In a ground-breaking interview, Al-Masry captain Karim Zekri, and his brother Mohamed Zekri, exclusively discuss their versions of Wednesday’s massacre with Egyptian football expert Islam Issa.
The contents of this article and interview are EXCLUSIVE to Islam Issa and CommentMidEast.com. Any reproduction, modification, distribution, transmission, republication, or display of this article without reference to the original source is strictly prohibited.
Karim and Mohamed Zekri are the two most famous players from Port Said. Tired and upset, they have now plucked up the energy to express their feelings, and indeed the guts to express what they could only previously tell me off the record.
The 26-year-olds are two symbols of Port Said football, and together, have represented the club for over three decades. The two tallest players in Egypt, at 193cm, they were scheduled to open the first community soccer school in Port Said this month, offering subsidised prices for the youths of their town.
Al-Masry captain Karim, is a household name in Egypt after captaining the country’s youth teams and after a spell at Zamalek. He captained Al-Masry from 2006, and reclaimed the armband as soon as he returned to the club one year ago. Mohamed was most in the limelight at the age of 20, and after taking the league by storm, was the temporary golden boy of Egyptian football, resulting in big money offers which his club adamantly rejected.
The identical twins scarcely interrupted each other, and I let them do as much talking as possible.
Mohamed: “We are both ready to die like those who already have, if that’s what it takes for the truth to emerge, and God willing, everyone will know the truth soon. We could die, because everyone hates us at the moment. We’re going to Cairo tomorrow to appear on television, and there’s a really big chance we could get hurt because people know that we are from Port Said and represent it.”
Karim: “Who knows what people may do to us? But it is the responsibility of every one of us in Port Said to defend the truth, and that truth is that we are being blamed wrongly.”
M. Zekri: “We are both ready to die like those who already have, if that’s what it takes for the truth to emerge.”
Tell the CommentMidEast.com readers about yourselves and your relationship with Port Said.
Karim: “We were both born in Port Said, and have played for the club since we were nine. I’m captain of the club and was captain of Egypt’s youth teams at U21 and U23 too.”
Mohamed: “And I played here for over 15 years, before I left in 2008. We were together step by step from the kids’ team, to the youth, to the first team, and until we represented Egypt at all youth levels together from U15 to U23.”
What about the match? First, the club captain tells his story.
K. Zekri: “During half time … as club captain, I went to the police and told them that some people were coming onto the pitch. They said to me: ‘Go to them and stop them; they like you’. So I went to these people, and to my shock, they didn’t know who I was.”
Karim: “I was in the match squad, but the manager decided not to play me from the start, which I respect, and I stayed as a substitute for the whole game. When I got onto the pitch to warm up, I noticed some thugs in the crowd. They were throwing missiles at the Ahly players while they were warming up.
“But things became more normal and the first half was played without trouble. But during half time, some fans started coming on the pitch. When I heard, I didn’t go inside for the team-talk. Instead, as club captain, I went to the police and told them that some people were coming onto the pitch. They said to me: ‘Go to them and stop them; they like you’. So I went to these people, and to my shock, they didn’t know who I was. When I told them to get back in the stands, they shouted at me and tried to hurt me. Remember, I was in my tracksuit but our tracksuit doesn’t have a badge; it looks like normal clothing, but these people didn’t know me; how could fans of the club not know the captain? It was unbelievable.
“After I tried to reason with them, the second half began, and we were behind by a goal. We scored three times, and every time we scored, some people would celebrate on the pitch, like it was a street game. Who goes onto the pitch when their team is winning, because it could get the game cancelled? Of course, maybe a few stupid fans imitated what these thugs were doing.
“In the last minutes, everyone was concentrating on the game. But as soon as the final whistle was blown, the door of the level-three stand was open, so people didn’t need to jump. They simply came down out of an open door. Tell me, who opened it? And where was the security? It drives me crazy! There was actually no army there, really. And if you look carefully at the videos, you’ll see that the people who went onto the pitch went all the way from one side of the stadium to the other, where the Ahly fans were. These people were the thugs. But we didn’t know it was going to elevate that much, so were told to go into the changing rooms, as you’d expect.”
