Egyptian militant soccer fans, one of the country's largest civic groups, won their second political victory this month with the Egyptian Football Associations' (EFA) disqualification of world soccer body FIFA executive committee member Hani Abou-Reida as a candidate for the EFA presidency.
Mr. Abou-Reida's disqualification was one of six demands put forward by Ultras Ahlawy, the militant, highly politicised, street battle-hardened support group of crowned Cairo club Al Ahly SC. The militants issued their demands after first storming an Al Ahly training ground and then the EFA's headquarters.
Mr. Abou-Reida, believed to be close to disgraced FIFA vice-president and Asian Football Confederation president Mohammed Bin Hammam, who was suspended 15 months ago on charges of bribery, corruption and financial mismanagement, was a member of Mr. Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). Mr. Abou-Reida was further reported to have accompanied Mr. Bin Hammam last year on a private jet to Trinidad where the Qatari national allegedly sought to buy the votes of Caribbean soccer officials in his failed bid to challenge FIFA president Sepp Blatter for the soccer body's presidency.
The ultras also accused Mr. Abou-Reida of protecting Al Masri SC from severe punishment for an attack on Al Ahly fans in February in a politically loaded brawl after a match between the two teams in Port Said that left 74 people dead. Mr. Abou-Reida has not been charged with any Port Said-related offence.
"Abou-Reida's departure paves the way for Egyptian soccer to be managed by real soccer officials rather than by Bin Hammam protégés. His departure also removes one of the pillars of mismanagement in African soccer," said a source familiar with the inner workings of the world's major soccer bodies.
The EFA said Mr. Abou-Reida, who last year resigned as EFA vice president, would only be able to run for the soccer body's presidency in four years' time because he had already served two consecutive terms as president. Mr. Abou-Reida is expected to challenge the EFA decision, which leaves businessman Ihab Saleh, former Ismaili player Osama Khalil and Luxor club chairman Galal Allam as candidates for the soccer body's presidency.
Besides Mr. Abou-Reida's disqualification, the ultras demanded the resignation of Al Ahly's board headed by Hassan Hamdy, another leftover from ousted president Hosni Mubarak's era, an end to corruption in Egyptian soccer, depriving the police and security forces of responsibility for security in stadiums, continued suspension of professional league matches until justice has been done for the 74 dead Al Alhly fans, and unrestricted access to matches for club supporters.
Mr. Hamdy's endorsement of Mr Abou-Reida fanned the ultras' distrust of the Al Ahly chairman whom they accuse of corruption. Mr. Hamdy doubles as head of the advertising department of Al Ahram, Egypt's state-owned and largest newspaper. "We demand the resignation of Hassan Hamdy's corrupt board, which neglected the rights of the martyrs. Hamdy endorsed Abou-Reida merely to serve his own interests," the ultras said in a statement on their Facebook page that has some 577,000 followers.
Authorities earlier this month caved in to the demand for a continued suspension of matches by delaying the resumption of professional soccer until mid-October. Professional soccer has been suspended in Egypt since the Port Said soccer incident when rival fans and unidentified armed elements attacked the ultras after a match against Al Masri in an incident that was widely seen as an effort to teach a lesson to the militants, who played a key role in toppling Mr. Mubarak and in the opposition to military rule during the 17-month run-up to elections in July that brought Muslim Brother Mohammed Morsi to power.
The interior ministry, which controls the police and security forces, who are despised for their role in implementing the Mubarak regime's repression and fought running battles with the ultras during the ousted president's last four years in office, agreed last month to a lifting of the ban on soccer provided matches would be played behind closed doors. The ultras threatened to storm stadiums where matches would be played if soccer was resumed prior to the meting out of justice to those responsible for the Port Said incident and if the ban on fan attendance was not lifted. Seventy-four people, including nine security officials, are on trial for their alleged involvement in the brawl.
James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer
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