Football fans displaying the Palestinian flag in Qatar, December 2022 (photo used for illustrative purposes only). Credit: ANP / Alamy Stock Photo
African football governing body urged to act on repression of Egyptian children for Gaza solidarity

FairSquare has written to African football’s governing body to express concerns at the treatment of approximately 250 Egyptian football fans, including children as young as 13, who were detained by security forces after expressing solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza and displaying the Palestinian flag at a match.

At an Egyptian Premier League match between Al Ahly FC and Pharco FC at Alexandria’s Army stadium on 14 June, a number of Al Ahly fans raised Palestinian flags and peacefully chanted slogans in support of Palestinians in Gaza. Many fans also left the stadium in a solidarity protest, which can be seen in video footage. As fans left the match, security forces carried out detentions of approximately 250 people, the majority children aged 13 and 15, according to the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedom (ECRF). These detainees were believed to have been transferred to the Central Security Camp in Margham, the second Amriya Police division, and to the Security Directorate. ECRF reports that by the following day the detainees had been released.

In a letter sent to Patrice Motsepe, President of the Confederation of African Football, and copied to FIFA, FairSquare requested that CAF call on the Egyptian authorities to ensure any charges levelled are dropped, and to offer assurances that they will not detain any supporters expressing peaceful political opinions.

Under international human rights law, arrest or detention as punishment for the legitimate exercise of the rights to freedoms of opinion and expression – in this case a message of support and solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza – is arbitrary.

The outright banning of Palestinian flags and pro-Palestinian sentiment in football stadiums, which has been imposed in stadiums in Egypt as well as other countries, is a clear violation of the right to freedom of expression. In November 2023, UN experts expressed concern at attacks, reprisals, criminalisation and sanctions against those who publicly criticise the Israeli government’s policies or express solidarity with victims of grave human rights violations and demand justice. In their statement they specifically referenced the importance of free expression in the context of sport: “Sport is … about building bridges and enabling all people to meet and engage, while respecting diversity of origin and opinions, which every human being has the right to hold”.