- guardian.co.uk, Friday 20 November 2009 17.53 GMT
Parts of Cairo are under police lockdown amid some of the worst football violence ever seen in the region.
More than a thousand security personnel deployed to protect the Algerian embassy and other key locations came under attack from angry protesters after Egypt's contentious defeat to Algeria in a World Cup playoff match on Wednesday. Egypt recalled its envoy to Algiers and condemned the Algerian government for failing to prevent the destruction of Egyptian offices. The secretary general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, appealed for calm on both sides.
Reports said 39 policemen were injured in rioting that left shopfronts smashed in the upscale neighbourhood of Zamalek, an island in the Nile home mainly to expatriates, wealthy Egyptians and foreign embassies.
Alaa Mubarak, the son of the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, did nothing to dampen hostilities when he demanded that Egypt take a "tough stance" with Algeria. "When you insult my dignity ... I will beat you on the head," he told a TV news programme.
Trouble first flared last week in the run up to a highly anticipated match between two of north Africa's biggest football nations. After an increasingly bitter war of words in the media Egypt won the game 2-0, setting up a playoff in Sudan to decide which country would go through to next year's World Cup finals in South Africa.
Off-the-field controversies intensified the aggression ahead of the playoff, including allegations from the Algerian team that it was pelted with stones on arrival in Cairo – an incident Fifa is now investigating – and erroneous reports in the Algerian press of an Algerian fan being killed in Egypt.
Egyptian targets in Algiers were besieged by demonstrators who destroyed the offices of Egypt's main airline, prompting several large Egyptian businesses with offices in the country to announce they were withdrawing their staff for security reasons.
Matters intensified after Egypt lost the playoff game in Sudan by a single goal, with local reports claiming that Egyptian fans were left running for their lives in Khartoum following assaults by the celebrating Algeria supporters.
A diplomatic spat broke out when an Egyptian plane sent to rescue citizens trapped in Algeria was refused permission to land and the Algerian authorities slapped a $600m tax bill on Orascom, an Egyptian telecommunications company that operates there.
The Egyptian foreign ministry said it had summoned Algeria's ambassador to Cairo to make clear Egypt's "outrage" and "denunciation". The Egyptian Football Federation has threatened to withdraw from international football as a result of the "weapons, knives, swords and flares" allegedly used to attack Egyptians as they left the stadium in Khartoum.
The attacks on the Algerian embassy in Cairo mark a new low point in relations between the two countries, who were historical allies in the battle against European colonialism. Local media reported that firebombs were thrown at the embassy compound during the night, though this has not been confirmed.
"Our government are not doing enough," said Islam al-Hussein, a 23-year-old customer service manager who was walking the streets near the embassy with a sign that read "Algeria shall pay for what they did". He criticised the violence directed at the embassy but insisted: "I need an apology from Algeria, nothing less is sufficient for our people."
Others were more forthright. "We should treat Algeria like any country that has declared war on us," Amr Higazi, a university student, told AFP.