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Soccer Fans Key to Imminent Cairo Street Battle

The coming hours could determine whether embattled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's opponents and particularly the ultras, fanatic soccer fans of rival Cairo clubs Al Ahly and Al Zamalek, have the wherewithal to fight the apparently trained pro-Mubarak forces. The ultras are one of the few, if not the only group among Mubarak's opponents, that not only have an organization but are battle-hardened street fighters as opponents and supporters of Mubarak gear up for a major confrontation in downtown Cairo. Mubarak, steeled by 30 years in power and ruthless, could win battle if the opposition and the ultras don't have the wherewithal for what is likely to be a brutal fight. Mubarak has nothing more to lose. He's become a domestic and international pariah whether he stays in power or resigns. The ultras are a key part of the alliance of youth activists, Islamists, and workers rebelling against Mubarak because of his failure to alleviate poverty, eradicate corruption and provide jobs as well as its employment of repression and torture to stymie opposition. Al Ahly’s ultras last week issued a statement that as an organization it was determined to remain non-political, but that its members were free as individuals to participate in the protests. “The group emphasizes that its members are free in their political choices,” the group said in a statement on Facebook said. Established in 2007, the ultras -- modelled on Italy’s autonomous, often violent fan clubs -- have proven their metal in confrontations with the Egyptian police, who charge that criminals and terrorists populate their ranks. “There is no competition in politics, so competition moved to the soccer pitch. We do what we have to do against the rules and regulations when we think they are wrong,” an El Ahly ultra said last year after his group overran a police barricade trying to prevent it from bringing flares, fireworks and banners into the stadium. “You don’t change things in Egypt talking about politics. We’re not political, the government knows that and has to deal with us,” he adds.

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