Egyptian prosecutors have charged 38 members of a die-hard soccer fan club with belonging to an illegal group and other offenses, one of the first signs of a crackdown on the powerful sports organizations that have been at the forefront of the country's protest movement, lawyers said Thursday.
Soccer fans, known as Ultras, became a major political force during the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and the subsequent tumultuous transition. They are known for their longstanding animosity with the police.
The charge of belonging to an illegal group appears to be an attempt to pressure the powerful Ultras network, one of the most organized movements in Egypt after the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. But a crackdown could also backfire, as Ultras are some of the country's most active protesters and regularly clash with police.
Ahmed Ezzat, a rights lawyer who is looking into the Ultras case, said the 38 Ultras Devils were arrested Wednesday during a protest in the Nile Delta city of Shebeen al-Kom. They were also charged with attempting to set fire to a provincial court house and insulting police officers.