The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged ultras
On the Ultras Nahdawi

Kelby Olson, writing for Muftah: 

Ultras Nahdawi was formed in April 2012 by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party to rally support both for the party’s platform, the Nahda Project, and President Morsi’s presidential campaign last year.
Like the original Ultras, Ultras Nahdawi use high energy, coordinated chants to convey their message. They also produce videos featuring pro-Muslim Brotherhood songs, modeled on older Ultras’ songs. Their shorthand name ‘UN12’ copies the Ultras Ahlawi’s ‘UA07’ formula, abbreviating the name of the group and the year in which it was founded.
The Ultras Nahdawi has also mimicked Ultras-style violence. On April 19, 2013, the group’s members were responsible for much of the violence between protestors and Muslim Brotherhood supporters outside the High Court in downtown Cairo and in nearby Abd al-Mounim Riyyad Square.

It's interesting how the MB has a tendency to appropriate the forms of contestation of its opponents, which it often decries. It has been critical of football groups and other types of youth activist groups like the "Black Bloc" yet forms its own form its own Ultras. And it continuously denounces the National Front for Salvation and has formed a parallel, largely MB, National Front for Conscience as an answer. In both cases, these groups provide distance between the organization but amount to not much more than a remote-controlled political arm of the Brotherhood.

The police and the Ultras - a pox on both of their houses?

This weekend in Egypt, as in the past several weeks, the Ultras have been out of control, the kids who like to pretend they're Ultras and block traffic have been out of control, and the police has been either nowhere to be seen or out of control. I really recommend listening to this NPR report by Laila Fadel about police degenerating into revenge gangs to put things in context.

I have an op-ed coming up soon in The National about this issue (Update: here it is.) But it's easy to blame the police for everything — no one likes them. Someone needs to stand up to the Ultras and their teenage copycats who vandalize hotels and cars on the Nile Corniche and elsewhere too.

The football protests, day two

This morning I took a ride only my bicycle just before prayers to check out what the situation was in Downtown Cairo. I got all the way the the HQ of the interior ministry, passing through checkpoint after checkpoint (and by much barbed wire) in the whole area surrounding it, which has many government buildings. It seems an area roughly the size of nine blocks has been cordoned off to traffic (see map), with the Interior Ministry at its center. Around these streets are mostly riot police, but close to the ministry itself there are also a bunch of army APCs. On streets around the ministry, nearby shops had broken windows and signs of having been looted – despite that they were on the side of the police rather than the protestors.

The marches towards the ministry did not restart until after prayers, and were in full swing by the afternoon. When I ventured down Mansour Street, which leads to Lazoghly Street where the ministry is located, it was packed and a familiar scene of an Egyptian riot/protest: pavements upturned, the air acrid with tear gas, hundreds of youth launching into impromptu sloganeering, and a general atmosphere of exhilaration and anxiety. Except this time there were also large flags of Cairo's two main football clubs, al-Ahly and Zamalek, whose normally rival fans had united against the police. As someone said on Twitter, Mansour St. is the new Mohammed Mahmoud St., and I saw very much the same kind of bravado, anger and desire for martyrdom I'd seen in November.  (You can see a short unedited video I shot of the crowd there at the top of this post.)

The biggest difference is perhaps that for now the police are less aggressive than in November they are firing tear gas canisters and birdshot, but I  have not seen rubber bullets or live ammo being shot in Cairo, although that's not the case in Suez were two protestors appear to have been shot. They seem to be under instructions not to escalate the situation, and on TV were even shown trying to urge the protestors to stop by shouting – in a bizarre reversal of positions – "kifaya, kifaya" ("enough, enough"). Kifaya of course was the battle cry of the opposition to Mubarak since 2004. I wonder how long this restraint will last.

One aside about the tear gas attacks: as well as being pretty unpleasant, they provoke pretty dangerous behavior in the protesters: small flash-stampede that can suddenly see you carried away uncontrollably in a crowd. I am 1.85m and, with my heavy protest boots on, nearly 100kg, but I lost control briefly as the crowds pushed back. Here's a little tip: wear your scarf tightly or take it off, mine was pulled on during the mini-stampede and it can strangle you.

