Imagine anyone saying, “Boston Red Sox fans have proven invaluable to the mass, revolutionary struggle in the United States.” I can’t either. But that just speaks to how historically remarkable the Egyptian ultra fan clubs have been over the last two and a half years.
In Egypt’s recent era of popular upheaval, the hyper-intense soccer fans known as the ultras have played a critically important role that’s both practical and political. Practically, their experience in how to effectively fight the brutal Egyptian police proved invaluable to the initial 2011 securing of Tahrir Square as well as in subsequent demonstrations. Politically, the ultras have been a consistent force of resistance no matter who has held the seat of Egyptian power. They opposed President-for-life Hosni Mubarak; they opposed the first military interregnum; and then they opposed Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi. The ultras could never be pacified because their political compass has always been directed to one central question: whether the state police and military will be held accountable for repressive violence against the people of Egypt. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood had harsh words for the post-Mubarak military leadership when seventy-four Ultras were killed at the infamous Port Said soccer match, due to conscious police neglect. But when the MB did nothing to get justice for the “Port Said martyrs” upon assuming power, ultra opposition to Morsi was set in stone.
Now that the hated military is back in charge, one might assume that the ultras’ fierce brand of resistance will also be back. But not everyone believes this will be the case. At the invaluable news and analysis website Jadaliyya in an June 30, 2013, article titled ‘Egypt’s Ultras: No More Politics,’ Mohamed Elgohari writes that “the Egyptian Ultras groups, as collective bodies, will no longer become involved in Egypt’s ongoing political conflicts.”
He also argues, “Politics, by definition, implies compromises, variations in opinion and behavior, and perhaps fundamental divisions… engaging in politics instead, weakened these groups’ internal ties…. A collective political role for the ultras groups in the future is unlikely to be repeated unless there appears another immediate threat to their identity akin to the events of Port Said. The ultras groups’ identity simply cannot survive outside the stadium.”
Sure enough, the prominent Ultras Ahlawy group issued a statement that they from this point forward will have “nothing to do with politics.” The group says quite plainly that they will “not to get involved in politics again after realizing that the opposition doesn’t care about the country but simply aims to rule.”