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Crackdown on Egyptian 'Ultras'.

CAIRO: Prior to the Cairo derby, police arrested a group of football fans that goes by the name of Ahly Ultras after former Egypt goalkeeper and TV host Ahmed Shobeir criticized the group's numerous violations.

Reportedly, security was tighter than usual at the Cairo International Stadium, where the Ahly-Zamalek game took place, in anticipation of any fan hooliganism.

The fans were released on Monday, but the violations allegedly committed by the followers of the Ultras cult are yet to be examined, at least by the public.

Two years ago, club-supported fan unions were further developed with the introduction of the Ultras groups to Egypt.

The Ultras -- a name derived from a Latin word meaning beyond the normal -- indicate a relatively new type of football cheering is different from the usually hand clapping and cheers, sometimes led by an avid fan holding a microphone.

Ultras are based on four main points: never stop singing or chanting during a match regardless of the consequences; never sit down during a match; attend as many games as possible (home and away) regardless of cost or distance; and loyalty to the stand in which the group is located.

They are distinguished by their loud vocal support, use of flares, huge flags, and banners across the stands, defying police, and expressing political stances. The Ultras usually have a specific place in the stadium behind the goals and sometime subgroups.

This type of groups originated in Yugoslavia in 1950 with the Torcida group supporting Hajduk Split club; the phenomenon then swept through Europe especially Italy where each team has its ultras group.

In Egypt, Zamalek's Ultras White Knights were the first group to announce its presence raising their first banner during an African Champions League games in March 2007.

Ahly's Ultras Ahlawy raised their first banner in April 2007.

Evolving from Zamalek Lovers Union (ZLU) and Ahly Fans Club (AFC); the Ultras groups changed the supporting culture in Egypt by introducing songs and chants to the stands and creating choreographies of a large banner or a combination of materials showed at the beginning of the match.

However; following the European ultras mentality in which violence against opposing teams and fans is integral; violence eventually found its way into Egyptian stadiums on various occasions, especially during matches outside Cairo where security is not as strict.

Ultras were even involved in some racist chants against certain players and the violence found its way to other sports.

Last year, one Zamalek fan was hospitalized after suffering serious burns all over his body incurred in the aftermath of a basketball game between Ahly and Zamalek, where Ultras Ahlawy attacked him.

Lately, officials started taking the issue seriously, after the resulting violence left many injured whether fans, athletes or others. Clashes between fans outside the stadium increase in frequency, car and public property were damaged and people who happen to be the area were intimidated.

Last week, in Ahly-Ismaili game in Ismailiya fans fired a lot of flares, the game was stopped many times and the stadium, which is scheduled to host the 2009 U-21 World Cup games, was partly damaged.

Police launched a campaign in which members of Ultras were arrested and signed official documents promising they won't commit any acts of violence.

Before the last Cairo derby on Sunday, 185,000 flares were seized by security forces and 101 Ultras members were banned from entering the stadium. And for the first time in years, Ultras' banners were absent from the stands.

On Saturday, members of Ultras Ahlawy were arrested in a cafE[umlaut] where they usually meet and were released after the game.

A media campaign was also launched against ultras. Former Egypt Football Association vice president and TV host Ahmed Shobeir showed videos of Ultras Ahlawy members allegedly while drunk and using drugs.

A response published on one of Ultras' forums criticized Shobeir, claiming that he used to pay them to chant against certain people.

Several newspaper columnists like Al Ahram's Hassan El Mestekawy criticized Ultras groups for spreading violence and hatred between fans and described them as "the new hooligans."

Ultras groups around the world were subjects of similar campaigns; however they managed to survive and become even more powerful.

In Egypt despite the heavy crackdown on Ultras, the phenomenon is only spreading across clubs that have large fan bases even in the second division league.

Daily NewsEgypt 2007

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Publication:Daily News Egypt (Egypt)
Date:Jan 12, 2009
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