Football fan group claims responsibly in Cairo bomb attack on police
James M. Dorsey
AFP photoA shadowy group of militant football fans who have largely laid low since they participated in mass anti-government protests in 2013 that led to the military ouster of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi have claimed responsibility for a car bomb near a Cairo security building that injured at least six policemen late on Aug. 19.
Whether the group, the Black Bloc, was responsible or not, it is the first time a football related group claimed responsibility for an act of political violence and reflects a trend toward radicalization among politicized fans. The claim on Facebook also would be the first time that a supposedly anti-Islamist group has targeted an institution of the Egyptian state.
“We declare full and complete responsibility for the blasts, which occurred about an hour ago,” the Black Bloc said, adding that it was a response to the detention of large numbers of people who were either not charged with an offence or facing what the group called “non-criminal” charges.
The car bomb wounded six Egyptian policemen as it exploded in front of a police building in Cairo, the Interior Ministry said.
The powerful blast in northern Cairo’s district of Shubra came in the middle of the night, an AFP journalist said, as Egyptian security forces are being targeted by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) jihadists waging an Islamist insurgency.
“A man suddenly stopped his car in front of the state security building, jumped out of it and fled on a motorbike that followed the car,” AFP quoted the ministry statement.
The government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the general who shed his uniform after staging a coup against Morsi, Egypt’s first and only democratically elected president, has introduced draconic laws to suppress dissent and critical media reporting, killed more than 1,400 people since the July 2013 military takeover, and imprisoned tens of thousands.
El-Sisi this week approved new counter-terrorism laws that establish special courts, offer additional protection from legal consequences for military and police officers who have used force and ban the media from taking exception to government accounts of political violence.
Amnesty International, in a recently published report entitled “Generation Jail: Egypt’s youth go from protest to prison,” said, “A generation of young Egyptian activists that came to the fore around the ousting of repressive ruler Hosni Mubarak in 2011 is today languishing behind bars.” It said the “mass protests have given way to mass arrests, as 2011’s ‘Generation Protest’ has become 2015’s ‘Generation Jail.’”
The Black Bloc emerged in early 2013 as a group of masked black-clad vigilantes founded primarily by battle-steeled football supporters with the aim of protecting protesters against violence by Morsi’s supporters. The group sided with police and security forces in the summer of 2013 in their brutal crackdown on Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood.
If Black Bloc’s claim is accurate, it would constitute the first time soccer fans have resorted to bombings rather than clashes with security forces or the storming of stadia and buildings. Even if the claim proves to be a publicity stunt, it would suggest a split in the ranks of Egypt’s significant movement of militant, well-organized, highly politicized and street-battle hardened soccer fans.
Iyad al-Baghdadi, a prominent Egyptian blogger, who was forced into exile in Norway first by Egypt and then by the United Arab Emirates, cast doubt on the Black Bloc claim. “Claim of responsibility by the #Egypt Black Bloc (anti-Islamist, anarchist?) FB post, so pretty unreliable,” al-Baghdadi said in a tweet.
The Black Bloc is alongside the Ultras Nahdawy, formed by soccer fans with Islamist leanings who constitute the backbone of the anti-el-Sisi student movement, the only group of football activists that is not associated with a specific club.
The Black Bloc claim would suggest that anger at the el-Sisi regime’s brutal and draconic repression and failure to address frustration in Egypt’s youth bulge at a lack of economic and social prospects has gone beyond the Islamist insurgency in the Sinai and less militant Islamist opposition to the government to incorporate more secular groups that once supported the military and the security forces.
It also potentially signals that radicalization is no longer limited to Islamists. The last year has shown primarily a fringe of Islamist-leaning soccer fans crossing the line from non-violent to violent protest.
People who were at the birth of the ultras in Egypt in 2007 as they grew to be one of the country’s largest social movements and with the exception of the Bedouins and Islamists in the Sinai, the only group that consistently confronted the Mubarak regime’s security forces in clashes in stadia and current soccer fan activists have been warning that frustration among Egyptian youth is boiling and could turn violent. The ultras played a key role in the 2011 protests that toppled Mubarak and most anti-government protests since.
“We had high hopes. We staged the revolution in 2011. The new generation has nothing to lose. We recognize that football is political. That’s why we are involved not only in football but also in politics. We oppose the brutality of this regime and its pawns. Neither [el-] Sisi nor [Mansour] Mortada, [president of storied Cairo club Al Zamalek DC] are interested in politics. Their language is exclusively the language of repression,” said an ultra who is also a student leader.
“This is a new generation. It’s a generation that can’t be controlled. They don’t read. They believe in action and experience. They have balls. When the opportunity arises they will do something bigger than we ever did,” noted a founder of one of Egypt’s foremost militant fan groups or ultras.
Added another original ultra: “Things will eventually burst. When and where nobody knows. But the writing is on the wall.”