The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged soccer
Last week in Egypt in TV

A new occasional feature from our contributor Nour Youssef, who watches a lot of TV.

Earlier this week on Al-Nahar TV, political activist Ahmed Harara, who lost his vision to police rubber bullets in protests, became perhaps the first non-Islamist to openly attack Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and the military.

After making Mahmoud Saad read the names and ages of all those who died in the Mohamed Mahmoud clashes, he briefly explained to Saad why El-Sisi's army is no different from Tantawi’s. First, el-Sisi was a member of the hated Field Marshal Tantawi’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that injured and killed protesters -- he justified the virginity tests and had Tantawi seated next to him in the Oct. 6 celebration last month.

Calmly, Harara moved on to note the militarization of the state, mentioning the general secretary of the cabinet who is an army general and the 17 new governors as an example. Even the police general, Samy Sedhom -- the man who called in on Al-hayah TV to clarify that the police forces in Mohamed Mahmoud only had plastic shields to injure the outlaws posing as activists, and conveniently lost phone reception when asked to explain the number of eye injuries that occurred -- is now the deputy governor of Sharqiya. (It is worth noting that his retirement age was reportedly  extended and he was promoted to head the Supreme Council of the Police under Morsi.)

“[The military and the police] who still arrest and torture people till now...they are going to make the memorial service for the people they killed?” Harara asked. “Do they want to provoke us so we would go down to the streets for them to kill us?”

By far, the most interesting bit of the interview was when Harara asked a silent Saad how drugs and weapons are smuggled into Egypt when the strong army is standing there supposedly protecting them. Saad then asked him what he thought of the war in Sinai, to which he said he owes the army nothing, since it is their job to fight terrorism, and that in order to evaluate their performance there Saad should go to Sinai and asks the people there.

(Harara did say that the MB was a terrorist group and that 30 million took to the streets on June 30. I will forgive the latter because of his eye condition, but we seriously need to agree on a definition of the word terrorist.)

On el-Mehwar, talkshow host Reham al-Sahl told us that when people denounce religion and ask for their rights in the constitution, we must stop and talk about it.

By talk, she meant get an atheist and demand to know why he is an atheist -- Could it be because he has psychological problems? Financial problems? Was he given bad interpretations of the Quran? Was it the bad MB sheikhs? Where are his parents? It's the psychological problems, just admit it. 

Ismail Mohamed, the atheist, came on the show to explain what he wants from the constitutional committee, which is to respect minority rights and decriminalize talking about atheism outside one's home. Instead, he got an interviewer who said astaghfir allah (i.e I seek forgiveness from Allah) out loud every single time he said something contradictory to Islam because she doesn't have an inner voice, apparently. 

In addition to the host's scorn, Mohamed received angry phone calls from viewers reminding him that it is illegal for him to talk about atheism and "cause strife" in society. An Al Azhar theologian pointed out that talking about not being a Muslim implies that something is not right in Islam and t amounts to defaming religion -- a crime according to article 98 of the penal code.

There was one call from his own mother who blamed the combutar for his condition and said his siblings were too upset to look at the TV right now.

At one point, el-Sahly asked him why he was being nice to his mother at all since bir al-walidyan (kindness to parents) is a Muslim concept entirely alien to 5.4 billion non-Muslim humans on the planet. She later called a psychiatrist to tell him about this case of a young man who doesn't believe in God and when asked why, says he is free to believe whatever he wants.

Then a viewer called to praise the TV host for her intelligence in detecting the implicit link between the atheist and the Muslim Brotherhood, who obviously recruited him to become living evidence of the secularization of the country and prove that the ouster of Morsi and the crackdown on his supporters is, indeed, a war on Islam. That was just one of the many people who accused Mohammed of being a foreign cell, or at least part of one. When he apologized to his friends for being unable to speak and present their point of view, el-Sahly asked if they were inside or outside of Egypt. Where all the Jews are.

Alternating between glancing sideways and silence, the theologian, Dr. Badr Zaki, spoke to announce the refutation of the theory of evolution by, you know, "all of the people who work in the sciences of embryology and humanities," with the confidence of one who thinks no one will google what he says.

