CAIRO: Prime Minister Essam Sharaf described Saturday’s events, when angry Zamalek fans stormed the pitch of Cairo Stadium during a home game against Tunisian side Africain, as an “act of thuggery.”
In a meeting Sunday with Tarek Al-Adab, Charge d’Affaires at the Tunisian embassy in Cairo, Sharaf said what happened “does not represent the Egyptian people’s sentiment towards their Tunisian brothers."
Hundreds of Zamalek fans descended from the stands into the pitch and attacked Algerian Referee Mohamed Meknooz and Tunisian players, leaving at least nine injured and destroying commercial banners on the pitch as well as the goalposts.
"The principles and values of both Tunisians and Egyptians was the reason behind the success of their revolutions," Sharaf said, decrying the clashes.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces condemned in a new communiqué the events and ordered the formation of an investigation committee headed by the Ministry of Justice.
The Egyptian Football Association (EFA) decided to postpone the local league to an unidentified date after a meeting between Samir Zaher, head of the Egyptian Football Association, and Hassan Saqr, head of the Supreme Council for Sports.
The game was canceled at minute 93 with the score 2-1 for Zamalek after Zamalek scored a goal that was ruled an offside by the referee.
Two fans descended to the pitch objecting against the referee before gates were opened and hundreds followed.
Zamalek, having lost the away game 4-2, had to win by a two goal difference to qualify to the round of 16 at the African Champions League (ACL).
"We found someone opening the gates and called people to descend to the pitch and then it was chaos allover," said Wael Saad, an eyewitness.
Saad said that security checks at the stadium gates were lacking, allowing fans to enter with a huge amount of flares and white weapons and some with forged tickets.
Manager of the Stadium, Abdel Aziz Amin, filed a complaint to the police earlier on Saturday saying that 2,000 fans broke into the stadium armed with knives and refused to be inspected so security refused to intervene for fear of triggering violence.
Seventeen fans were arrested during the events and transferred Sunday to a military court.
"When we tried to enter the lower stands, members of the Ultra White Knights [a Zamalek fan group] prevented us and we had to sit at the upper stand; they were the ones who invaded the pitch," Saad said.
"Central Security Forces wearing tracksuits tried to prevent fans from descending to the pitch and beat the first group of pitch invaders which provoked other fans who followed and then Central Security Forces disappeared," he added.
Saad said that fans were forced to leave the pitch after lights were turned off and security wearing colored tracksuits and armed with sticks started beating them.
"Although all necessary measures to secure the game were taken, security forces were faced by furious fans so they had to deal very wisely and with utmost self-control to prevent further amplifications," the Ministry of Interior said in a statement.
According to the statement, several injuries were reported among players, fans and security forces who were transferred to Arab Contractors and Al-Zahraa hospitals.
"We condemn these events, these acts are offensive to the club’s fans and were planned and carried out by a group of thugs who arrived early to the stadium and were armed with knives and sticks," Galal Ibrahim, Zamalek’s president, said.
"We expect severe punishment from the African Football Federation (CAF) and with the league expected to be cancelled this season, we will have to face a financial crisis," he added.
CAF formed a special committee to investigate the events and is expected to ban Zamalek from participating in African competitions for a period of time.
"Postponing the league will lead clubs into a financial crisis and the [players’] technical skills will deteriorate, which will be reflected in the national team’s [performance]," said Fathy Sanad, a sports critic.
"This is an unprecedented event in Egypt’s sports history and the authorities need to take strict action to restore order," he added.
Ibrahim, Zaher and Saqr visited the Tunisian Embassy to apologize to Al-Adab.
A number of activists organized a protest in front of the Tunisian embassy Sunday afternoon, also showing remorse over the events, handing out flowers to Al-Adab.
"We accept your apologies, we were very sorry for the events and we appreciate your stance which shows the deep ties between both people," Al-Adab told protesters.
Sharaf had apologized to the Tunisian people live on air during a telephone interview on Dream 2 satellite cannel.
The Ultra White Knights group said in a statement Sunday that they will suspend their activities and are ready to contribute to the cost of the stadium’s maintenance.
"The invasion wasn’t planned and was initiated and members who descended to the pitch were irresponsible; we later descended to protect the guests and the referee," the statement said.
Following the away game in Tunisia, Zamalek’s assistant coach, Ibrahim Hassan, called fans to invade the pitch in response to a similar act by two Tunisian supporters in Tunisia.
By Sunday morning, a Facebook group was set up to apologize to Tunisians that counted over 21,000 Egyptian members.
Charge d’affaires at the Tunisian embassy in Cairo, Tarek Al-Adab. (Daily News Egypt Photo / Hassan Ibrahim)
Tunisian team surrounded by security forces. (Photo by Abdalla El-Sewasy)
Zamalek fans destroyed goalposts and commercial banners. (Photo by Abdalla El-Sewasy)
Hossam Hassan trying to protect the Algerian referee. (Photo by Abdalla El-Sewasy)