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Egypt's football party gets out of hand

It was always going to be highly charged, but the World Cup qualifier with Algeria reached extraordinary levels of intensity

The run-up to the game had the feel of a military preparation. It then turned into a country-wide street party. And in both cases, it tasted like victory. That this all took place before the game was even played seemed not to concern Egypt's fans.

Technically uninspired as it may have been, the Egypt-Algeria World Cup qualifier game, which ended 2-0 for Egypt, will be long remembered – mainly for everything that happened off the pitch. The extent of hostilities, for one thing.

Twenty years after Egypt last qualified for the World Cup – at Algeria's expense – and 23 after Algeria's last participation, the fans' agitation was bound to be commensurate with the stakes. Then there's the "Egypt-Algeria" factor. The footballing archenemies have a long history of violent encounters. One of the oldest incidents in most fans' memories dates from the aforementioned 1989 World Cup qualifiers, when an Algerian player was accused of attacking an Egyptian doctor with broken glass, blinding him in one eye. (Earlier this year, the accused player claimed he was not guilty – but that a teammate of his was).

This year's online war began weeks ahead of the game. Egyptian and Algerian hackers exchanged virtual blows, temporarily bringing down or defacing chat forums and media and governmental websites. Fan-generated videos and montages set to patriotic music – glorifying the home team and promising the demise of the "enemy", – went viral.

Facebook groups stoked the fire. "I didn't fight in 1973, but I will be there in 2009!" on one side, "Algeria rules Egypt" (featuring a burning Egyptian flag) on the other, set the tone for the online conversation.

The media did not help much either. Television presenter Amr Adib angrily wondered, "Why do the Algerians hate us?", while the same channel aired photos of hooligan behaviour on the first leg of the game in Algiers.

A few, futile attempts were made to cool the hot heads. An "Algeria and Egypt, hand in hand" Facebook group of a few hundred followers reminded readers that it was "only a game". Egyptian-Algerian artist Ahmed Mekky produced a rap track entitled Wake Up! (a translation of which can be found here). More erudite fans dug into history to remind of the binational ties, citing Egypt's support to the Algerian liberation movement in the 1950s or Algeria's sending of a battalion to support Egypt in June 1967. All to no avail.

Violence broke out when the Algerians arrived in Cairo airport on Thursday evening – where a few hooligans waiting for them by the airport hurled stones at the players' bus, injuring three. Post-game, a few skirmishes were reported. Had Egypt not won, the toll would have surely been much heavier.

In Egypt, 32 were hospitalised, including 20 Algerians, and four buses of Algerian supporters had their windows smashed. Algeria's El Khabar reported the injury of dozens of Algerians; a rumour of the death of two Algerian fans was promptly denied by the Algerian ambassador in Cairo.

There were also reprisals against Egyptians in Algeria, with homes of Egyptians workers attacked. Ibrahim Mehleb, chief executive of the Egyptian Arab Contractors company, said that his company's employees in Algeria were instructed to remain at home a day before the game. "Only one incident has been recorded," he added, involving an employee being wounded by a glass projectile.

It will be a while before the football war is forgotten.

A memory that will endure, however, is the unique atmosphere into which the game thrust Egypt. In the two days preceding the game, Egyptians celebrated as if they had already won. The odds were against them – anything below a win with a two-goal difference would have meant the end of their World Cup dreams. But the fans never had any doubt. The first goal, in the second minute of the game, was followed by 93 excruciating minutes until the Egyptians scored their second – thereby securing a decisive playoff with Algeria for Africa's last World Cup slot. Post-game celebrations were – well if you didn't know, you'd think Egypt had actually won the World Cup.

But there's more to it than just the game. In a country where football acts as a catharsis for political frustration and a proxy for popular participation, the romanticism of an "all or nothing" game, with the theme of redemption, of a team rising from the ashes after a series of disastrous qualification games, was immensely appealing.

Plus, that a generation of youth was born after, or has no recollection of the last World Cup their elders played in, called for a unique achievement. The hundreds of thousands that took to the street were part of that call.

