Turkish Fener and Egyptian Al-Ahly fans protest, with different motivations
ISTANBUL- Hürriyet Daily News
Thousands of Fenerbahçe fans were present as the landmark match-fixing case started in Silivri Courthouse, where the club’s chairman Aziz Yıldırım, arguably the most powerful man in Turkish football, is among the suspects tried with rigging charges. DAILY NEWS photo, Emrah GÜRELSwapping football slogans for anti-government protests, Fenerbahçe and Al-Ahly fans have something in common for taking the streets instead of stadiums.
Thousands of Fenerbahçe fans’ taking to Istanbul’s Silivri district on Feb. 14 coincided with yesterday’s Ultras march from the Al-Ahly club to the prosecutor general’s office in Cairo, bringing two pictures of football supporters from two of the biggest clubs of the region pouring onto the streets with supposedly “highly political” reasons.
However, as similar as the reasons are, the two parties seem to have utterly different motivations.
For Fenerbahçe fans, it was mostly about showing support to the club’s chairman Aziz Yıldırım, who is the highest-profile name in the gripping match-fixing scandal in Turkey. The club, along with seven other Turkish football teams, is at the center of the match-fixing case that rocked Turkey, while Yıldırım was one of the 93 officials charged with rigging.
In Egypt, it is about the Port Said incident, which left 74 people dead in the violence after a game on Feb. 1.
‘Part of a plot’
Both sides believe they are victimized by a plot.
Fenerbahçe fans believe the case was only opened to dethrone Yıldırım, arguably the most powerful man in Turkish football, in an attempt to take over the most coveted seat in Turkish football. They have said the evidence in the case was not convincing, with the claim that it was another attempt by Fethullah Gülen’s religious community to take over the football scene, just after it purportedly “seized” the state’s other key institutions.
“The [Gülen] Community can’t cope with Fener,” read a banner, which was highly shared on social networking sites. Yıldırım’s statements during a break to the hearing had similar context.
“They say match fixing. What match fixing?” Yıldırım said. “The country is getting out of hand, but all they talk about is match fixing.”
Al-Ahly Ultras believe they were victimized by a plot as well, claiming the Port Said incident was designed to demonstrate that the police was needed to prevent a breakdown of law and order.
Ultras have been instrumental in organizing street protests last year during the Tahrir rallies, which ultimately led to President Hosni Mubarak’s fall from power – thanks in part to the fact that they are used to resisting police force in stadiums.
Sports writer Dağhan Irak has focused on the way Fener and Galatasaray rivalry was linked to the one between Al-Ahly and Zamalek.
“But as similar as the rivalries are in terms of competition, the political depth of Egyptian football agenda is immense, unlike our football scene,” Irak told NTV.
As strong as Fenerbahçe fans’ hatred for “those who put Fenerbahçe in a dismal position” is, there are also doubts about its roots, said Kenan Başaran, a writer for daily Radikal.
“Unfortunately, those actions are solely based on the trophy, not a search for justice. We can’t talk about a political stance here,” he told the Daily News recently. “Police will not let them go on after some point. Once teargas is involved, we will see if those rallies will live on or not.”
For Radikal sport editor Uğur Vardan, this newfound activism can be useful – a la Egypt. “I hope the case shows fans that life is not just football,” he wrote yesterday. “Hopefully they learn the system has many failures and similar reaction should be shown to them as well.”