A bloodbath at a football stadium in the Egyptian city of Port Said has triggered cascading protests against the ruling military authorities and the security forces, which are being accused of plotting the tragedy.
At least 74 people were killed and hundreds wounded when a large group of spectators wielding knives, sticks and clubs, and apparently backing the winning Al Masry club from the host city, attacked supporters of the rival Al Ahly team, which had travelled from Cairo.
This is the worst violence at a football stadium after the 1996 carnage in Guatemala City, in which 78 people died.
The incident at Port Said came on the eve of the first anniversary of the pitched battles that were fought at Cairo's iconic Tahrir Square, which became the defining moment of the successful Egyptian revolt.
Neither did Tahrir Square remain unaffected on Thursday, as anger and frustration over the incident channelled into a loud rejection of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the police.
As protesters blocked Tahrir Square, they pinned blame for the tragedy on the ruling military council and the Central Security Forces (CSF), which, unlike in the past, was sparsely deployed at the stadium and showed little enthusiasm to intervene, allowing the bloodletting to snowball.
Quick off the blocks, an emboldened Muslim Brotherhood, which along with other Islamist parties had steamrolled the opposition in the recent elections, accused the military council of plotting a situation that would impede the democratic transition. Essam el Erian, senior lawmaker from the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, accused the military of vendetta, after it was forced to partially lift the hated emergency laws that gave it sweeping extra-judicial powers. He charged the security forces with deliberately absenting themselves from the venue. Some analysts allege that the security forces may have earlier identified Al Ahly club fans for retribution, as they have been long known as the frontline of the recent anti-military protests.
The angst against the military council, especially its head, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, reached fever pitch in the early hours on Thursday at Cairo's main railway station, where trains from Port Said brought the injured supporters of the Al Ahly club back home.
Wrote the newspaper Al Ahram on its website: “As the train arrived from Port Said at 3.30 a.m., approximately 30 fans jumped on top of the vehicle demanding the execution of [Field Marshall] Tantawi… Soon after groups marched through downtown Cairo, chanting against the ruling military council.” The decision of the Field Marshal to receive some of injured at a military airbase in Cairo only appeared to inflate the fury against Egypt's transitional leaders, who had assumed power after the unceremonious exit, nearly a year ago, of strongman Hosni Mubarak.
Rattled by the sense of outrage, the stopgap ruling apparatus went into overdrive. The Cabinet huddled for an emergency meeting and declared three days of mourning. Appearing on the Al Ahly satellite channel, Field Marshal Tantawi said: “We will get through this stage. Egypt will be stable.”
Members of the recently-elected Egyptian Parliament also decided to hold an emergency session, and appeared combative to push for an early exit of the military council.
The call for the Army's departure is expected to grow louder on Friday when, in response to calls that have been issued on Thursday, protesters, mainly the pro-democracy youth, are expected to march in large numbers on the Ministries of Interior and Defence — the bastions of Egyptian state power.
Meanwhile, Fifa President Sepp Blatter expressed shock over Wednesday's incident. In a statement he said: “This is a black day for football. Such a catastrophic situation is unimaginable and should not happen.”