Today the atmosphere remains extremely charged, both in Algeria and in Egypt, as both teams are gearing up for the playoff in Sudan on Wednesday. The war/party goes on.


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Egypt's football party gets out of hand | Mohamed El Dahshan

This article was published on guardian.co.uk at 15.00 GMT on Monday 16 November 2009.

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  • ChrissyLew ChrissyLew

    16 Nov 2009, 3:31

    If this trouble involved England this would be a worldwide outrage and FIFA would be considering throwing us out of the tournament.

    Racism works both ways and is alive and well in FIFA.

  • GP01 GP01

    16 Nov 2009, 4:41

    superscruff:

    Imagine what it would be like if they had access to beer.

    They do. The Al Ahram Bottling Corporation produces, Stella; in various guises, Sakarra & Meister lagers.

    Locally produced wines & spirits are also pretty freely available in Egypt; it's not just for the cooler summer temperatures that Saudis, Kuwaitis & Emiratis thake their holidays in Cairo.

  • thebley thebley

    16 Nov 2009, 5:07

    Most wilayas in Algeria are wet, you can freely drink in them. The issue is the attack on the Algerian players bus. They should have gone home and been awarded the match by default. Fifa should have banned Egypt as being incapable of securing an opposing teams security. Thats all, but a murkier point is that South Africa will be a basket case for football and maybe another country is needed as host, enter Egypt. Fifa's cynicism is vile, if violence is acceptable on Cairo streets then what can be expected on visiting teams in pretoria. As the bloodied Algerian players shouted as they held the half bricks used to wound them, "What has this to do with football".

    Kick out Egypt from all competitions and invstigate Fifa's role in this scandal.
    PS Is President Bashir going to preside over the deciding game in Sudan or will it be transfered to Darfur for political reasons?

  • Steveogolob Steveogolob

    16 Nov 2009, 5:43

    This comment has been removed by a moderator. Replies may also be deleted.
  • pretzelberg pretzelberg

    16 Nov 2009, 6:34

    thereby securing a decisive playoff with Algeria for Africa's last World Cup slot.

    I'd originally understood that Algeria would be in a play-off against Sudan.
    Turns out that it's them and Egypt yet again in a tie-breaker in Sudan.

    Thanks for the info - I might try and tune into that one.

  • ElDahshan ElDahshan

    16 Nov 2009, 7:56

    @Metatarsal : I did not glorify hooliganism in any shape or form. I've attempted to describe the days leading up to the game, rightfully putting blame where it belonged. Being more familiar with the events I witnessed in Cairo, I even mostly blame my compatriots.

    @thebley: you need to stop reading "L'expression" and all the other crappy Algerian newspapers that have been stoking the anti-Egyptian hatred you display here. It is a shame that some Algerian players were injured, and I feel terribly sorry for them.
    But you mustn't forget that violence runs both ways. I will not begin to describe the harassment and violence our players are subjected to in Algeria. I remind you however that until today your countrymen are conducting random attacks against Egyptians in Algeria - and even abroad: the French police had to barricade the Egyptian consulate in Marseille to protect it from angry Algerians. Read the news.

    As for "kicking Egypt from all competitions" - hmmm. Sore loser, aren't you? And in any event, it would seem unfair to punish a team - an entire country, even - for the behaviour of some violent fans.
    It would, however, seem more rightful to ban a team from competing when its own players are involved in the violence. That would be the Algerian team, whose players attacked and blinded an Egyptian doctor with broken glass, after the infamous 1989 game: striker Belloumi was originally accused but it turned out it was the goalkeeper, Kadri, who was guilty of the violence. Here's the source - it's an Algerian paper, too.

  • ShimSean ShimSean

    16 Nov 2009, 9:11

    Interesting artice.
    2 interesting points:
    1. your profile says
    "Mohamed is an economist and a writer. He is concurrently a legal resident in three different continents, between which he shares his time"

    Well, at least you are not an illegal immigrant, who paid a smuggler to take you away from Egypt.

