A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, November 23, 2009

Algeria-Egypt Battle Still Simmering

I thought — I hoped — the football craziness would fade over the weekend, but there's building resentment in Egypt, not just because they lost in the end, but because of alleged attacks on Egyptians in Khartoum. Husni Mubarak himself, who doesn't normally jump into these kinds of fracases, addressed it while opening Parliament. While FIFA is opening an investigation of the earlier attacks on the Algerian team in Cairo, there has been a mini-riot or worse around the Algerian Embassy in Cairo. And, for those who follow the Mubarak family soap opera, ‘Ala' Mubarak (or Alaa as it's often spelled), the elder son, usually overshadowed by his younger brother Gamal, has been speaking out a lot on this issue. I haven't actually listened to all of this yet but here's a YouTube of his calling in to a TV talk show (Arabic):

There's a good post at The Arabist worthy of your attention. Note too that one of his commenters says:
I loathe the pogrom-like reactions in Algeria & Egypt, but one thing that would really prompt me to attack a foreign embassy or airline company is reading “soccer” instead of “football”…
I suspect there is indeed a genuine element of social escape valve involved here. Young men, faced with questionable employment prospects, the inability to afford an apartment of one's own (an impediment, then, to marriage), socially sclerotic regimes, political repression and all the rest, cannot express their anger against the government without endangering their freedom: but they can demonstrate about football. Two anecdotes:
  1. Once I remember sitting on a rooftop hotel cafe/bar overlooking the Nile (the second Shepheard's I think) and suddenly seeing large throngs of young people pouring across the Giza bridge from the University of Cairo on the opposite bank. Was this the Revolution? Storming the Bastille or the Winter Palace? No, there'd have been more cops. It was a football demonstration.
  2. I remember once being in an Arabic bookstore in Cairo, where the owners knew me and knew I spoke Arabic, and they were watching a football game and asked me if Americans played football. Yes, I said, but it was entirely different. How so? They asked. My Arabic failed me completely. Try to explain first down. Try to explain American football to a soccer fan. (Actually, I'm not sure anyone ever clearly explained it to me.)
This needs to end soon though. When I asked a few days ago, if they went to war, could they hold the battles in Libya, I was kidding. Really. Time to calm this down. Game over.

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