CAIRO — Throngs of young Egyptians incensed over a deadly melee at a soccer match clashed with security forces in Cairo and Suez on Thursday night and Friday as the episode threatened to plunge the country into a new cycle of recriminations and violence.
A protester in Cairo died of wounds from birdshot fired at close range outside the Interior Ministry at dawn Friday, a doctor told the Associated Press.
Earlier Friday, in Suez, police fatally shot two demonstrators, according to health official Mohammed Lasheen told the AP. Protesters in Suez and in Cairo focused their rage on the police, charging that they were either complicit or negligent in the fight between rival soccer fans that left at least 74 people dead on Wednesday.
More than 260 people were wounded in clashes in the capital overnight Thursday and Friday, mostly from tear gas inhalation, a Health Ministry official told state television. The Interior Ministry said in a statement that protesters were trying to tear down barricades in order to break into the building.
Egyptian officials on Thursday vowed to get to the bottom of Wednesday’s clashes in Port Said and declared a three-day period of mourning.
Wednesday’s bloody fighting followed a string of recent violent incidents that would have been nearly unthinkable during the three decades of autocratic rule under former President Hosni Mubarak. And it highlighted many Egyptians’ concerns about the erosion of security in the country since a council of generals took control a year ago.
Stunned by Wednesday evening’s savagery, Egyptians pointed to ominous plots by domestic and foreign agents they accuse of working to undermine the aims of the revolutionaries that dethroned Mubarak. Many blamed the security forces for standing by as fans clashed using knives, rods and other sharp objects. A considerable number of the victims appear to have been crushed to death or slung from bleachers, according to witnesses.
In Suez, about 3,000 people demonstrated outside police headquarters after hearing that one of the victims of the Port Said riot was from their city, according to witnesses interviewed by AP. Police shot tear gas at the crowd, and then opened fire, the agency reported. It quoted health official Mohammed Lasheen as saying two men were killed by bullets and fifteen other protesters were wounded.
The demonstrations in Cairo were dominated by the young, ardent soccer fans known as “ultras” who have become a fixture of protests targeting the country's military rulers. They appeared convinced that Wednesday’s fight had been instigated by the generals who have ruled the country since Mubarak’s ouster.
“They killed our youth, they’re killing us,” said Aya Ibrahim, 21, a medical student who was among the thousands who streamed into Tahrir Square on Thursday afternoon. “They are totally responsible. This was planned. We will not allow any more blood to be shed.”
About an hour after the sun set, however, large crowds of young men, many waving flags of regional soccer teams, walked in groups from Tahrir, the center of last year’s uprising, toward the nearby headquarters of the Interior Ministry, which oversees the police.
The ministry said in a statement that protesters were trying to tear down barricades to break into the building. Security forces responded by firing rubber bullets and tear gas, witnesses said. More than 260 people were injured Thursday night, mostly from tear gas inhalation, a Health Ministry official told state television.
The scenes were reminiscent of deadly clashes in November between riot police and young protesters, many of whom were informally organized under the banner of the soccer teams they support. Those fights were sparked after security forces used aggressive tactics to prevent demonstrators from setting up a permanent protest camp in Tahrir.
The ensuing battles sparked a nationwide revolt against the country’s interim military leaders, who grudgingly pledged to pass most of their power to an elected president in June, a speedier transition to civilian rule than they had originally outlined.
During the past year, Egypt’s security forces have often found themselves in a tough spot. They come under fire when they stand on the sidelines of chaos but also receive harsh criticism when they intervene, sometimes using deadly force.
Many Egyptians saw the latest events as the most dramatic of what they think is an orchestrated wave of politically motivated incidents intended to provide the generals with a justification for delaying the transition to civilian rule.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, which won the most seats in the country’s newly elected parliament, issued a statement blaming “dubious forces that still have strong ties with the former regime.” In addition, the statement said, “there are, no doubt, foreign fingers that failed to take control of the Egyptian revolution.”
Mahmoud Ghozlan, a senior member and spokesman for the Brotherhood, said he thinks foreign groups unhappy with the leading role of Islamists in post-revolutionary Egyptian politics are resorting to sabotage.
Lawmakers held a rancorous session Thursday during which some criticized the security forces and suggested that the interior minister — appointed by the generals — be sacked. The parliament members opted to form a committee to probe the incident.
Days before the stadium brawl in the Mediterranean city of Port Said, Egyptians were startled by a series of security incidents, including an armed robbery at a currency exchange shop in the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh that left a French tourist dead.
“All we’re hearing now about crimes is very new,” said Ahmed Aboela, 27, a businessman in Cairo. “I am very surprised. These are not our morals.”