly away and raising their batons as the crowd began to spread out. The video then shows an armored vehicle approaching the area and launching tear gas canisters into the crowd.
In another video posted on YouTube, police are seen shooting what seems to be a round of bird-shot into the crowd:
The Ultras White Knights
The Zamalek sports club ultras fan group “Ultras White Knights” was established on March 17, 2007, according to its official Facebook page. The group's sports-related statements, fan-gear advertisements, and graffiti work make up most of the page's posts. The group has announced in numerous statements that it has nothing to do with politics and allows its members to take part in any political activity so long as they do not use the group's name while doing so. Some of its merchandise and graffiti work, however, has displayed the group's pro-Palestine and pan-Arab beliefs. The tracks on their SoundCloud page include pan-Arab, anti-police, and pro-revolutionary songs they have produced themselves.
Despite the group's official neutral position in politics, two of its members were killed during the January 25th revolution that forced former president Hosni Mubarak out of office in 2011.
The current chairman of the board of the Zamalek Sports Club, Murtada Mansour has been a controversial figure in the political arena and the sports industry in Egypt. A former judge and member of parliament during former president Hosni Mubarak's time in office, he has been considered by many to be a supporter of Mubarak's regime and one of its remnants. During the revolution, he joined the pro-Mubarak protesters at Moustafa Mahmoud Square in Cairo where he praised the former president.
During the last presidential elections in Egypt, Murtada Mansour announced that he was not going to run for office after having previously told his supporters that he planned joining the race. During a press conference, he stated that a dream he had involving two military officers pushed him to cancel his candidacy.
In August of last year, Murtada Mansour survived an assassination attempt. He later claimed that members of the Ultras White Knights were responsible, in addition to the son of the ousted president Muhammed Morsi.
In October, Ultras White Knights uploaded a video on their YouTube page showing one of their members coming from behind Murtada Mansour and slapping him across the back of his neck – an insult in Egyptian culture. Another member of the group came from the front and threw what the group claimed to be a bag of urine.
Social Media and the “Air Defense Stadium Massacre”
Many Egyptian personalities took to Twitter to voice their outrage. When the number of dead had reached 20, chief editor of the Egyptian newspaper ElMasryoon, Gamal Soltan, wrote:
الدم الحرام الذي هو أعظم حرمة من الكعبة المشرفة أصبح في مصر أرخص من تذكرة مباراة كرة ، يا ويل وطن يسترخص فيه الدم إلى هذا الحد ـ 20 قتيلا
— جمال سلطان (@GamalSultan1) February 8, 2015
The sanctified blood that is more sanctified than the Holy Kaaba has become, in Egypt, cheaper than a football ticket. Oh woe to a country in which blood is made cheap to this extend. – 20 dead.
Dr. Saif Abdel Fattah, a political science professor at the University of Cairo, wrote:
فى كل دول العالم من لا يمتلك تذكرة لا يحضر المباراة .. إلا فى مصر يُقتل!
— Dr.Saif AbdelFattah (@drSaifAbdelFatt) February 9, 2015
In all the countries of the world, whoever does not own a ticket does not attend the match . . except in Egypt, he is killed!
In a response to the statement by the Ministry of the Interior, Egyptian human rights activist Sherif Azer wrote:
— شريف عازر (@sherif_azer) February 8, 2015
They shoot [tear]gas and bird-shot and the people, while they run from them, step on each other so he'll tell you ‘there are no signs of bird-shot or choking.’ This is a perfect crime.
In a sarcastic tweet he wrote:
من يرتكب جريمة شنيعة لا انسانية مثل دخول مباراة بدون تذكرة يجب أن تنفذ فيه عقوبة الاعدام الميدانية فورا #مجزرة_الدفاع_الجوي
— شريف عازر (@sherif_azer) February 8, 2015
He who commits a horrible, inhumane crime such as entering a match without a ticket; he must be punished by field execution immediately.
Political activist and poet Abdul Rahman Yusuf tweeted:
أقسم بالله العظيم الذي لا إله إلا هو سوف نقتص منكم جميعا … مهما طال الزمن … ومهما حاولتم الهرب … مصيركم القصاص يا قتلة !!!
— Abdul rahman Yusuf (@arahmanyusuf) February 8, 2015
I swear by Almighty God we will take revenge on you all …. no matter how long it takes … and no matter how you try to escape, your destiny is retribution, you murderers!
Egyptian politician and former presidential candidate Abdel Meniem Abolfotoh said that interior minister Muhammed Ibrahim is directly responsible for what happened, and that Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi bears a political responsibility for the deaths.
أعزي أسر شهداء مشجعي الزمالك في مصابهم الجلل. الرئيس السيسي مسئول سياسيا ووزير الداخلية مسئول بشكل مباشر. المحاسبة واجبة
— عبدالمنعم أبو الفتوح (@DrAbolfotoh) February 10, 2015
Condolences to the families of the martyrs of the Zamalek fans in their great affliction. The president El-Sisi is politically responsible and the interior minister is directly responsible. Accountability is mandatory.
Egyptian lawyer and freedom-of-expression advocate Gamal Eid compared between the official statement of the ministry of the interior and statements from other countries regarding similar events.
في كل بلاد العالم حين تحدث جريمة يكون التصريح : الشرطة بذلت جهدها في حماية الضحايا في مصر: الشرطة لم تقتل ،، وبس #مجزرة_الدفاع_الجوي
— Gamal Eid (@gamaleid) February 9, 2015
In all the countries of the world, whenever a crime occurs, the statement is:
The police exerted its energy in protecting the victims.
In Egypt: The police did not kill.
He later suggested that the incident may prepared to cover up a recent alleged leak in which Egyptian president El-Sisi mocked the Gulf countries.
— Gamal Eid (@gamaleid) February 9, 2015
Cover up a scandal with a crime #El-sisi_office_leaks #air_defense_stadium_massacre
And cover up the crime with a scandal,
And cover up the scandal with a crime,
And cover up the crime with a scandal.
Egypt had previously witnessed a similar football-related incident in February, 2012, when violence between fans of two football teams left 74 people dead.