I'm not sure were this is all going, but my intuition is that there was tremendous anti-SCAF sentiment yesterday (and sympathy for the al-Ahly fans who died in Port Said) it may not last. We're already seeing the tone change on TV. Yesterday it was remarkable to see an emerging consensus towards an accelerated transition back to civilian rule, which only a few days ago seemed to be the losing argument (against the parliamentary majority) of the revolutionary movement. The danger is that this emerging consensus evaporates as frustration with protests mount, in part because so many of those on the front lines on Mansour St. (as opposed to the many more in Tahrir Sq. and elsewhere) seem so intent in fighting with the police and seizing one of the best-defended fortresses in Cairo.

Ultras & the revolution

Yesterday was a long, hot, busy day in Cairo. As darkness fell, protests were taking place in Tahrir (against the proposed election law and suspected collusion/incompetence in Mubarak's trial) and in front of the High Court (in favour of judicial independence). Young, energetic, overwhelmingly male crowds were also busy knocking down the recently erected protective wall around the Israeli Embassy and reportedly removing the large eagle motif and most of the letters from the wall of the Ministry of Interior, leaving anti-army and anti-police graffiti in its place. 

A lot of these young men were reportedly football ultras. These obsessive and aggressive fans -- who have experience clashing with the police -- were also at the vanguard of a lot of the revolution's fighting. In fact, I heard so much about them that I sat down with one, a Zamalek White Knight, a few months back.

A self-described anarchist, G. has shoulder-length hair, and a sweet, shambling manner. I wouldn't have guessed his long and deep familiarity with violence. Police beatings broke one of his eardrums, afer a soccer match, and his jaw, after a demo (he is a rare ultra/activist -- most fans are not overtly political, with the exception of the Palestinian cause). He also got shot in the leg on January 28. He says ultras are "freedom fighters" and "against everyone" -- especially any figure or sign of authority. The revolution, in its early days, "was a fight with the police, and that's our fight." Ultras, he says "don't give a fuck about politics or the stability of the country. Zamalek is our country and Al Ahly is their country." 

It's thanks to him that I know that the acronym A.C.A.B. -- which I know notice everywhere on the walls of Cairo -- means "All Cops Are Bastards." 

Zamalek and Al Ahly -- the two Cairo teams whose rivalry in Egypt is historic and identity-defining -- came together yesterday to take on the police (who seemingly decided to skip the date) after huge clashes a few days ago following a football match at the end of which the police reportedly shut off the lights and charged the stands. What drove them to it? Apparently, this chant by Ahlawy ultras:

كان دايما فاشل .. في الثانويه .. يادوب جاب .. 50% .. بالرشوه خلاص الباشا اتعلم .. وخد شهاده ب100 كليه ..ياغراب ومعشش .. جوا بيتنا .. بتدمر ليه .. متعه حياتنا .. مش هنمشي علي مزاجك .. ارحما من طله جنابك .. لفق لفق .. في القضيه .. هي دي .. عاده الدخليه .. ممسوك مكتوبلي ارهابي دولي .. ماسكشمروخ وبغني اهلي 

The incredibly disciplined and terrifying hyped-up fans are chanting:

"He was always a loser, a jest/he barely got 50% on his high-school test/with a bribe the rich kid's a fool no more/got 100 diplomas hanging on his door/You crows nesting in our house/why are you ruining all our fun?
We won't do as you tell us/Spare us your face/Cook up your case/That's what the Interior does/I'm arrested and charged as a terrorist/Just for holding a flare and singing Ahly" (thanks to Mandy for a great translation)

The chant is one long taunt of police officers, the "losers" who have to bribe their way through life and who fabricate charges against anyone they lay hands on. This follows on a much more foul-mouthed gem of a chant from the Zamalek White Knights, performed shortly after the revolution. 

 The words are: 

مش ناسيين التحرير يا ولاد ال@$!%ـ

دي الثورة كانت بالنسبة ليكوا نكسة

هنروح و نقول لمين .. ظباط م@%!ـن

اخدتو علقة ماخدتوةاش في سنين

"We haven't forgotten Tahrir, you sons of *$%^&!

The revolution was your naksah [catastrophe]

we'll tell anyone.. officers, pimps

you took a beating like you haven't had in years"

In the end, most of the ultras' violent energy got focused on the Israeli Embassy yesterday. Which seems pretty convenient for the authorities (although now, as diplomatic and political repercussions make themselves felt, they may think so less). If the embassy hadn't been there, what might they have torn down?