Egypt allows fans back into stadiums for domestic games

Al-Ahly players celebrate during an Egyptian Premier League match in January, but the roar of fans has been absent since 2012. (AFP)
Updated 15 August 2018
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Egypt allows fans back into stadiums for domestic games

  • Crowds banned from stadiums since 2012 Port Said riots killed dozens
  • Supporters complained the Egyptian Premier league had become dull

CAIRO: Egypt will allow crowds back into football matches more than six years after dozens of people were killed, during rioting, at a match in Port Said.

Up to 5,000 fans will be allowed to attend Egyptian Premier League games from Sept. 1, Sports Minister Ashraf Sobhi told local media.

The move to allow partial crowds back into domestic matches follows demands from many supporters, who said the sport had become dull without spectators.

The Egyptian Football Association (EFA) made similar announcements in the past but failed to get approval from the interior ministry.

The crowd ban originally came into effect following the Port Said tragedy in February 2012 - Egypt’s worst football disaster.

More than 70 Al-Ahly fans were killed when massive riots swept through the stadium.

The ban was briefly lifted in February 2015 but was immediately re-instated after more than 20 Zamalek supporters were killed in a stampede, after security forces fired tear gas, before a league game against Enppi at Cairo’s Army Defence Stadium.

Fans were still allowed to attend continental games for Egyptian clubs, as well as matches featuring the national team.


Sleeping beauties: Artist revives Lebanon’s abandoned historic buildings

Visitors look at Tom Young’s painting inside the Grand Sofar Hotel, Sawfar, Lebanon, on Sept. 30. (Thomson Reuters)
Updated 24 October 2018
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Sleeping beauties: Artist revives Lebanon’s abandoned historic buildings

  • British artist Tom Young studies the history of abandoned buildings in Lebanon
  • Young's exhibitions, held in the abandoned buildings, are free of charge and include community events to help stir public interest in their history

SAWFAR, Lebanon: Dotted with bullet holes and scarred by war, a once iconic hotel in Lebanon abandoned for more than 40 years is coming back to life through the paintings of an artist on a mission to revive the memories of its glorious past.

British artist Tom Young studies the history of abandoned buildings in Lebanon, many of them a reminder of the country’s civil war, and creates paintings based on old photographs, stories, architecture and their surrounding environment.

His exhibitions, held in the abandoned buildings, are free of charge and include community events to help stir public interest in their history.

“These great places ... are just sleeping and in many ways with my art I am hoping to perhaps wake them up and make them relevant for the present day and the future,” said Young, who has been living in Lebanon for the past nine years.

Lebanon has no law to protect historic buildings and many have been demolished to make way for modern apartment buildings and offices.

In the capital Beirut the number of historic buildings has dropped to about 250, down from 4,200 in the 1990s, according to campaign group Save Beirut Heritage.

Young’s latest project is the Grand Sofar, a 75-room hotel built in 1892 under Ottoman rule that was bustling with famous people from Egyptian actor Omar Sharif to diplomats and generals who shaped the history of the country and region.

The hotel, about 30 km away from Beirut, became a casualty of the country’s 15-year-long civil war, which began in 1975, the year the hotel closed its doors.

One of the owners, Roderick Sursock Cochrane, whose family built the hotel, wanted to bring its history back to life through Young’s “out of the ordinary” exhibition.

“Every painting which you see here depicts an event which happened in the hotel. And that is very, very important I find, because people just don’t come and see regular paintings but they also come and learn what has happened in this place,” he said.

One of Young’s paintings is based on a photo he found of 80-year-old Samira Sayegh on her wedding day standing with her husband on one of two grand staircases at the entrance of the hotel.

“It was so emotional because I went 52 years back (to) the day of my wedding,” Sayegh said with a smile, remembering when she first saw Young’s painting.

“The young generation, they don’t know what is the Grand hotel. Since 1975 it (has been) hidden — now it’s coming back.”

Cochrane plans to use the old hotel as a wedding venue and cultural center for local artists, and he hopes to encourage young people to appreciate historic buildings.

“Old does not mean necessarily that it has to be destroyed for something new to come instead of it,” said Cochrane, sitting outside the hotel.

Naji Raji, founder of Save Beirut Heritage, a local organization fighting to save architectural heritage in the capital, said buildings like the Grand Sofar are under threat.

“There is no law protecting heritage buildings in Lebanon. The dangers of removing these historic buildings means losing identity and common memory,” said Raji.

In 2013, Young found an abandoned 19th century mansion in central Beirut that was left in ruins. He brought it back to life with his paintings and through partial renovation.

But what mattered most to the 45-year-old is that his exhibition led to the building to be used as a public cultural center for three years before becoming the residence of the head of the European Union delegation to Lebanon.

“Really our memories, our history is what gives us our identity, and in Lebanon that identity is under threat because of this destruction of both architecture and human memory,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in the Grand Sofar hotel.

In several of his exhibitions, including in the Grand Sofar, he teaches art classes to refugee children and orphans to show how art can be used to revive memories and history in derelict buildings.

Learning about history through art helps young people to connect to their identity, a different experience then through history books, said Young.

He hopes his next exhibition will be in Beirut’s Holiday Inn, a hotel that once exemplified the city’s glamour and became an icon of the civil war only a few weeks after it opened.

It was the military headquarters of whichever militant faction was winning the war over the next 15 years, and it is still not open to the public.

“I hope that a transcendent public art event can help all those involved and transform a place of unresolved trauma into a site of culture and creativity,” said Young.