Being a football fan in Egypt has been a dangerous, sometimes even deadly, passion for years. That may soon change.
The Al-Ahly club's "Ultras" hard core supporters of the Cairo-based team and the country's largest fan association have appealed to authorities to negotiate an end to years of tension and violence while disavowing members involved in a recent post-game rampage that had temporarily shattered the prospects for reconciliation.
Preliminary contacts between the two sides are underway as a prelude to talks to hammer out an agreement allowing fans back in games for the first time since a ban on attendance following a 2012 riot in the coastal city of Port Said that left more than 70 fans, mostly Ultras, dead in one of the world's worst football-related incidents.
The ban on fans attending games was later relaxed for continental games. An attempt earlier this year to introduce a partial and gradual relaxation of the ban on domestic games was aborted at the last minute, with police citing security concerns. The ongoing contacts to lift the ban are a welcome development that, if fruitful, would give a significant boost to the sport at a time when Egypt is making its return to the World Cup for the first time in 28 years. "We are all suffering from the absence of fans and want them back to revive the atmosphere in stadiums," said Mukhtar Mukhtar, the manager of league club Military Production. "Their absence has undoubtedly impacted on the players' performance."
A deal is believed to be possible now because the government of Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi appears to be more confident of its control over the country after years of turmoil and a massive crackdown that sent thousands of dissidents to jail.