    2. you refer to a facebook group in arabic called
    "I didn't fight in 1973, but I will be there in 2009!" - but it's actually called "Sons of the Nile Valley (Egypt and Sudan) in the World Cup" . Very creative translation ?

    3. Sudan is currently invloved in quite a nasty war in Darfur . Yet you don't let a genocide get in the way of a football game. neither does Fifa.

  • Musa1 Musa1

    17 Nov 2009, 12:06AM

    The Guardian appears to lack editorial competency by allowing this piece to be published. What about the July 2009 match in Blida, Algeria when the Egyptian was greeted with roses and the traditional welcome of guests? Dashlan conveniently failed to mention the July match because it dispels his entire media myth of a 'football war'.
    The Guardian apparently failed to mention that this 'war' is really a one sided legacy of Egyptian crudity, brutishness, defilement of tradition, conceit to other African and Arab national teams. The Islamic tradition time honored by Muslims and Arabs alike is to grant amnesty, security, and privilege to guests for at least 3 days. Egypt has infamously ignored this when it comes to football against African teams.
    In a survey of Africans, one can likely find 90% in support of Algeria against Egypt because Egypt's legacy has preceded its football prowess and worthiness.
    Moreover, it was reported by several Arab news sources that of the 2000 Algerian citizens granted visitor visas to watch the match in Egypt, 150 returned home injured and one was killed. This is evident of Egyptian thuggery which can only be sanctioned by the Mubarak regime as a way of distracting the Egyptian people from their miserable conditions of poverty, inflation, unemployment, and authoritarian martial law which has ruled them for over 30 years.
    Algeria is not in a much better way, but their national football has only recently reemerged on the world scene after years of dorminancy. Many of Algeria's brightest talent played internationally until just recently. Algerian responses in Algeria and abroad were reminiscent of its own reactionary thuggery, but at least president Bouteflika commanded that not a single Egyptian be injured or harmed or else- a threat of an authoritarian, but of civilized value not echoed in Egypt.
    Dashlan misrepresented this as a "war" when those in the know are aware of Egypt's infamous brutishness and absence of fairplay and sportsmanship, let alone respect of tradition. The Guardian would be wise to investigate and edit those guest commentators who so brazenly uphold prejudice and propaganda for their own ends.

  • Aksil Aksil

    17 Nov 2009, 2:19AM

    A legal resident in three different continents? Pretty soon you'll conquer the world!
    Egyptians never consider themselves as africans, that is why they have such hatred towards african countries. Egyptians consider yourselves arabes (means asians) period!
    Algeria has great history in World cup football, therefore egyptians are required to pay respect due to those historical facts. While algerians have recently welcomed the egyptian team with flowers, Egyptians had, in return, no choice but welcoming them with S-T-O-N-E-S (what a pitty!!!)
    Egyptians are well known for trowing stones at other teams and causing trouble and casalties most of the time. They've done it againt the Casablanca team (Morocco) as well, and I am sure they are not ready to behave. FIFA has to step forward before it may get uglier in the years to come.

  • jgarcia jgarcia

    17 Nov 2009, 2:34AM

    Kinda getting used to these one-sided versions of events. I heard a similar defence recently and was just as unconvinced...

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NV0MeDvc2k

    But I must confess that I had seen this video first...

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S-QXaa0kKTM

    Someone said it earlier - if those players had been from anywhere in the world and were assaulted in that manner in England, there's no question England would have been sanctioned heavily, probably booted out of the competition. No such pesky rules for Egypt.

    Anyway, didn't you just know that Egypt would get the score required to force a play-off in neutral SUDAN! Lol, very good - I'm betting a shed load on Egypt getting through.

  • ElDahshan ElDahshan

    17 Nov 2009, 3:23AM

    @ShimSean - Good catch! I checked the link and you're quite right. The name of the group has changed - updated for the next game, I figure. Luckily I took a screenshot of the old group - you'll notice, for example, that the basic info (contacts, etc) are the same as the 'new' version of the group, as is the "Invite your friends" links at the bottom left.
    (you will pardon me changing "6th of October" to "1973" - I figured it would speak more to the readers who may not be familiar with the exact dates.)

