Thursday, November 26, 2009

Lets play nicely now.

I have intentionally waited a while in writing this blog. The tensions that were simmering just below the surface in the minds of many here in Egypt needed no fuel added to the fire.

The match between Egypt and Algeria on the 18 of November was the final determining match in the World Cup qualifying rounds. After an Egyptian victory on the 14, pushing Algeria into a final showdown so to speak, the Algerian team beat the Egyptian 1-0, giving Algeria the spot in the 2010 World Cup.

I watched both matches; Nov. 14th provided an exciting experience, rushing into the streets to get caught up in the pure euphoria that erupted following Egypt's nail biting match. The final goal, scored in what were the last few minutes of the game, caused an explosion of sounds in the streets. Drummers, firecrackers, singing, shouting, flags waving, all of Egypt coming together to celebrate their teams victory. The tension and excitement that was coursing through the air on Wednesday in anticipation of the match in Khartoum made your hair stand on end. Everybody was going to be watching the game, it was all people could talk about.

When the ball was kicked off, fans settled in for what they hoped to be an exciting and fast paced match. It certainly was fast-paced, with the Egyptian side desperately trying to score a goal, keeping the ball in their offensive possession for the majority of the game, but the shots on goal were just not there. The Algerian team's goal came out of nowhere, nobody could have anticipated it, the stillness that blanketed Cairo was a thick muffled sigh. When the game ended with a 1-0 victory for Algeria, dashing the Egyptian hopes of any place in the World Cup, Cairo mourned.

The reactions to Egypt's loss however, were quickly covered by the anger that was stirred as a result of the violence in the Sudan against Egyptians. The first match, on the 14th, was marred by reports of Egyptian fans hurling stones at the Algerian buses transporting the team. This the precursor to what followed the match on the 18th. Egyptians were beaten down, attacked, murdered in the Sudan by the ravaging Algerian fans. A story that has been partnered by rumours, some claim that the violence was carefully orchestrated by the Algerian aggressors to subdue their Egyptian rivals. Others claim that the 9000 fans flown into Khartoum for the match were in fact ex-convicts, many of whom were armed with knifes when entering the stadium. Other accounts from within Cairo have expressed the belief that the Egyptian government was also privy to the planned violence, as a means of keeping the Egyptian population distracted by ongoings outside of our borders, rather than the problems from within.

For me, what is most interesting about this entire situation, is the media coverage of the incident. To find a report that is seeing the Egyptians as victims is difficult, unless you are searching through the local Egyptian papers. Most Western media outlets are reporting on the Egyptians as the aggressors, somehow downplaying the brutal violence practiced by the Algerians against the Egyptians in the Sudan. This alongside the reports of Egyptian offices being ransacked in Algiers, yet the predominant focus of any reporting centers on the Egyptians being the aggressors, citing the stones thrown at the Algierian teams bus as evidence of this. Further reports point to the protests in Zamalek outside of the Algerian Embassy as further evidence of the Egyptian aggression.

This really irks me. Not only is FIFA taking disciplinary action against the Egyptian team due to the stone's thrown at the Algerian bus, they have not yet announced any disciplinary action to be taken against the Algerian team. Where is this double standard coming from?! If the Egyptian team is bearing the responsibility of the actions of their fans, why are the Algerians not being held to the same standard?! The Egyptian decision to withcall their Algerian envoy is wholly understandable, the Egyptians have the right to stand up for themselves, and show the world that they are not solely responsible for the attrocious actions that followed a football game in the Sudan.

It begs just one question...can football really be the uniting force that FIFA wants it to be, or is it now being used as a tool to fuel resentment between different peoples, just one more means of distraction.

And don't even get me started on the handball that lost Ireland the qualifying spot...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Get Your Game Face On!!!

Tonight is the night. The anticipation for this game has been building over the past few weeks - tonight will determine Egypt's fate in the African World Cup. The game...Egypt vs. Algeria... The setting, Cairo's Nasr City. The rivalry...Through the roof.

So people have been talking about this game for the past few weeks, but today, it's pretty much all anybody has to talk about. My ride to work this morning was, lets say, a unique experience! I was asking around yesterday as to where the heated rivalry between Egypt and Algeria comes from, but it seemed as though nobody was able to provide me with a satisfactory answer. Instead it was more along the lines of "well, we're told we're supposed to hate them, so we do!" Of course, I can't handle such a vague answer, and after one simple Google search found out that the history of this rivalry dates back twenty years, when Egypt beat Algeria 1-0 and a riot ensued. Since then, neither team has qualified for the Cup.