(Just for the record, evolution is mentioned, just like Mohamed pointed out, in schools here, but in stride. Universities are not exactly crawling with the Dawkinses and Gervaises of Egypt. Professors almost always introduce the subject as an obsolete, wrong theory, misrepresent it and then conclude with things like: Why are monkeys still around if we came from them?)

Another dead atheist-theory, Dr. Zaki enlightened us, is psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud, who like Charles Darwin was an ex-Jew, as is everyone who makes up such theories.

In the end, el-Sahly essentially kicked Mohamed off her show (he said he was going to withdraw from the discussion, or their idea of it, but wanted to say a last word and she refused) and was criticized by a judge on the phone for irresponsibly spreading his ideas by giving him precious airtime.

"We are not spreading his (way of) thought. We reject his (way of) thought. And I think this was obvious from the beginning of the episode," she defended herself. And rightly so.

The reaction that sums it up best for me was my neighbor's: "The kid (Mohamed) said there is a book that says God is dead! May God burn his house the way he burned his mother's heart. Did you hear her cry?" (She didn't.) "Reham was good though. She's got a pretty face" (She doesn't.)

Meantime in sports, el-Ahly’s football star, Mohamed Abu Terka, and his teammate, Ahmed Abdel-Zaher, are still under attack. The former for failing to accept his medal from the current sports minister, which people took as a rejection of the government the minister is part of, and the latter for flashing the Raba’a sign in a match. Abdel-Zaher said he only did in solidarity with the martyrs and not as a political statement, but he got suspended for fourth months (and may be traded away) nonetheless. Much like Kung Fu Mohamed Ramadan who was banned from playing after wearing a t-shirt with the Raba’a sign on it.  Abu Treka, on the other hand,  was reportedly fined 50 thousand pounds although the exact reason why he wasn't on stage is unknown. Ibrahim el-Manisy, editor of al-Ahly Magazine, says he was not on stage because he went back to the locker room to get a shirt that had the number 72  to honor the Port Said martyrs.  

It is worth noting that sports clubs don't have actual written laws regulating political statements or promotion during games (because it never happened before) and that these punishments are arbitrary, according to the minister of sports.

However, to avoid future confusion, the Daqahlia board of referees suggested never giving 4 minutes over-time in a soccer match because then they would have to do the four-finger sign and it might be mistaken for condemnation of a massacre. Instead, referees can just give 3, 5 or any other less potentially controversial number of minutes. If it is absolutely necessary to give 4 minutes, it is  presumably acceptable to make two victory signs -- or a three-finger sign with one hand and a one-finger with the other (provided it is not a middle finger, lest that should be misconstrued as an objection to the new sign rule) -- and the players could just do the math. And in the lucky event that players are within earshot, a referee could always just flash a five-finger sign and shout "Subtract one."

Ultras & the revolution

Yesterday was a long, hot, busy day in Cairo. As darkness fell, protests were taking place in Tahrir (against the proposed election law and suspected collusion/incompetence in Mubarak's trial) and in front of the High Court (in favour of judicial independence). Young, energetic, overwhelmingly male crowds were also busy knocking down the recently erected protective wall around the Israeli Embassy and reportedly removing the large eagle motif and most of the letters from the wall of the Ministry of Interior, leaving anti-army and anti-police graffiti in its place. 

A lot of these young men were reportedly football ultras. These obsessive and aggressive fans -- who have experience clashing with the police -- were also at the vanguard of a lot of the revolution's fighting. In fact, I heard so much about them that I sat down with one, a Zamalek White Knight, a few months back.

A self-described anarchist, G. has shoulder-length hair, and a sweet, shambling manner. I wouldn't have guessed his long and deep familiarity with violence. Police beatings broke one of his eardrums, afer a soccer match, and his jaw, after a demo (he is a rare ultra/activist -- most fans are not overtly political, with the exception of the Palestinian cause). He also got shot in the leg on January 28. He says ultras are "freedom fighters" and "against everyone" -- especially any figure or sign of authority. The revolution, in its early days, "was a fight with the police, and that's our fight." Ultras, he says "don't give a fuck about politics or the stability of the country. Zamalek is our country and Al Ahly is their country." 

It's thanks to him that I know that the acronym A.C.A.B. -- which I know notice everywhere on the walls of Cairo -- means "All Cops Are Bastards." 