    @Musa1 Relax, friend. You cite incorrect rumours - as I wrote above, the Algerian ambassador denied that anyone had been killed. As for "propaganda for my own end" - now what end would that be? In the article I am disproportionately blaming Egyptian fans, simply because I reported what I saw in Cairo. I am omitting all unconfirmed information we heard regarding the treatment of Egyptians in Algeria - because if I were to believe the press, it sounds there are anti-Egyptian pogroms going on.
    "In a survey of Africans, one can likely find 90% in support of Algeria against Egypt" - Do you have a source for that or are you making stuff up again?
    Best of luck to your team on Wednesday.

    @Aksil - thanks, working on it!
    "Arabs (means Asians)" -- that's inaccurate. It is true that - quite a generalisation I'll make here - Egyptians feel generally disconnected from Sub-Saharan Africa. However, for decades the Arab world - defined "from the (Atlantic) Ocean to the (Persian/Arab) Gulf" was the main frame of reference for the Egyptian national identity. But it was precisely in this period that Egyptian-Algerian relations flourished - under Gamal Abdel Nasser Egypt heavily supported the Algerian revolutionary movement. In parallel, Algeria sent an armed brigage - the 8eme Brigade blinde'e, if I'm not mistaken - to fight alongside the Egyptians in 1973. So we - theoretically - go 'way back'. The ongoing violence and demonization - from both sides - is very unfortunate.

    @jgarcia - I had actually predicted a 2-nil. I should've bet good money on that... Let's try again. What do you predict for Wednesday's game?
    I'm guessing 2-1 for Egypt.

  • Berchmans Berchmans

    17 Nov 2009, 8:08AM

    Metatarsal

    .

    ## I forgot, the perpetrators were foreign, so it's just high jinks then##.

    .

    Yes this is strange ...where are the headlines saying... Football hooliganism ...and this time its not British...honestly! :)

    B

  • jerrycom jerrycom

    17 Nov 2009, 9:11AM

    There shouldn't be ANY football hooliganism, period.

    Egyptian like Algerian leaders are surely ujsing this sort of cheapskate jingoism to divert their peoples' attention away from domestic politics and economics.
    Okay, western countries do it too. But that doesn't justify nonwesterners doing it as well.

  • hakemvoip hakemvoip

    17 Nov 2009, 10:18AM

    Dear ElDahshan,

    I find your article + - impartial and factual and shall thank you. However, I find your replies somehow biased towards the egyptian side :-)

    I genuinly believe that Egypt should've been banned by FIFA right after attack of the National Team bus. The purpose is not to punish the egyptian team, who showed EXEMPLARY behaviour during the game and are real sportmen and a pure pleasure to watch. But to educate the police, the customs and most importantly the animalistic football crowds about how they behavie and delivered a real "algerian human chase" in the streets of Cairo. Even taxi drivers refused to help algerians as they were fearing their cars would be attacked .... Please go to youtube and find videos by yourself don't trust me !

    This behaviour is not observed to algeria game alone. If you go to youtube and type "algeria intimidation egypt". You will find Ivory coast teams humiliated in Cairo, you will also find "El Sahily" players beaten right inside the stadium. Because they won !!

    This only happens when there is conspiracy by the police, and all authorities, who are also partial to the football game and let things happen ...

    If same happens in Algeria, so OF COURSE IT HAS TO BE BANNED likewise.

    Because together we must promote football, not war and not fights and not animalistic behaviour on either side.

    In Algeria, crowds are also as animalistic I admit and confirm. However, no single hair if any egyptian players were touched before media hostilities materialised into Bus attacks in Egypt ....

  • mountgomery mountgomery

    17 Nov 2009, 6:38

    ShimSean

    Sudan is currently invloved in quite a nasty war in Darfur . Yet you don't let a genocide get in the way of a football game. neither does Fifa.