M. Zekri: “For the first time in history, tickets weren’t being checked, there was no searching, and the governor and police chief didn’t attend…”
Mohamed: “As for me, I didn’t go into the stadium, as I felt more comfortable watching on TV just outside. God seems to have planned this, so that I could witness what I witnessed. I sat at a café village which is right next to the stadium. It was three hours before kick-off, and what’s normal, is that the police close any road around the stadium, even if it was a friendly match.
“I felt something was going wrong, and these things were also confirmed to me. Firstly, there was no real searching of fans as they entered the stadium, which is really unusual. In the past, nobody could go in with a plastic water bottle. This half-hearted searching was two hours before kick-off too, but one hour before kick-off, whoever wanted to go in could just go in, whether you had a ticket or not. Tickets weren’t being checked, and there was no searching at all. Some people I met had gone in and out of the stadium with the ticket still looking perfect inside their pockets! And another thing, for the first time in the history of our town, the governor and chief of police did not attend this game.
“Anyway, the match started and I heard fireworks, but that’s quite normal. Between the two halves, there wasn’t TV coverage. I heard the stadium chanting: ‘We’re not coming down! We’re not coming down!” They were telling that minority that had gone onto the pitch that they weren’t joining them. I got really happy; I thought people are being mature.”
“Then, during the second half, I saw about ten armed thugs gathering outside the stadium, right in front of the police; there was about fifty policemen, but not a single one of them moved. The thugs had swords, and were probably hiding other weapons. But I found the response of the police really odd. Other thugs arrived in cars and some went straight round to the away stand.
“I didn’t quite know what was going on, and when the game finished, the transmission was cut off (I was watching on the terrestrial TV), but I got up to see what was going on when the stations reported the unrest. I called Karim immediately. I asked him, is it true that one person’s died? He said: not one – many.”
M. Zekri: “Outside the stadium, right in front of the police … the thugs had swords … they arrived in cars and some went straight round to the away stand.”
Karim: “Well, we’d left our changing rooms and gone to the Ahly players’ changing rooms to make sure they were ok, and there, we saw the disaster. I found corpses on the floor, and most of the deaths were from suffocation. People were squashed together and ended up dying that way. I went out of the changing rooms to help the Ahly fans get out. The floodlights had been switched off – we found out later, that this happened as soon as we’d gone in – and this was one of the main causes of the disaster because people stamped on each other. I found people on the floor and I kept taking as many out of the stadium as I could and returning. The strange thing is that, really, there were no police in the stands or in the player’s tunnel where I was taking them out from.”
K. Zekri: “The door of the level-three stand was open … Tell me, who opened it? And where was the security? It drives me crazy!”
Mohamed: “I found myself running towards the stadium; I wanted to be with Karim. All I was thinking was how I will get into the stadium, because there was a disaster inside, and surely, the police is reacting. I swear by God, when I got to the stadium, I found about a thousand policemen standing there, and I went straight past them and they didn’t say a word. Then I went in and found real chaos, so from the fear, I couldn’t concentrate. It was dark. Only God knows who switched the floodlights off.
“I saw Karim, he was coming out of a crowd and he was being held from all angles by half a dozen young Ahly supporters he was trying to save. And he shouted at me: ‘come on, let’s get them out!’ I thought to myself, even if I die doing it, I have to get them out no matter what; it doesn’t matter if I die. I swear by God this is what happened.
“As soon as we got out of the stadium with the first set of fans, I found lots of people from Port Said helping us and carrying Ahly fans to safety. They were asking the Ahly fans if they needed rides to Cairo or to the stations. I found it strange that these people who are supposedly killing them, are helping them at the same time.
