UPDATE: ALGERIAN TEAM ATTACKED IN CAIRO. See following post.
You probably thought that continued settlements policy, the new Lebanese Cabinet, or the Iranian nuclear program would be the main preoccupation of the Middle East citizenry at the moment. You would be wrong. At least for the roughly 115 million people living in Algeria and Egypt, the center of the universe at the moment is the Algeria/Egypt playoff for the World Cup, scheduled for Saturday. So much so that the Egyptian National Heart Institute is warning Egyptian heart patients not to watch the match for fear of keeling over on the spot. The expert cited claims that "When Argentina beat England in 1998, the heart attack rate in the UK rose by 25 percent."
I'm not sure of how accurate that statistic may be, but this is an old and bitter rivalry, evoking memories of a bitter clash in 1990, as even Sports Illustrated has noted. The Egyptian blogger who calls herself Zenobia has noted that young Egyptians are more willing to protest difficulty in obtaining tickets to the game than they are social injustice, unemployment, etc.
So this is a grudge match, between the largest Arab country and another major power. And Egypt needs three goals to make it to the World Cup, while Algeria needs only a draw.
Note that in the Sports Illustrated article one Egyptian player compares 1990 to the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. I'm not sure that's altogether hyperbole. More Egyptians may care about the outcome.
Just a reminder that all the things we talk about here may not be what they're talking about in the qahwas of Cairo and Algiers. Policy wonkery is one thing, but then there's futbol.
And lest the Algerian side go unrepresented, there's this: