Egyptian soccer officials are pressing the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to limit the damage their country will suffer as a result of this weekend’s invasion of the pitch by militant fans of crowned Cairo club Zamalek SC’s African championship against Tunisia’s Club Africain.
CAF spokesman Amr Shaheen said Zamalek faces up to a three-year ban from playing in African competitions. CAF’s disciplinary committee has yet to announce what sanctions will be imposed on Zamalek.
Egyptian officials are urging CAF to take into account that security was almost absent during the match in the Cairo International Stadium and that the country has been experiencing political turmoil that in February toppled President Hosni Mubarak after 30 years in office.
The officials want CAF to ban Zamalek from hosting matches or order it to play such games behind closed doors for a period of time instead of preventing the club from competing for a number of years.
Members of the Ultra White Knights (UWK), the militant, violence-prone ultra Zamalek fan group, stormed the pitch on Saturday in the 90th minute of the match destroying goalposts and everything else in their path and attacking the referee and players.
The fans accused the referee, Algerian national Mohamed Maknouz, of depriving Zamalek of the two-point lead it needed to advance in the African club championship. Zamalek was leading 2-1 when the invasion took place, which automatically disqualified the Egyptian team.
UWK members believe the police, widely viewed as henchmen of the hated Mubarak regime, deliberately were barely present for the first time in years in which a heavy security presence at soccer matches was a permanent fixture at soccer matches to prove that Egypt will descend into chaos without them.
The UWK members admit that they fell for the bait. The police has a long-standing score to settle with the UWK with whom they have battled for years and who confronted them in clashes during the demonstrations that led to Mubarak’s downfall.
The Egyptian proposals could prove for Zamalek arch rival Al Ahly SC, which is competing in the Champions League and military-owned Alexandria club Harras El-Hodoud, which plays in the Confederation Cup, to be a double edged sword.
CAF could conclude under its regulations that Egypt qualifies as a country “in which the internal situation does not allow the organisation of CAF matches” and deprive them from hosting matches.
James M. Dorsey is a senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer