CAIRO – Thousands of Egyptians rallied in Port Said in a show of support for residents reeling from popular anger directed against the Mediterranean city following a deadly soccer riot there this month that killed 74 people.
The melee at the Port Said stadium after a Feb. 1 match between the local Al-Masry club and the Cairo-based Al-Ahly team shocked Egyptians and sparked days of deadly street violence in Cairo. Survivors of the stadium riot say Al-Masry supporters stormed the field to attack Al-Ahly fans, stabbing them, undressing them and tossing them off bleachers while the police looked on.
Port Said residents have been collectively blamed for the stadium riot, and many say they have been living under a de facto siege since then, said activist Mohammed Waked. He said residents are afraid to drive out of their city with Port Said license plates because they fear they will be attacked or insulted.
For days after the melee, vegetable and food suppliers from nearby cities refused to deliver to Port Said, said Waked, who was among a group of activists, lawmakers and public figures to visit the city Friday to express their solidarity.
"The physical siege is over, but now there is a moral one," Waked said. "We are proud of every Egyptian and we reject this siege."
He said the real culprits behind the bloodshed must be identified, adding that authorities were not questioning police officials.
"We will not tolerate criminalizing Port Said or the soccer fans," Waked said.
Al-Ahly is Egypt's top team and its supporters, known as Ultras, are among the nation's most organized and well-known fan clubs.
Violent protests in Cairo against the police and Egypt's military rulers erupted after the soccer riot and prompted calls for an investigation into whether the unprecedented soccer violence was a revenge attack against Al-Ahly's fans.
Al-Ahly Ultras played a crucial role in the protests last year that ousted President Hosni Mubarak, and in later clashes with the military rulers who took power after Mubarak's ouster.
In Port Said, several thousand people rallied in Martyrs' Square and marched toward the stadium, some toting pictures of those killed in the riot or Egyptian flags.
While the rallies were all in support of the city, they also were a reflection of the political fissures in the country. Some of the protesters supported the military rulers, while others chanted against them, blaming the generals for the turmoil plaguing the country.
Many chanted "Down with military rule," while others chanted "The people and the army are one hand." The common refrain, however, was: "Innocent!"
Brief scuffles broke out between the different camps.