PROJECTS: We die for football
Under Hosni Mubarak’s rule football stadiums made for one of only a few places where Egyptians were relatively free to express their own opinion. During matches especially one group of supporters never made a secret of their hatred against the government: the Ultras Ahlawy, radical fans of Egypt's most famous football club Al Ahly Cairo.
The Ahlawy and state security had clashed frequently prior to the Egyptian revolution in early 2011. So the Ultras were the only movement in Egypt who had gained experience of organized combat against the regime. It was almost natural that the Ahlawy would be on the front lines of the uprising against Mubarak's rule. Many call the Ultras the spearhead of the revolution after they protected protesters on Tahrir Square against police and armed thugs on camels in the famous “Battle of the Camel” and while fighting for Qasr al-Nile Bridge.
In early February 2012, clashes in a stadium in Port Said between Ahly supporters and its armed rivals from Al Masry left 74 people dead, most of them Ahlawy. Many blamed remnants of the old regime inside the transitional government for seeking revenge for the Ultras’ role in the revolution. The authorities are accused to have staged or at least tolerated the riots. Since then the Ahlawy are fighting for justice.
In April 2012 I followed the Ultras for three weeks. The massacre had left me startled, also because football is a big part of my life. I was fascinated by the idea that soccer thugs took their place in national myth by playing a positive role during the revolution for which they were essentially slaughtered. I don’t know that many other things as connecting as soccer. But it was inconceivable that a large group of hardcore supporters would help to topple a regime, the Egyptian regime. Not just since then liberal protesters in Cairo cheer when “the Ultras are coming”. They number between 8000 and 10000 members. The Ahlawy are a force in Cairo and Egypt.
The movement ties a bunch of young people who exist without any real perspective. This might result in violence. Sometimes with negative, sometimes with positive outcomes like in January 2011. But in Egypt it also offers a sanctuary for members of a generation that would otherwise be lost in a society with a degenerated school system, youth unemployment rates up to 25 percent and a fragile post-revolutionary situation.
The Ahlawy call themselves “a family”, a community, that offers support and guidance, that teaches loyalty and discipline, that helps when individuals have problems. I met countless young members who frequently skip school because they feel that the Ahlawy offer some kind of education that is more based on the every day realities of ordinary Egyptians. They consist of citizens from all social classes. Women join their lines, Salafists too. Doctors and engineers are amongst them. Above all is their love for Ahly.