Where there is division in Egypt - death seems to follow

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Al-Ahly fans, also known as Ultras, celebrate the death sentences, outside their club in Cairo. Photo: Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters

Wherever there is division in Egypt right now – death seems sure to follow. The greatest toll in three days of violence has come amid gunfire and tear gas in Port Said. Protesters tried to storm a jail holding prisoners themselves facing execution. They were raging against a verdict just delivered on 21 football fans convicted for their part in a football riot that killed more than 70 people.

The father of an Al-Ahly fan who was killed in Port Said celebrates with fans in Cairo. Credit: Mohamed Abd El Ghany / Reuters.

Among relatives of the dead though, there was jubilation. They waved portraits of lost sons and brothers as they celebrated in court. Even to a nation grown use to violence, the match that became a massacre was shocking. Rampaging fans of the home Port Said team were said to have kicked and clubbed and stabbed their rivals from Cairo. Police were accused of complicity at worst and at best of complete inaction.

So the match - and the reaction to the verdict today - tells a familiar story of a break down in law and order and a corrosion of trust in the authorities. If the fans found guilty today had instead been judged innocent, no doubt there would have been an equally violent response - but from aggrieved supporters in Cairo rather than allies of the accused men in Port Said. This is as much about fierce football rivalries as it is about politics. Fans of the Port Said and Cairo teams have fearsome reputations.

Residents in Port Siad, where the deadly football riot took place last February, react to the death sentences passed down today. Credit: Asmaa Wauguih / Reuters

But the "Ultras'' of Cairo played a key part in the battle for Tahrir Square that led to the downfall of Mubarak. Some saw the deaths in Port Said as unofficial payback. In the year since, it seems rare for many weeks to pass without demonstrations against President Morsi and his Islamist government. His people point out he is in power purely because he won an election. Moreover, last month, his new constitution was approved by a comfortable majority. Nevertheless the divisions run wide and deep. The last thing Egypt needs is one more reason to riot.

Read More: Football death sentences prompt deadly riots in Port Said.