- The Observer, Sunday 22 November 2009
Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak ratcheted up the diplomatic tension with Algeria yesterday as football-related violence continued to spread across both countries. In a statement to parliament, he told cheering MPs that "Egypt will not be lax with those who harm the dignity of its sons".
It is the president's first public intervention in a row that has seen thousands of protesters flood the streets of Cairo and Algiers and a wave of attacks against Egyptian targets in Algeria and vice versa. The trouble started when Egypt won a World Cup qualifier against Algeria in Cairo, setting up a play-off between the two sides in Sudan to decide which country would progress to the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa.
Last week Egypt recalled its envoy from Algeria after expressing its "outrage" at the treatment faced by Egyptian fans in Khartoum, where Algeria won 1-0. Despite appeals for calm by the general secretary of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, rioting has spread to both capitals. In Algiers the offices of Egypt's national airline were destroyed, while in Cairo security forces battled with protesters trying to reach the Algerian embassy, which was reportedly hit by firebombs. Parts of the city are under police lockdown.
Mubarak's speech did nothing to calm the frenzy, as he swore to protect the rights of Egyptians. "The welfare of our citizens abroad is the responsibility of the country," he said.
However, there were signs last night that a public backlash against the government's handling of the football storm was gaining strength. "Hosni Mubarak's thugs have beaten and killed more Egyptians than any hooligans," said Hossam el-Hamalawy, a journalist and opposition activist.