Soccer deaths shed light on Egypt's political struggles

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Egypt Soccer Riots - video up top -- updated 2/9
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Soccer deaths shed light on Egypt's political struggles
A riot outside a major football match in Egypt has killed at least 25 people, authorities have said.
Soccer fans hold lit flares at the stand as they watch a match between Egyptian Premier League clubs Zamalek and ENPPI at Air Defense Stadium in a suburb east of Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015. A riot broke out Sunday night outside of the major soccer game, with a stampede and fighting between police and fans killing at least 22 people, authorities said. (AP Photo/Ahmed Abd El-Gwad, El Shorouk newspaper) EGYPT OUT
A pickup truck bursts into flames as a riot breaks out outside of a soccer match between Egyptian Premier League clubs Zamalek and ENPPI at Air Defense Stadium in a suburb east of Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015. The riot broke out Sunday night outside of the major soccer game, with a stampede and fighting between police and fans killing at least 22 people, authorities said. (AP Photo/Ahmed Abd El-Gwad, El Shorouk newspaper) EGYPT OUT
Firefighters try to extinguish a fire on a truck as a riot broke out outside of a major soccer match between Egyptian Premier League clubs Zamalek and ENPPI at Air Defense Stadium in a suburb east of Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015. The riot broke out between the Egypt security forces and Zamalek fans outside of the major soccer game at the stadium, violence that killed at least 20 people, security officials said. (AP Photo/Ahmed Abd El-Gwad, El Shorouk newspaper) EGYPT OUT
Fans of Egypt's Zamalek soccer team flock in droves outside the Air Defense Stadium to watch a match between Egyptian Premier League clubs Zamalek and ENPPI in a suburb east of Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015. A riot broke out between the Egypt security forces and Zamalek fans outside of the major soccer game at the stadium, violence that killed at least 20 people, security officials said. (AP Photo/Ahmed Abd El-Gwad, El Shorouk newspaper) EGYPT OUT
An Egyptian man wearing a mask of the anonymous movement gestures near a burning car outside a sports stadium in a Cairo's northeast district, on February 8, 2015 during clashes between supporters of Zamalek football club and security forces. Three people were killed and 20 injured, the health ministry said. The clashes erupted after fans tried to force their way into the venue to watch a game, the ministry said. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)
In this Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015 photo, an Egyptian looks at a vehicle lit on fire during a riot outside the Air Defense Stadium in a suburb east of Cairo, Egypt. Egypt's Cabinet has indefinitely suspended the national soccer league after more than 20 fans were killed in a stampede and clashes with police outside the Cairo stadium. (AP Photo/Ahmed Abd El-Gwad, El Shorouk Newspaper) EGYPT OUT
An Ultras Al-Ahly soccer fan, left, and an Ultras White Knights soccer fan, right, pray for people who were killed on Sunday from a riot outside the Air Defense Stadium, at Cairo University in Egypt, Monday, Feb. 9, 2015. Egypt's Cabinet has indefinitely suspended the national soccer league after more than 20 fans were killed in a stampede and clashes with police outside the Cairo stadium. (AP Photo/Roger Anis, El Shorouk Newspaper) EGYPT OUT
An Ultras White Knights soccer fan, mourns over his friends who were killed in a riot on Sunday, outside Zeinhom morgue, in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Feb. 9, 2015. Egypt's Cabinet has indefinitely suspended the national soccer league after more than 20 fans were killed in a stampede and clashes with police outside the Cairo stadium. (AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy)
Egyptian friends and relatives of soccer fans who were killed in a riot on Sunday, wait outside Zeinhom morgue, in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Feb. 9, 2015. Egypt's Cabinet has indefinitely suspended the national soccer league after more than 20 fans were killed in a stampede and clashes with police outside the Cairo stadium. (AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy))
Egyptian friends and relatives of soccer fans who were killed in a riot on Sunday, wait outside Zeinhom morgue, in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Feb. 9, 2015. Egypt's Cabinet has indefinitely suspended the national soccer league after more than 20 fans were killed in a stampede and clashes with police outside the Cairo stadium. (AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy)
Egyptian relatives of soccer fans who were killed in a riot on Sunday, wait outside Zeinhom morgue, in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Feb. 9, 2015. Egypt's Cabinet has indefinitely suspended the national soccer league after more than 20 fans were killed in a stampede and clashes with police outside the Cairo stadium. (AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy)
Egyptian friends and relatives of soccer fans who were killed in a riot on Sunday, wait outside Zeinhom morgue, in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Feb. 9, 2015. Egypt's Cabinet has indefinitely suspended the national soccer league after more than 20 fans were killed in a stampede and clashes with police outside the Cairo stadium. (AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy)