    England is currently involved in some nasty wars in the Middle East. Are you posting anything against the Sports pages on your local newspapers or is this another example of not doing what you preach?

    What's wrong with reporting anything other than war? Yes, war-lords are nasty stuff, but it doesn't mean what goes on in the rest of the country shoud be ignored.

  • Aksil Aksil

    18 Nov 2009, 1:25AM

    to M-E-D:
    "Arabs (means Asians)" -- that's inaccurate.
    So! Are you from Austalia? From what the rest of the world knows Arabs came from the Arabian Peninsula (Soulalat El-aarab). and that you only attempted to conquer the word during the islamic foutouhat (destoying anything found on their path from Arabia to as far as Spain) Glad Arabs were poushed out of spain during the reconquista!
    It is true that - quite a generalisation I'll make here - Egyptians feel generally disconnected from Sub-Saharan Africa.
    Certainely Egyptian arabs (not the coptic community nor the Saeedis (sons of former Paroahs) are the ones pushing the agenda of Panarabism) Egypt became an Arab Republic as if all Egyptins were arabs as soon as Gamal took power.
    However, for decades the Arab world - defined "from the (Atlantic) Ocean to the (Persian/Arab) Gulf" was the main frame of reference for the Egyptian national identity.
    Should arabs read a bit about History and undertand where they "came" from? Also how and when the "Arab Nationalism" was designed? Sould they also aknowledge their connection with Nazi Germany? And much more...
    But it was precisely in this period that Egyptian-Algerian relations flourished - under Gamal Abdel Nasser Egypt heavily supported the Algerian revolutionary movement. In parallel,
    Egypt supported the so called "Broder's Army" to force the legitimate algerian government in 1962 (GPRA) to surrender , since then all algerian governments are pro-arabs, pro-communist, and pro-facism [except times of Boudiaf, the true algerian and the greatest..]
    Algeria sent an armed brigage - the 8eme Brigade blinde'e, if I'm not mistaken - to fight alongside the Egyptians in 1973. So we - theoretically - go 'way back'.
    Ys then they thought they are sending an Army to fight against Israel along side arab armies not Chicken!
    The ongoing violence and demonization - from both sides - is very unfortunate.
    Sorry! we welcomed you in Blida with flowers. Unfortunately for Egyptian arabs or yours do NOT understand meaning of flowers but of stones, you do...
    Back to the conquest of the world: 9/11 has shown your limits...
    Quit dreaming and so long!

  • Aksil Aksil

    18 Nov 2009, 1:45AM

    "Arabs (means Asians)" -- that's inaccurate.
    The rest of the world knows that arabs came from the arabian peninsula (soulalat ElAarab)

    It is true that - quite a generalisation I'll make here - Egyptians feel generally disconnected from Sub-Saharan Africa.

    and disconnected from Africa as well cause you NEVER aknowledge being africans but Arabs.. Any other minority including poeople from the Saeed (of Pharaoh descend) would be considered, in your mindset as arabs as well. Egypt is an Arab Republic, and (by race) no place is left for non-arabs right?

    However, for decades the Arab world - defined "from the (Atlantic) Ocean to the (Persian/Arab) Gulf" was the main frame of reference for the Egyptian national identity.
    Should you read a bit of History to underastand where you came from? Also should you aknowledge your natural envinormnet which is drastically different from the territories conquered during the islamist conquest (foutouhat). Poushed back from Spain during the reconquista would by one pattern to show you the way things might have turned-out after the late 13th century.
    Should you also understand how and when the Arab-Nationalim was designed and its connections with the Nazi regim?

    But it was precisely in this period that Egyptian-Algerian relations flourished - under Gamal Abdel Nasser Egypt heavily supported the Algerian revolutionary movement.
    Egypt backed the so-called "Border's Army" to force a legitimate algerian post-independence government (GPRA) to surrender. Since then most of the algerian ideology has became totalitarian pro-communist,...