To proceed directly forward in the Cup, Egypt must beat Algeria by three goals. Should they only beat the Algerian team by two goals, a re-match will be held in a neutral country. But enough about the logistics behind the game, I'm here to talk about Cairo!!!

The last time that I was in Egypt for a huge football match was the infamous match against Italy, and for this I was in Hurghada. This of course, means that I didn't really experience the fervour of the game as I can see it today. Driving around the streets of Cairo at the moment, the air is electrified. It is one of the few times where class and distinction in the city dissipate, and everyone joins together as Egyptians. Cars are adorned with flags, ranging from the white microbusses and 1970 Lada's, to the new and expensive Mercedes CLK, BMW's, vegetable trucks and vans, and regular family vehicles. Everywhere you look, you're met with Red, White and Black. On my commute along the commute, I saw a microbus that was covered from front to back with a flag that must have been about 8 meters long, as it drapped the entire thing, leaving the only point of visibility the windscreen. People were gathered in the streets, groups of boys were waving their flags at oncoming traffic and banging tabla's, adding to the extreme electricity that is coursing through the city. Beeping has intensified three fold; Cairo is now a racously loud place - brimming with nationalism and pride in the Egyptian team (I swear - even the horses pulling carriages looked PROUD today!!!).

Of course as is typical in any anticipated game, scalpers are abound. The original ticketed price to the match was 15 LE (a meager 3 dollars or so). Naturally, tickets were selling like hot cakes, leaving a window of opportunity wide open to profit on them. By Wednesday of last week, tickets had increased in price to 100 LE, by yesterday they were selling at upwards of 300 LE. Talk about a massive spike! I won't be braving the 80,000 capacity stadium today, but will be showing my support for Egypt from my friend's living room, cheering on the TV and succumbing to the overall excitement that accompanies any Egyptian match.

So for today I say, YALLA MASR!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Crazy Crowded

So as I mentioned in my last blog, I have been working in downtown Cairo for oh, about two weeks now. Minus a few days of being really ill, I've been making the trek down here everyday. And all I have to say, is Good God.

I thought I knew what traffic in Cairo could be like. I did, but never really had to experience it constantly. I guess it's like a tattoo, once you're getting it you wonder why you would ever subject yourself to such torture, but when it's finished you look at the final product and think "hey, not so bad, what shall I get next?!" Unfortunately for me, my working hours correlate to what seems to be everyone else's in downtown [I know, I know - round of applause for Suz finally getting a "real" office job. :D] leaving me with no window to avoid the congestion. You know it's a grimy day when you're looking out across the Nile, and cannot see the buildings on the other side. Now THAT'S smog for you .

So, now I have a good, oh, an hour and a half in a car on a daily basis. Thankfully I am not the one driving, I'm sure driving this stretch everyday takes years off your life - and leaves you with no fingernails having bitten all of them off. I have to admit, despite my years of living here, I have had some hair raising taxi rides that cannot compare to any others in the past few weeks. Cars in Egypt should be renamed, into "my so-called indestructible vroom vroom machine, that will fit into that space smaller than the size of a matchbox." (On second thought, that name is perhaps a little too long. Lets stick with cars :p).

While anywhere else in the world you would look at the two inches between two trucks and think "hey, I'll stay behind these trucks and patiently drive along," people in Egypt in their "cars" will literally shove their vehicle forward, essentially mounting the car/truck in front, the whole time blowing their horn like there is no tomorrow. Then, should you dare to question them or their driving (as insane as it is), look at you as though ready to rip your tongue out and feed it to the stray cats on the street. (I wish I was joking lol :p) Other times you may be "lucky" enough to find an antique taxi circa 1804, held together by pieces of metal and ropes and God knows what else, with a man behind the wheel who could have been best friends with Caesar, squinting over his steering wheel as he putt-putts along. Times like these you hope your taxi even lasts the journey, let alone any "kisses" from other cars. Only the other day my antique taxi broke down in the middle of crossing Nile street (for those who don't know - four lanes of non-stop traffic), leaving me the pawn in the back praying for enough "putt-putt" to get us to the other side of the street.

So yes, ultimate tale of this story. Traffic downtown. is. nuts. Maybe after a few months of navigating quietly from the back of my taxis (or on days when I'm lucky from the front seat of moby's car lol), I shall try my hand at driving down here. Road Rage...move over....Suz is behind the wheel now!