For years now, sport and politics have collided, sometimes bursting into fireworks and at others into bullets. The story of Egyptian ultras is not much different.
Ultras are groups of highly organized, devoted and passionate football fans-usually off the country’s league teams. The Ultra culture has been present in the world for a long time, in Italy and North America it’s origins date back to the 1960s but the concept made itself known to the wider Egyptian society in 2007.
Initially the ultras were found on football and following the team they supported around the country, with the group’s leader present in every game. The Ultras aren’t normal fans-far from it-they’re so passionate and so attached to the club you’d think it was their source of life. To them football isn’t just a game, it’s a way of life, if not life itself.
The Egyptian Ultras had a history of confrontations with the police during, before or after games. But back then it was all about the game. The confrontations occurred when the Ultras and other fans would protest against defeats or celebrate victories en mass. Gradually, the Ultras took the regular police confrontations as state or police biasness or even prejudice against them, specifically. They were just out there to support their team and thus thought such ideas were uncalled for but as this theory gathered support, the Ultras thought that they were being denied rights and freedom and so they took to the streets and that’s when the confrontations turned in to battles. Many Ultras lost their loves during the protests. Soon after this the Egyptian political uprisings started and regular civilians met the police with bare wrists. That’s when people realized they needed the Ultras to support them, or at least protect them. And so it happened.
The Ultras, regardless of the clubs they supported, took to the streets with the regular people and whenever the police closed in it was the Ultras who were found up front. Because of their previous endeavors with the police during games the Ultras knew how to handle such situations and therefore, protected everyone around them. This led to the loss of more Ultra lives and fueled more tension which was poured back into the protests.
Many people thought the political arena was not the place for the Ultras to be, yet these very people supported the ultras when they protected civilians during protests. How unfortunate is it that so quickly heroes of one night were turned into terrorists of another. It seems the Ultras realized that this was just not their ball game and thus they pulled out of this struggle but vowed to keep taking to the streets to avenge the deaths – murders – of their fellow Ultras.
Soon after Mubarak’s resignation and the military coup when Egypt’s first elections took place and the Muslim Brotherhood came into power the ultras were hijacked by different parties – or at least perceived to have been – in order to rally support for these parties. In other words the Ultra culture was used by many political parties to muster support for their own agendas.
The original Ultras were confused by the emergence of phony, temporary, election-campaigning Ultras. Some made it clear they had nothing to do with them, whilst some went with the flow.
The Ultras had lost focus. They had, seemingly, forgotten about their vows of vengeance. Another president was overthrown and another coup is now in place. This merry go round has brought to light further divisions in the Egyptian society, regarding the ruler ship of the country. It is clear that people had taken to the streets for personal reasons and not for one unifying ideology, aim or motive. And that is perhaps why the protests are better termed the Egyptian “uprisings” in place of the Egyptian “revolution”. Since, the Ultras have dropped out of the spotlight. They are ridiculed by some and cheered by others. They are heroes of some and villains of others. People are right when they say politics wasn’t meant to be for the Ultras, but when a nation strives for change, people from all walks of life are required to come out so that all march together as one – Ultra or not. It may not have meant to be for the Ultras but it was the right place to be and right thing to do for them. The Ultras had an energy and passion so strong and on the verge of spilling over that it had to be utilized. But the government wanted nothing to do with them nor to utilize their energy and emotion – and frankly the government didn’t even consider them a threat, initially that is. Where the government didn’t want them neither did the political parties. And so the Ultras were swept away into the revolutionary protests by the common man. It is wrong indeed to say the Ultras were wrong, because they weren’t, they did what anyone would’ve done when their country was in turmoil and for that they paid with their lives. After Sisi’s takeover all football games were banned, this was also the reason for further protests. More lives were lost – we all remember the Port Said Massacre. In January of this year the ban was lifted, but the games are actually being played behind close doors. The youth’s efforts have been made to look futile. But when the Egyptian people have come this far, when they’ve seen what they’re capable of, there remains still a long road of challenges and Ultras ahead.
source: Fatima Arshad
Note: Al-Rasub is not responsible for writer personal opinion