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...