In this Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015 photo, an Ultras White Knights soccer fan cries during a match between Egyptian Premier League clubs Zamalek and ENPPI at the Air Defense Stadium in a suburb east of Cairo, Egypt. Egypt's Cabinet has indefinitely suspended the national soccer league after more than 20 fans were killed in a stampede and clashes with police outside the Cairo stadium. (AP Photo/Ahmed Abd El-Gwad, El Shorouk Newspaper) EGYPT OUT
Students chant slogans, during a demonstration against Sunday's riot that killed more than 20 soccer fans, in Cairo University, Egypt, Monday, Feb. 9, 2015. Egypt's Cabinet has indefinitely suspended the national soccer league after more than 20 fans were killed in a stampede and clashes with police outside the Cairo stadium. (AP Photo/Roger Anis, El Shorouk Newspaper) EGYPT OUT
Egyptian friends and relatives of soccer fans who were killed in a riot on Sunday, wait outside Zeinhom morgue, in Cairo, Egypt, Monday, Feb. 9, 2015. Egypt's Cabinet has indefinitely suspended the national soccer league after more than 20 fans were killed in a stampede and clashes with police outside the Cairo stadium. (AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy)
Egyptian students, pray for people who were killed on Sunday from a riot outside the Air Defense Stadium, at Cairo University in Egypt, Monday, Feb. 9, 2015. Egypt's Cabinet has indefinitely suspended the national soccer league after more than 20 fans were killed in a stampede and clashes with police outside the Cairo stadium. (AP Photo/Roger Anis, El Shorouk Newspaper) EGYPT OUT
Students chant slogans, during a demonstration against Sunday's riot that killed more than 20 soccer fans, in Cairo University, Egypt, Monday, Feb. 9, 2015. Egypt's Cabinet has indefinitely suspended the national soccer league after more than 20 fans were killed in a stampede and clashes with police outside the Cairo stadium. Arabic on the poster at center reads, "the Ultras are not thugs, down with your injustice interior ministry." (AP Photo/Roger Anis, El Shorouk Newspaper) EGYPT OUT
Students chant slogans, during a demonstration against Sunday's riot that killed more than 20 soccer fans, in Cairo University, Egypt, Monday, Feb. 9, 2015. Egypt's Cabinet has indefinitely suspended the national soccer league after more than 20 fans were killed in a stampede and clashes with police outside the Cairo stadium. Arabic on the poster at center reads, "the Ultras are not thugs, down with your injustice interior ministry." (AP Photo/Roger Anis, El Shorouk Newspaper) EGYPT OUT
In this Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015 photo, Egyptians watch a match between Egyptian Premier League clubs Zamalek and ENPPI at the Air Defense Stadium in a suburb east of Cairo, Egypt. Egypt's Cabinet has indefinitely suspended the national soccer league after more than 20 fans were killed in a stampede and clashes with police outside the Cairo stadium. (AP Photo/Ahmed Abd El-Gwad, El Shorouk Newspaper) EGYPT OUT
In this Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015 photo, Ultras White Knights soccer fans watch a match between Egyptian Premier League clubs Zamalek and ENPPI at the Air Defense Stadium in a suburb east of Cairo, Egypt. Egypt's Cabinet has indefinitely suspended the national soccer league after more than 20 fans were killed in a stampede and clashes with police outside the Cairo stadium. (AP Photo/Ahmed Abd El-Gwad, El Shorouk Newspaper) EGYPT OUT
CAIRO, EGYPT - FEBRUARY 08: A man walks past a burning vehicle during the clashes between soccer fans and policemen outside the Air Force Stadium ahead of the Egyptian Premier League soccer match between Zamalek and ENPPI in Cairo, Egypt on February 08, 2015. (Photo by Ahmed El-Masry/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CAIRO, EGYPT - FEBRUARY 08: Egyptian firefighters try to extinguish a fire on a vehicle during the clashes between soccer fans and policemen outside the Air Force Stadium ahead of the Egyptian Premier League soccer match between Zamalek and ENPPI in Cairo, Egypt on February 08, 2015. (Photo by Ahmed El-Masry/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CAIRO, EGYPT - FEBRUARY 08: Relatives of people, died in the clashes between soccer fans and policemen outside the Air Force Stadium ahead of the Egyptian Premier League soccer match between Zamalek and ENPPI in Cairo, waiting outside of Zeinhom mortuary in Cairo, Egypt on February 08, 2015. At least 22 people died on February 08 in violence outside the stadium near Cairo before a local football match. (Photo by Ahmed Hendawy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CAIRO, EGYPT - FEBRUARY 08: Relatives of people, died in the clashes between soccer fans and policemen outside the Air Force Stadium ahead of the Egyptian Premier League soccer match between Zamalek and ENPPI in Cairo, waiting outside of Zeinhom mortuary in Cairo, Egypt on February 08, 2015. At least 22 people died on February 08 in violence outside the stadium near Cairo before a local football match. (Photo by Ahmed Hendawy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
CAIRO, EGYPT - FEBRUARY 08: Relatives of people, died in the clashes between soccer fans and policemen outside the Air Force Stadium ahead of the Egyptian Premier League soccer match between Zamalek and ENPPI in Cairo, waiting outside of Zeinhom mortuary in Cairo, Egypt on February 08, 2015. At least 22 people died on February 08 in violence outside the stadium near Cairo before a local football match. (Photo by Ahmed Hendawy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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CAIRO (AP) -- The deaths of 22 soccer fans in Egypt cannot be seen simply as a sports tragedy.

