The release of the fans of Cairo’s Al-Ahly club, known as Ultras, comes before a vital World Cup playoff against Ghana in a military-owned stadium in Cairo. Ghana had asked FIFA to move the match over security concerns in Cairo, where scattered protests against the country’s popularly backed July 3 military coup continue and sometimes devolve into clashes.
The qualifier, scheduled for Nov. 19, is also the first game where up to 30,000 fans will be allowed to attend after a ban following a riot at a club match in 2012 that left more than 70 people killed. It was the worst football-related violence in Egypt in decades.
Al-Ahly fans frequently clash with police inside and outside of stadiums. Many prominently participated in the country’s 2011 uprising that forced out President Hosni Mubarak.
The 25 fans were arrested in October after they arrived at the airport to receive the handball team affiliated with the club. Security forces said they tried to storm to an airport terminal. Other Al-Ahly fans have organized several protests over the arrests.
On Saturday, MENA reported that prosecutors released the 25 on their own recognizance pending an investigation. The prosecution said the detainees have paid for the airport damage.
The release appeared designed to defuse tension ahead of coming matches. In a test run for security forces, Cairo hosts a major African Champion League final between Al-Ahly and South Africa’s Orlando Pirates on Sunday.
Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim told private television station CBC he hopes Sunday’s match takes place “without riots and in the spirit of sport.”