CAIRO: Following a three-month suspension, the Egyptian football league resumed Wednesday with five matches amid tightened security measures by police.
Al-Ahly beat Police Union 2-1 in Cairo, while Smouha beat Military Production 3-2 in Alexandria and Al-Gouna beat ENPPI 2-1 in Hurghada. Both games between Ismaily and Petrojet in Ismailia and Talae’ Al-Geish and Al-Masry in Cairo ended in a 1-1 draw.
Three matches were slated for Thursday night: Zamalek and Haras El-Hodoud at the Military Academy Stadium; Arab Contractors and Wadi Degla at Osman Ahmed Osman Stadium and Masr Al-Maqasa and Al-Ittihad at the Fayoum stadium.
Security measures were tightened at the stadium gates with fans subjected to strict inspections for flares, lighters and sticks. The security personnel included police, army and club-appointed civilian guards.
The past two weeks witnessed several debates on whether or not to resume the league considering the insufficiency of security measures. Critics cited the violent events following the match between Zamalek and Club Africain of Tunisia’s at the African Champions League, when Zamalek fans invaded the pitch, leaving Tunisian players injured.
"We are happy with the return of football, it must come back," said Karim Ahmed, member of Ultras Ahlawy, a group of hardcore fans known for its fanatic support and enthusiasm.
"Violence isn’t part of our ideology and I doubt it was ultras who did it; an ultras member supports his team without clashing with security or the adversary unless he is attacked and regardless of the results," Ahmed added.
Zamalek’s ultras, known as Ultras White Knights, were blamed for the events and a number of its leaders were arrested.
During Al-Ahly’s game at the Military Academy Stadium, fully equipped central security forces manned the entrances and fans were checked at three different points before and after entering the stadium.
Inside there was heavy security with rows of central security forces surrounding the stands, supervised by high-ranking police officers.
Gates between the stands and the pitch were monitored by military police and covered with razor wire.
"Security procedures are very tight which is understandable after the Zamalek match but not all fans are the same," said Ahmed, a member of the ultras who didn’t want to mention his last name.
A number of fans were detained for carrying flares, but following a sit-in, they were allowed in only with their banners.
Ahmed said that they didn’t intend to cause any trouble.
The Ministry of Interior had previously asked the clubs to shoulder the responsibility of securing their matches, but when they refused, the ministry agreed to take charge.
Civilian personnel were only asked to check tickets at the gates.
Fans said that police officers treated them well.
"I am a hardcore football fan and attended many matches … the officers’ attitude is better than before, but we should wait for more intense matches to judge," said Ahmed Kogo.
Kogo, although happy with the return of football, said that he doesn’t think the league will be completed.
"Officials at clubs and sports media aren’t responsible enough to deal with anticipated problems and always work on stirring fans. And if there is trouble, there will always be someone to defend the wrong side," he said.
Club officials held several meetings with fans groups over the past week urging them to refrain from violence.
They said that cancelling the league will lead to financial disasters at clubs and will have a negative impact on national teams.