The Egyptian sports minister, Doctor Ashraf Sobhy, announced that football fans will be allowed back to watch league matches on a regular basis for the first time since 2012.
Supporters have been banned from domestic league games in Egypt since February 2012, when 72 Al Ahly fans were killed at a regular season match against Al Masry in Port Said.
Since then, a limited number of supporters have been able to watch certain matches.
Last week, Sobhy met with the Egypt Football Association (EFA) and club representatives to reach an agreement that is expected to give football fans the liberty to attend matches freely.
‘The cabinet agreed in its weekly meeting on Tuesday (7 August) that fans may gradually return to the stands starting from 1 September,’ the sports minister was quoted as saying by the Egyptian media.
‘We will start with 5,000 fans, but we have to make sure some important recommendations have been applied,’ Sobhy added.
The approval by the ministry of the interior is still pending.
Egypt's cabinet approved on Tuesday the gradual return of fans to football games starting 1 September, ending more than a six year crowd ban on domestic games. pic.twitter.com/4210hA60SW— BEST SPORTS & ENTERTAINMENT IN GH (@bismarkmgh14) 14 August 2018
Port Said tragedy
On 1 February 2012, following an Egyptian Premier League match between Al Masry and Al Ahly at the Port Said Stadium, a massive riot occurred.
Following a 3-1 victory by Al Masry, local fans stormed the stadium stands and pitch and violently attacked Al Ahly fans using knives, stones and bottles among several other weapons.
Several Al Ahly fans tried to flee, but were unable to do so as most of the stadium gates were locked.
The brawl ended with 74 people killed and over 500 injured; Egypt’s worst football related tragedy.
'This is not football. This is a war and people are dying in front of us,' Al-Ahly player Mohamed Abo Treika was cited by the BBC as saying.
According to the Egyptian Health Minister, the deaths were caused by stab wounds, brain hemorrhages and concussions.
It’s believed that the violence broke out after fans from Cairo’s Al Ahly unfurled banners insulting Al Masry.
As a result of the disaster, the Egyptian government canceled the domestic league for two years.
In 2015, an Egyptian court sentenced 11 men to death for their role in the Port Said disaster.
Several football fans believe the violence was linked to Egypt’s political situation. Live television footage from the day of the tragedy showed security forces standing idly as Al Masry fans stormed the pitch.
In contrast with normal safety procedures, no searches were conducted at the stadium entrances, allowing weapons to be smuggled in.
Mohamed Salah will wear No.74 at Fiorentina in tribute to the victims of the Port Said tragedy in Egypt. Nice touch. pic.twitter.com/oaEt1qvV28— Natter Football (@NATTERFOOTBALL) 6 February 2015
A gradual return to stadiums was due to start in early 2015, however, 22 Zamalek fans died in a stampede at one of the first games of the season, leading to the ban being re-imposed.
On this occasion, people were crushed after police fired tear gas at Zamalek supporters who were trying to force their entry to a match against ENPPI SC.
The 2018/19 season of the Egyptian Premier League kicked-off last week without fans, making this the fifth consecutive edition to be played behind closed doors.
Ultimately, the EFA is working towards the safe entry of masses, something that involves equipping the stadiums, a comprehensive access system and a well-prepared security staff.