Zamalek and Al Ahly -- the two Cairo teams whose rivalry in Egypt is historic and identity-defining -- came together yesterday to take on the police (who seemingly decided to skip the date) after huge clashes a few days ago following a football match at the end of which the police reportedly shut off the lights and charged the stands. What drove them to it? Apparently, this chant by Ahlawy ultras:

كان دايما فاشل .. في الثانويه .. يادوب جاب .. 50% .. بالرشوه خلاص الباشا اتعلم .. وخد شهاده ب100 كليه ..ياغراب ومعشش .. جوا بيتنا .. بتدمر ليه .. متعه حياتنا .. مش هنمشي علي مزاجك .. ارحما من طله جنابك .. لفق لفق .. في القضيه .. هي دي .. عاده الدخليه .. ممسوك مكتوبلي ارهابي دولي .. ماسكشمروخ وبغني اهلي 

The incredibly disciplined and terrifying hyped-up fans are chanting:

"He was always a loser, a jest/he barely got 50% on his high-school test/with a bribe the rich kid's a fool no more/got 100 diplomas hanging on his door/You crows nesting in our house/why are you ruining all our fun?
We won't do as you tell us/Spare us your face/Cook up your case/That's what the Interior does/I'm arrested and charged as a terrorist/Just for holding a flare and singing Ahly" (thanks to Mandy for a great translation)

The chant is one long taunt of police officers, the "losers" who have to bribe their way through life and who fabricate charges against anyone they lay hands on. This follows on a much more foul-mouthed gem of a chant from the Zamalek White Knights, performed shortly after the revolution. 

 The words are: 

مش ناسيين التحرير يا ولاد ال@$!%ـ

دي الثورة كانت بالنسبة ليكوا نكسة

هنروح و نقول لمين .. ظباط م@%!ـن

اخدتو علقة ماخدتوةاش في سنين

"We haven't forgotten Tahrir, you sons of *$%^&!

The revolution was your naksah [catastrophe]

we'll tell anyone.. officers, pimps

you took a beating like you haven't had in years"

In the end, most of the ultras' violent energy got focused on the Israeli Embassy yesterday. Which seems pretty convenient for the authorities (although now, as diplomatic and political repercussions make themselves felt, they may think so less). If the embassy hadn't been there, what might they have torn down?

Soccer nationalism
Egyptian crowds near the Algerian Embassy (Elijah Zarwan) Egyptian crowds near the Algerian Embassy (Elijah Zarwan)

On Thursday night, out in Downtown Cairo for a drink, I was startled to see a well-known alley blocked by riot police at both ends. It turned out they were there to protect the Air Algeria offices from Egyptian soccer fans. Later that night, protesters outside the Algerian Embassy in Zamalek clashed with police. The soccer-inspired nastiness on both sides continues, surprisingly long.

So after all the ridiculous posturing and dispiriting violence of the last week, it's a pleasure to read this editorial by Al Shurouq newspaper editor Hany Shukrallah.

Shukrallah wonders:

"Don't you think there's something exaggerated in this discourse about dreams, hopes, historical moments and historical victories; in the scenes of tears, hugs, hurrahs, marches of millions [...] Isn't there something shameful in comparing a soccer game, however important it may be in the soccer world, to the construction of the pyramids and the High Dam and the miracle of the 1973 crossing [of the Suez Canal]? Don't you think, dear reader [...] that there's a sort of cheapening of our history, of its true heroes and accomplishments and sacrifices [...], in which more than 11 Egyptians participated?"

After deploring the complicity of the media in inciting hatred of the other team and country ("Overnight, Algeria has transformed into Egypt's number one enemy, and the Algerian people have turned into the prime target of Egyptians' hatred and contempt"), Shukrallah argues that it's the deterioration of social and political life in the Arab world that has led people to "search for easy contests, areas in which to let loose our stored up anger and frustration and feelings of humiliation, as long as this costs us no effort, and exposes us to no punishment [...]."

He concludes: "The wonder of soccer nationalism is that it doesn't require citizens--just 'supporters.'"

Egyptian supporter fighting police near Algerian Embassy (Elijah Zarwan) Egyptian supporter fighting police near Algerian Embassy (Elijah Zarwan)

Links for January 13th

Automatically posted links for January 13th: