At least 40 people have died and dozens have been injured in clashes between football supporters and police outside a stadium in Cairo.
The violence – only three years after similar violence killed 74 people in the country – began prior to a match between Egyptian Premier League clubs Zamalek and ENPPI at Air Defence Stadium east of Cairo.
The match was open to the public, unlike most other games between Egyptian football clubs since deadly stadium riots in Port Said in 2012.
But the interior ministry had capped the number of spectators allowed into the stadium to 10,000, and tickets quickly ran out.
Fans of Zamalek, Egypt’s second biggest club, tried to force their way into a match without tickets, sparking the clashes, officials said.
The interior ministry said in a statement: ‘Huge numbers of Zamalek club fans came to Air Defense Stadium to attend the match…and tried to storm the stadium gates by force, which prompted the troops to prevent them from continuing the assault on the stadium facilities.’
But the Ultras White Knights offered a different explanation, claiming they were tear-gassed as many fans scrambled to get in, with a ‘tiny metal fence surrounded by barbed wire being the only gate opened for us.’
They said that led to pushing and shoving and so police officers fired tear gas and birdshot.
A supporter said the stampede was caused by police firing tear gas at the congested crowd.
‘Those who fell down could not get back up again’, he said.
Egypt’s public prosecutor has issued a statement ordering an investigation.
The Cabinet convened an emergency meeting to discuss the violence, Egypt’s state television said.
Egypt’s hard-core football fans, known as Ultras, frequently clash with police inside and outside of stadiums.
They are deeply politicised and many participated in the country’s 2011 uprising that forced out president Hosni Mubarak.
The deadliest riot in Egypt football history came during a 2012 match when Port Said’s Al-Masry team hosted Cairo’s Al-Ahly.
That riot – at the time the deadliest worldwide since 1996 – killed 74 people, mostly Al-Ahly fans.
Two police officers later received 15-year prison sentences for gross negligence and failure to stop the Port Said killings, a rare incident of security officials being held responsible for deaths in the country.
Seven other officers were acquitted, angering soccer fans who wanted more police officers to be held accountable for the incident and other episodes of violence.
In response, angry fans burned down the headquarters of Egypt’s Football Association later that year, protesting its decision to resume matches before bringing those behind that 2012 riot to justice.