Like almost everything since the 2011 uprising that toppled authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak, the country's struggles and hopes - as well as the government's pursuit for power and respect - are very much at the heart of what happened Sunday night outside the military's Air Defense stadium in an eastern Cairo suburb.

The main participants in the latest tragedy are Egypt's highly militarized police and the influential, pro-government media: two powerful institutions that have slowly moved to the center of life in this country of 90 million people.

EARLIER: Egypt soccer violence revives scrutiny of police

Some answers to key questions on what the latest soccer riot tells us about sports and politics in Egypt:

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Q: What happened?

A: Police fired tear gas into a narrow corridor packed with hundreds of fans leading into the stadium where Cairo club Zamalek was playing ENNPI in a key league match. Witnesses also said birdshot was fired. That set off a stampede, and authorities said all 22 victims died of suffocation from tear gas as well as being trampled. The Interior Ministry, which is in charge of police, said the fans had no tickets and were trying to force their way inside. But witnesses and fans say that many of them actually had tickets.

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Q: Why did the police deal with them so harshly?

A: Since the ouster 19 months ago of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, police been going to great lengths to show that they are back in charge after the force was humiliated and melted away after fierce battles with demonstrators during the 2011 uprising. They have consistently been dealing harshly with any protests, no matter how small or innocuous, or public signs of dissent against President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the general-turned-politician. The police also have a festering vendetta with hard-core supporters of Zamalek and those of another Cairo team, Al-Ahly. Known as the Ultras, the fans have made a habit of taunting police during matches with disparaging chants. Significantly, large numbers of Ultras took part in the 2011 uprising and provided the muscle in clashes between pro-democracy activists on one side and the police and army on the other.

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Q: How did Egyptians react to the deaths?

A: They were horrified, particularly since the victims are in their late teens or early 20s. Moreover, Egypt experienced one of the world's deadliest soccer tragedies - the death of 74 Al-Ahly fans in the Suez Canal city of Port Said - in 2012. Sunday's deaths also highlight a country fatigued by an administration too keen to assert its authority, regardless of the cost, cracking down on dissent, even in sports, while grappling with an ailing economy and a fledgling Islamist insurgency. The pro-el-Sissi media was quick to blame the violence on the fans, not the police. The host of a radio show asked listeners to spare a thought for the police trucks torched by the fans. Another one, on TV, warned against labeling the dead fans "martyrs." There also has been much criticism of allowing fans to attend soccer matches at a time when Egypt remains roiled in turmoil. That the game went on despite the tragedy that unfolded just outside the gates served as a potent example of an administration zealously asserting its authority. El-Sissi's office issued a statement mourning the deaths, but no official mourning period was announced and the president went ahead with his plans to attend a performance at Cairo's opera house with visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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Q: Does Egypt have a history of politics or religion getting mixed up in sports?

A: Yes. For decades, Egypt has struggled to contain Islamists seeking to topple secular regimes, with politics and sports often fused with displays of piety. In the 1990s, basketball star Medhat Wardah, who played for the Alexandria club al-Ittihad, wore shorts below the knees to conform to Islamic rules on modesty and celebrated wins by holding high a copy of the Quran. At the same time, players on Egypt's seven-time African champion national soccer team knelt in unison and offer a prayer of thanks every time they scored a goal. In other team sports such as handball and volleyball, players frequently prayed together before a game. More recently, athletes who publicly showed allegiance to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood by making a four-finger hand gesture were suspended or made available for sale to other clubs. Retired Al-Ahly midfielder Mohammed Abu Trekka was for years dogged by suspicions of being a member of the Brotherhood. On Sunday, when Zamalek's Omar Gaber refused to play in the match after hearing of the deaths, his contract was immediately annulled by the club's chairman.

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Q: What will happen now?

A: The league has been ordered to suspend play indefinitely. The public prosecutor has ordered an investigation of the violence and el-Sissi called on officials to get to the "root causes" of what happened. The Interior Ministry, which is in charge of police, has gone to great lengths to deflect criticism of its handling of the fans. In past cases in which the police were perceived to have used excessive deadly force, none of its members was held accountable and the incidents were seen as an attempt to impose law and order on an unruly crowd. Already, there are claims the Brotherhood was behind the violence or that the bloodshed was part of a plot to stop parliamentary elections scheduled to begin next month.

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