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Egypt allows football fans - but not ultras - back into stadiums

A six-year ban on match attendance has ended. But ultras say that without them Egyptian football is dead
A brief face-off between Ultras Ahlawy and Egyptian police at the entrance of Cairo Stadium in 2014 (MEE)

Egyptian football fans were allowed back to watch league matches on Saturday after a six-year ban.

Fans have been barred from attending league matches since clashes in Port Said city led to the death of 74 Al-Ahly club fans in February 2012

Only 5,000 spectators will be allowed into games initially, but the numbers will increase gradually, the Egyptian Football Association and the Ministry of Youth and Sports has said.

The fans, however, will have to abide by specific rules, and ultras - hardcore fans that group together - will remain banned. 

The ban was set to be lifted gradually in 2015, but it was re-imposed that year after the death of 22 Zamalek fans in a stampede before a game with Enpi at the Air Defence Stadium in Cairo.

People went to the stadiums because of the atmosphere created by ultras - Egyptian football has died with the banning of ultras

- Ultras White Knights former member

In both the fatal 2012 and 2015 incidents, fans accused police and paid hooligans of orchestrating the violence.

Victims of the two outbreaks of violence were mostly members of the pro-Zamalek Ultras White Knights and the pro-Ahly Ultras Ahlawy fan groups. 

Founded in 2007, the ultras attracted nearly two million fans, mainly supporting the Ahly and Zamalek clubs in Cairo, whose participation was said to be instrumental in the Arab Spring protests that overthrew president Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

Due to their involvement in protests after the Arab Spring, they have been targets of a crackdown that saw their activity criminalised and their members jailed on terror-related charges.

The current Egyptian government, led by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has banned protests and jailed at least 60,000 opposition members since the military coup led by Sisi in 2013.

Former ultras derided the lifting of the ban. "No one is excited that the fans are back," a former member of Ultras White Knights told Middle East Eye on Friday, on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

"People went to the stadiums because of the atmosphere created by ultras - Egyptian football has died with the banning of ultras."

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