    In parallel, Algeria sent an armed brigage - the 8eme Brigade blinde'e, if I'm not mistaken - to fight alongside the Egyptians in 1973.
    So we - theoretically - go 'way back'.
    Yes, and then those who went thought will be fighting Israel alongside true arab Armies not Chcken!

    The ongoing violence and demonization - from both sides - is very unfortunate.
    Remember! Egyptian swere welcomed with Flowers. Sadly, Egyptians (of today) did NOT understand the true meaning of flowers; but sones, they do!

    Back to the conquest of the worls: Glad 9/11 has shown your limits!
    Quit dreaming and so long!

  • ElDahshan ElDahshan

    18 Nov 2009, 5:27

    @Hakemvoip - thanks. I am glad you think the article was impartial. As for the responses, you're correct, they come from a personal perspective and therefore necessarily biased!
    I agree with a large segment of what you said. But re: the "algerian human chase" -- trust me, I'm in Cairo and it was not what you describe. An hour before the game, i was getting a bite at a sandwich place and as we stood in line, there was this Algerian guy buying his meal and joking, he said, "hey, give me extra fries, I'm Algerian!" of course everyone started laughing and the joke went on for several minutes...
    Re: banning: well, I don't know. My response is simple: If that's the rule then yes, it should've been implemented. (oh, and Algeria, it's not the players who were injured -though they were harrassed - but the Egyptians who live there. Which is worse, i believe. Yalla, the Sudan game starts in a minute, see you later!

    @Aksil: Man, you have serious identity issues. Good luck with that. As for the rest - well, you lost me at "connection with Nazi Germany"...

  • ElDahshan ElDahshan

    18 Nov 2009, 5:41

    @Hakemvoip - thanks. I am glad you think the article was impartial. As for the responses, you're correct, they come from a personal perspective and therefore necessarily biased!
    I agree with a large segment of what you said. But re: the "algerian human chase" -- trust me, I'm in Cairo and it was not what you describe. An hour before the game, i was getting a bite at a sandwich place and as we stood in line, there was this Algerian guy buying his meal and joking, he said, "hey, give me extra fries, I'm Algerian!" of course everyone started laughing and the joke went on for several minutes...
    Re: banning: well, I don't know. My response is simple: If that's the rule then yes, it should've been implemented. (oh, and Algeria, it's not the players who were injured -though they were harrassed - but the Egyptians who live there. Which is worse, i believe. Yalla, the Sudan game starts in a minute, see you later!

    @Aksil: Man, you have serious identity issues. Good luck with that. As for the rest - well, you lost me at "connection with Nazi Germany"...

  • Aksil Aksil

    18 Nov 2009, 7:41

    to M-E-D:
    No identity issues on our side - the amazigh culture is great and doing well- Arabs do since they are not capable aknowledging their "half" brotherhood to the jews, your sacred ennemies!
    Anyway, back to what you need to know most:
    THAT'S IT! ALGERIA HAVE QUALIFIED FOR THE 2010 WORLD CUP IN SOUTH AFRICA! The pitch is immediately invaded, fireworks are set alight, torches lit - and there are some fans on the pitch, too. Chaouchi climbs atop his goal and sits on the bar cheering - that's an image for the ages. Algeria may be a thousand miles from home but they will never have felt better. What a win for them against what has been, admittedly, an extremely underwhelming Egypt side.
    Keep learning about the gift of flowers... Make sure you don't eat them cause they are made to smell and for remembance of what north-africans can accomlish just rigth within mankind.

  • thebley thebley

    18 Nov 2009, 8:48

    Well well well Mr impartial El Dashan, now you and your pharaohs can pack up your prejudices and go home, while you are there maybe take a look at the regime that controls your every thought including your acceptance of violence.

    Well done Algeria, good riddance to an appalling commentator and an equally bad team.

  • thebley thebley

    18 Nov 2009, 8:52

    Well well well Mr impartial El Dashan, now you and your pharaohs can pack up your prejudices and go home, while you are there maybe take a look at the regime that controls your every thought including your acceptance of violence.

    Well done Algeria, good riddance to an appalling commentator and an equally bad team.

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