The violence of the ultras is directed as much against those of rival clubs as it is against the security forces. The anti-Mubarak protests of a year ago were the first time that fans of Ahly, which was founded in the early 20th century as the club of the nationalists and opponents of British colonial rule, and its fierce rival Zamalek, the club of the Brits, their Egyptian associates, and the monarchy, set their differences aside to stand shoulder-by-shoulder in Tahrir Square. Ahead of an upcoming match scheduled for Feb. 7, Zamalek's ultras, the White Knights, last week called on their Ahlawy counterparts to agree to a truce. "We are asking for an end to the bloodshed and to reconcile and unite for the sake of Egypt," the White Knights said in a statement on their Facebook page. Ultras Ahlawy replied with a smiley.
The match is now -- wisely -- suspended, but the exchange signaled awareness on the part of the ultras' leaders that the time had come to bury their war hatchets. They know that Egyptians are growing increasing intolerant of their violence and militancy, as evidenced by recent Gallup and other polls. Wednesday's violence suggests that the rank and file see matters differently, and will not take direction from anyone.
The conspiracy theorists may be on to something: The riots in Port Said will likely strengthen the hand of those in the ruling military council who want to crack down hard on the ultras, who have formed the backbone of street protests that have not quieted down even though Egypt has seated an elected parliament and will soon choose a new president. And this time, it seems, the Egyptian people will be with them.Dorsey's blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, will no doubt be on the case over the coming days. The wonder of the blogosphere is that somewhere out there someone is a specialist on everything. In Dorsey's case it happens to be the politics of football in the Middle East, so this is his moment.