Published on Arab Voices

Egypt: Going "ultra" is now the norm

ImageOK, I’m a Zamalek fan, I admit it.  For those of you that don’t follow Egyptian football (soccer), Zamalek is always the team that finishes second.  The team that is so close to winning the title, but always stumbles in the end.  If you have a heart condition, or if you are seriously vested in getting one, become a Zamalek fan and it won’t be long before your first visit to the neighborhood cardiologist.  Yes, it is that heartbreaking.

Then there is Ahly (National).  They always finish first and just manage to nudge Zamalek out by that one point, or that one goal for that matter.  They always win, it’s what they do.  They have the biggest purse, the larger number of fans, and they all wear red, Ahly’s playing color. 

Ahly is the equivalent of the Yankees in baseball, and Zamalek, the Boston Red Sox.  And, fans on each side hate the other.  So, while in Egypt I asked my brother in law and his two boys, Khaled (15) and Miko (13) if they wanted to go to a Zamalek game.  This is always a tricky question because my brother in law and Miko are Ahly fans.  Khaled, couldn’t care less.  Zamalek/Ahly, the whole thing is just too barbaric for him.  What a smart boy.

There were no takers to my game offer because going to watch either Ahly or Zamalek today is no longer what people do.  My brother in law explained “the ultras have made going to these sporting events next to impossible.”  I asked him to explain who the ultras were and over the next two nights both Ahly and Zamalek had televised games which I hadn’t seen in years and he said I would see the ultras for myself and understand.

The Ahly game aired first against Mehalla (textiles).  Looking into the crowd everyone was dressed in red.  All were chanting and jumping up and down in chorus.  This never stopped throughout the game.  These were the ultras.  Tens of thousands of crazed Ahly fans who lined one side of the stadium with one guy in the middle jumping up and down with the ultras wearing the red garb and a mask from the movie scream.  Scary, I tell you, very scary.

I looked away for a minute and a goal had scored.  I was never sure by whom.  But, the ultras were irate throwing anything they could on the field, chanting profanity that forced the public television station to mute the sound, and the whole scene quickly became pandemonium.  The irate fans took to the field apparently trying to get to the referee.  Al Amn Al Markazy (the Central Security police) quickly stepped in to escort him out.  As it got more chaotic the irate fans started throwing things at the police and would charge at them.  The police, now all in riot gear would step back and then charge the fans.  They went back and forth like yo-yos until the game was called off.  State television cut off the feed just as the brawl had reached its boiling point, but I needed to see no more to get the point.

I asked my brother in law who are these ultras, who finances them, and who is interested in organizing people that looked like a gang of thugs that take over the stadium if your team is losing.  Miko, my sister’s 13 year old son, said “Uncle, this is the new football in Egypt, whether it’s the Ahly ultras, or the Zamalek ultras, it’s all the same, just chaos and we watch brawls now more than soccer.”

Then, it came to me.  All of Egypt had turned ultra.  You are either an ultra Ahly or Zamalek supporter, or now you just don’t watch.  You are either ultra-extremist in your religious views, or ultra-liberal.  You are either ultra against the incumbent government, or an ultra-supporter of the military that appointed them, although this faction is in the minority.

And, all of these ultras seem to be getting money from someone according to Egyptian media.  The ultra conservatives get money from Saudis and the Gulf, or at least this is the claim.  The ultra-liberals, they get their money from the West.  Everyone seems to have a ton of money to drum up support, to spend on advertising their platforms, to appear on TV talk shows and the like.  An ultra-conservative Islamist group had one of their representatives on TV talking about their platform and he boldly announced that if they had their way Egyptian women would be forced to wear a veil, discouraged from working and driving, and for good measure streets would be lined with men carrying sticks to take a swipe at any woman who is not in “compliance.” He added as a footnote that women tourists who are not Egyptian would be exempt from the stick if they could prove non Egyptian status.

This led an ultra-liberal young lady to take to her web cam on You Tube and Facebook to strip down to her birthday suit with her sign off message being “this is my response if you want me to forcibly wear a veil, it’s in the buff from here on in.” OK, those were not exactly her words, but that was the message.  Her fiancé went on TV the next day to say he supported her actions 100 percent and they were considering stripping together at a later date to send an even stronger message.  It got to be a little much when Miko, aged 13, said “Uncle, you want to see the You Tube clip of the girl that’s naked?” 

Seriously, what the heck is going on here, and no, I don’t want to see the You Tube clip, but I am sure everyone in Egypt has, and likely more than once.  Why has everyone gone ultra?  Why?  Where are the people that are middle of the road?  What happened to moderates and moderation?  Isn’t everything in excess bad for you anyway?

And, how does democracy, and this is what was promised after the revolution, lead to outcomes where half of Egypt’s population, women,  stand to lose so much?  Oh I forgot, the ultra-conservative guy on TV said that democracy was “haram” (a sin) when he was asked that question on the air.  That’s pretty ultra, I just hope he’s more moderate when it comes to supporting his favorite Egyptian football team even if the only thing they ever do is break your heart.


Khaled Sherif

Chief Administrative Officer

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