The initial reaction to today's Port Said verdict was reminiscent of last year's verdict in the Mubarak trial, when initial joy quickly gave way to anger.
Judge Sobhi Abdel Meguid started by confirming the 21 death sentences announced in January, and this drew a huge cheer (plus fireworks and celebratory gunfire) from the 500 or so Ultras gathered outside the Al-Ahly headquarters in Gezira. But then the crowd started to learn more details — specifically that seven of nine police officers had been acquitted — and quieted down to debate a next move.
They never really settled on one. Some of the Ultras wanted to leave headquarters and start attacking police stations; a few teenagers walked through the crowd, encouraging people to storm the well-guarded interior ministry.
Others tried to organize peaceful protests, and for a time a few dozen Ultras blocked traffic on the 6th of October bridge.
In the end, most seemed to accept the torching of the police club and the football association as an acceptable response. The Ultras have actually denied setting these fires — but I watched a large crowd of them (some armed) run out of the police club as it burned, so we can probably conclude they're responsible. Several of them shot fireworks at a police helicopter that was circling overhead.
The arsonists came prepared, too: A few empty petrol cans were scattered around the grounds after the fire.
Obviously the hooliganism today is a symptom of larger issues, like the lack of any transitional justice since the revolution, the general failings of Egypt's political class, and the ever-declining trust in established institutions like the police and the judiciary.
It also ties into the ongoing struggle between Morsi and the interior ministry — at least, if you believe political considerations influenced the verdict. I listened to one man explain that it was simply unrealistic to expect all nine officers to be convicted.
Even if the evidence was strong, he said, Morsi is struggling to gain control over the security forces, and a slate of guilty verdicts would enrage a police force that already seems near mutiny. Then, outside the police club a few hours later, I listened to a heated argument about whether Hosni Mubarak would have handled this situation better.
"At least he wasn't afraid of the police!" one man said.