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January 31, 2012

Rights Group Demands Inquiry into Deadly Egypt Soccer Violence

by Peter Clottey

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) is demanding an impartial and a comprehensive investigation into Wednesday’s stadium disaster that left at least 73 people dead and hundreds injured in Egypt following a soccer match.

Both Egypt’s parliament and the state prosecutor have also demanded an inquiry into the violence at a stadium in the northern city of Port Said on the Mediterranean coast.

Human Rights Watch’s Egypt researcher, Heba Morayef, said parliament has summoned Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim to explain the circumstances that led to the stadium disaster.

“The questions we need answered are; where were the military police and the riot police, because you can see them stationed in the stadium,” said Morayef. “[The investigation] is likely to show at a minimum the very serious crisis facing policing in Egypt today because they ultimately have a duty to provide security and to protect people from attacks.”

Egypt’s parliament said it would convene an emergency session after the country's football [soccer] association called for an indefinite suspension of the annual championship following Wednesday’s tragedy.

Morayef said there could have been a systemic failure that led to the stadium disaster.

“We could be looking at a situation of a failure of due diligence, or we could be looking at something greater than that.  Only an impartial and comprehensive investigation will show [that],” said Morayef. “There has already been a demand for [an] investigation and members of parliament have summoned the Minister of Interior to report on the measures taken by the police and the failures in policing.”

Some observers have expressed concern that the stadium tragedy could be symptomatic of tension within Egyptian society.  They cite recent violent clashes between Egypt security forces and pro-democracy activists.

But, Morayef says it will be an error for people to jump to that conclusion.

“Football fans very often are used to tight security measures at [the] stadium, specifically to prevent the kind of violence and death toll that we have seen today,” said Morayef. “I don’t think there is any legitimate ground to say that fans may have feared attacks and they took weapons.  On the contrary, the fact that they were allowed to take weapons to the stadium escalated the nature of the violence that we saw today.”

Analysts say violence at soccer matches across North Africa has increased significantly since political unrest sweeping across the region began more than a year ago.