As the two cities of Cairo and Port Said remain engulfed in the worst violence seen since the Revolution, the entwining in Egypt of ‘football and the game of politics’ could hardly be more complete. And the game, it would appear, has not even reached half-time, says Leila Zaki Chakravarti.
In the circus of confrontational politics that summons a succession of demonstrations to the streets of Cairo, the second anniversary of the fall of President Mubarak (on 25 January 2013) had always loomed large as the potential focus for some sort of defining theatrical spectacular. Yet there was something different about the marches which, in the days running up to the anniversary, convened on Tahrir Square from a number of Cairo neighbourhoods.
The groups, numbering in their thousands, were remarkable for their homogeneity, organisation and purpose. All were young males, some bare-chested but most kitted out in red football shirts or street-smart tops and hoodies. They marched with almost paramilitary precision, shouting well-drilled slogans in exaggeratedly gruff voices to the menacing beat of a loud bass drum, clapping their hands above their heads, every so often pausing in unison to pogo aggressively up and down. Well-produced banners proclaimed their demand for “Al-qissas aw Al-damm” (translated in many Western media reports as “Justice or Blood”) for the shuhuda (martyrs) whose portraits they carried aloft as vast icons. (...)
The choice of language for the demands of El Ahly altraz is revealing, rapidly cohering around a focus on two words in particular, namely shuhuda and al-qissas. The former is the plural form of shahid (martyr), a term deeply engrained in Islamic history and theology, and with a ready secular resonance deriving from its more recent use to venerate Egyptians who have died in struggles against colonialism, Israel and, more recently, anti-Mubarak (and now anti-Morsi) protests.