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Clashing with the Ultras: A Firsthand Account

[Ultras flags appearing at the site of clashes between protesters and security forces near the Ministry of Interior. Photo by Mostafa Sheshtawy] [Ultras flags appearing at the site of clashes between protesters and security forces near the Ministry of Interior. Photo by Mostafa Sheshtawy]

A march, scheduled earlier today, demanded that members of the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces (SCAF) be brought to justice for past crimes and abuse against revolutionary activists and Ultras protesters. The march started at El Fath mosque and was supposed to reach the area surrounding the Ministry of Defense. The call for the march, which was endorsed by prominent activists, was initiated by an Ultras Ahlawy member and activist in an attempt to unify the efforts of revolutionary activists and Ultras.

The march featured a few thousand people, including diehard football fans and a cross section of society, along with the usual faces who turn out at such protests. The Ultras sang their songs and jumped up and down as the crowd watched them.

The march (which felt like more of a sprint) was unusually silent, apart from the interludes performed by the Ultras Ahlawy. As we tried catching up with the swiftly moving crowds, reports were circulating that Ultras members were silencing any chants expressing opposition to President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. There had been numerous disagreements on the Facebook wall of the event page announcing the march about the chants and whether or not people would chant against Morsi. As the march drew closer to the Ministry of Defense, it grew more silent and the reports of efforts to suppress anti-regime chants began circulating more widely. From my standpoint, it seemed that the suppression of anti-Morsi chants was initially conducted in a discreet manner.

Upon arrival at the Ministry of Defense’s gates, the Ultras gathered once again and chanted their songs. As a woman tried to remove an official sign placed on the wall of the ministry, an Ultras member rebuked and verbally abused her. She responded in kind shortly before the argument descended into a fight featuring revolutionary activists and Ultras leaders on opposite sides.

Resentment grew among revolutionary activists who saw no sense in suppressing chants against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, particularly that it was the Muslim Brotherhood-controlled presidency that granted SCAF members a safe exit and did not try to prosecute them for past wrong-doing. The Ultras, on the other hand, seemed committed to distinguishing between SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood’s political order. Meanwhile, some Ultras leaders assured disgruntled activists that they had instructed their members not to obstruct any chants but told them that they were not obligated to chant along.

It was not long before activist Mohamed Moussa of the National Front for Justice and Democracy, disgruntled by Ultras’ position, started chanting against Morsi. As the chants grew louder, the Ultras began showing signs of anger, and assaulted Moussa. Moussa identified his assailant as Ahmed Abdallah (commonly known as Abdenio) one of the leaders in the Ultras, who have long been seen as strong supporters of and important participants in revolutionary efforts.

The scene turned slightly chaotic as more fights broke out between Ultras and anti-Morsi protesters including women. Women’s screams were apparent throughout the fighting, and several women reported that the Ultras members physically assaulted them. Eventually protesters withdrew from the scene, distancing themselves from the Ultras.

Activist Ali Ghoneim of Hakemoohom ("Try Them") Campaign was also physically assaulted. Ghoneim also reported that it was Abdenio who attacked him as he was trying to protect female protesters from being pushed by the Ultras. Ultras members chased and assaulted protesters even after they withdrew. While standing between both sets of protesters, an unprovoked Ultras member punched me in the shoulder.

Several Ultras leaders attempted to intervene to stop their members from chasing the protesters, but evidently they were unable to control all their ranks.

Protesters left with more questions than answers as to what drove the Ultras to adopt such a position. Were they convinced that justice could be attained under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood? Were they infiltrated? Were they placated by the court verdict, which sentenced twenty-one individuals to death for involvement in the Port Said massacre?

As the fights were taking place, a teenager who may have been an Ultras or a regular protester, shouted: “What do they know? We made this revolution.” Irrespective of which of the two sides he supports, it was alarming to hear these words.

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