Fans banned and matches cancelled
29 June ~ Tomorrow in Egypt opposition groups and the revolutionary Tamarod (rebellion) movement will march on the Ettehadiya presidential palace in Cairo. They will be demanding the country's Islamist president, Mohamed Morsy, steps down, paving the way for an early presidential election. The mood in Cairo is tense – there have been thousands-strong Islamist rallies, jumpstart jolts of opposition direct action and street battles in Upper Egyptian cities. Three people have died as a result – a number expected to rise in the coming days.
The threat of more unrest will only set back the game in a country whose Premier League has been in a state of flux since the revolution. An official Egyptian Football Association (EFA) ban means games are played behind closed down so fans aren't allowed to watch their teams home or away, with authorities citing "lingering security concerns". The League exists in some kind of iron-barred bubble, making television coverage the only way to see what is happening on the other side of the fence.
Not that people haven't tried to change that. The EFA landed four clubs (Al-Ahly, Zamalek, Ismaily and Al-Ittihad Al-Sakandary) with LE100,000 (£9,400) fines each last week after the clubs' fans and increasingly frustrated ultras forced their way into grounds. Next week's games – the 18th round of the season – have been postponed indefinitely as authorities brace themselves for the aftermath of tomorrow. Part of the problem is the legacy of February 2012's Port Said massacre. Seventy-three Ahly fans were killed after a game against rivals Al-Masry, in the world's worst football violence in decades. It still hangs heavy over the Premier League here.
When a court landed 21 of the total 75 defendants with the death penalty, post-revolutionary bitterness, latent socio-political problems and bad timing (tying in with the second anniversary of Egypt's revolution-in-waiting) combined to create yet another intense wave of violence. This week the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland enforced an earlier Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling, despite the EFA's best efforts, to allow Masry to reintegrate into the league. Welcoming back the club seen as responsible for the massacre (although both sides claim police incompetence and pro-Mubarak feloul – regime remnants – played their part) could either be an important step towards reconciliation or a rag to a flame. That depends on what happens in Egypt, and Egyptian football, in the coming weeks and months.
Things are likely to deteriorate in the short-term. Newspapers and blogs here and full of speculation about what tomorrow will mean – peaceful protests but no change; sustained violence in the streets; a military coup d'etat or even a second revolution. Whichever one it is, Egyptian football will suffer. Fans are not going to get into games and, depending how long this goes on for, fixtures could continue getting cancelled. Tom Rollins