“We took the Ahly fans to the stations in our cars; everyone we could get, we took. We’d fit seven or eight people into each car and we did many rounds. Many Masry fans did the same too. The Ahly fans were so silent; they didn’t say a word from the shock.”
K. Zekri: “The floodlights had been switched off …. people stamped on each other.”
Karim: “Afterwards, we found out that the gate of the away stand was completely welded in advance (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cejiVFI_Uqw&), so the Ahly fans were squashed to death. And the other door, which away fans usually leave from, was closed on the Ahly fans by the police.”
K. Zekri: “The gate of the away stand was completely welded in advance, so the Ahly fans were squashed to death.”
M. Zekri: “The police were saying to them, ‘go and beat the s**t out of them – they’re saying you’re not men.”
Mohamed: “And I have many friends who were in the stadium, and they swear to me that the police were saying to them, ‘go and beat the s**t out of them – they’re saying you’re not men’. They’re the ones who stirred the people up, and they opened the Ahly stand from the pitch-side. This gate, it is not allowed to be opened under any circumstances. It’s different to the gate that was locked so that Ahly fans couldn’t get out, which is the gate that the fans come into the stadium from. So, when they saw the thugs coming, the Ahly fans ran towards this gate and couldn’t get out, and that’s when the stampede occurred. And let me ask you, if Masry fans are the ones who killed, how could 21 of the Masry fans die? There may have been a few animalistic idiots who joined in with the thugs, but I mean just a few. I’m telling you the truth as would please God.”
M. Zekri: “We took the Ahly fans to the stations in our cars; everyone we could get, we took. We’d fit seven or eight people into each car.”
I ask if the Ahly fans were the specific targets.
Mohamed: “Listen, Ahly’s Ultras, they all said, “Down, down, military rule” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o6AWIQA8zDY) in the Arab Contractors match, and my personal opinion before disagreed with them, because the military will hand over power after three months and we need to be patient. But the Ultras were right, because they said the military won’t hand it over and will wreck the country before they do, and nobody believed them. But after what I saw with my eyes from the government, I believe them. I’ll tell you something really, really important, and I hope you can put a hundred lines under it. Isn’t it the army which is running the country? How come they were able to secure the elections, which involve tens of millions of citizens, and we’ve always known that thugs take over elections here. But they passed by successfully. Then how can they not secure a match which has 25,000 spectators, who are supposed to be simply watching a game inside. Answer me if you have an explanation. Everything I’ve just said should be published because this is a witness of the truth, and we must say it even if it means we could die.”
Karim: “Today (Friday), a man was arrested and he confessed about two others. He said that there were more than 600 people hired from outside Port Said, who entered the game. They’d taken money from one of the sacked National Democratic Party members, called Al-Husseini Abu-Qamar, and he was a personal friend of Gamal Mubarak. He told them to kill and cause havoc in the stadium, and now everyone is searching for him. Thanks to God, the truth is showing day by day.”
K. Zekri: “What happened was planned, and the police and army had a role in this.”
I suggest these may be rumours.
Mohamed: “Of course they’re not. We are a million per cent sure. It’ll be in the news tomorrow. And we are well connected; the people who arrested the thugs are my friends, and they refused to give him to the police because no one has faith in them any more.”
Karim: “So they questioned him, and they recorded all of this on video, and sent him to the investigative committee in Port Said, which consists of MPs whom the Parliament has ordered to find out what happened, and they’re in Port Said now.
Finally, was it planned or just allowed?
Karim: “What happened was planned, and the police and army had a role in this.”
Mohamed: “It’s planned of course and those who planned it are admitting it. But we need to get the rights of those who died first, before those who are living in Port Said. The former regime is still being tried until today, and there’s a big chance they are claimed innocent. In Allah we trust, and He is the best to rely on.”
I won’t comment. This was Karim and Mohamed’s turn to comment.
Views expressed in articles are the author’s and do not represent Comment Middle East