“For Egyptians, football is the ‘essence of life’,” says Fathi al-Gizawy, a café owner in Giza. Even with the Egyptian team outside the 2010 Mondiale, the world event carried special importance to Egyptians. But how to watch all 64 games when subscription to the satellite channels that broadcast them was so exorbitant?
With the Qatari al-Jazeera gaining exclusive right to broadcast the 2010 Mondiale games in the region, a bitter feeling of being priced out of viewing enveloped most Egyptians. They thus resorted to their legendary resourcefulness and came up with a brilliant solution, a local-made “magic connection” was that would allow them to watch the games for a mere EGP20 per month, along with some 20 other encrypted satellite channels into the bargain.
Since the State is aware of how important football is for everyone, it has overlooked the illegal ‘magic connection’, especially with the phenomenal failure by the Egyptian government to secure broadcasting rights for the games. The Media Ministry had missed the opportunity to participate in the international tender for broadcasting rights—a move seen by the public as a case of severe incompetence. To make up for its failure, the government scrambled to make an agreement with al-Jazeera to broadcast only 22 games to Egyptian viewers for USD20 million—a move seen by the public as too little too late.
After their national team failed to qualify for the World Cup in South Africa, Egyptians watched the games for pure pleasure. Their support for the other teams was coloured by various loyalties. A life-long passion for Brazilian football made Egyptians cheer for the “Samba Team” whose performance, according to university student Omar Mansour was “really enjoyable”. “My devotion to the Brazilian team goes back to my father and grand-father,” Mansour said. Argentina’s ‘Tango Team’ had its worshippers since the 1980s when the Argentinean Maradona appeared and led his team to the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. For Egyptians, Diego Armando Maradona was the rags-to-riches hero they wholeheartedly sympathised with.
And even though official declarations sympathised with the “Arab sister” team of Algeria as it played against the United Kingdom and the United States, most Egyptians sided with the British and American teams. It was obvious Egyptians had not got over their bitterness at the violence of Algerian fans against Egyptian players, fans and businesses during the qualifying games which Algeria won. “I have to cheer for ‘our sister’ America who’s always aiding us”, I heard someone say in a Downtown café. And when the US scored its winning goal against Algeria, Egyptians loudly cheered applauding Algeria’s defeat.
The football conflict between Egypt and Algeria has a long history behind. Lawyer Rifaat Fouad told Watani that he can never forget what the Algerians did to Egyptians in all their encounters since the African Championship in 1978 in Libya and until early this year when they met in Sudan in the last game which determined which of the two countries would take a place in the 2010 World Cup. Fouad pointed out that he cannot bring himself to support Algerians even under the pretext of the Arab nationalism.
Many Egyptians cheered for African teams, nevertheless they were shocked at the embarrassing results and performance of most of them. The Ghanaian team’s performance was a different story, the ‘African stars’ were not far from the Cup, and Egyptians dreamt that they would win. In the game Ghana played against US, Egyptians vehemently supported Ghana. Gone was the sympathy with US of only a few days earlier; the only significant fact at this point was that Ghana and Egypt are both African and the US a colonial power which supports Israel.
With Brazil and Argentina out of the championship, the Egyptians had to look for another hero. They divided between cheering for Germany, the Netherlands and Spain. One lady’s comment especially captured my attention when she said: “I hope that Spain wins the Cup, my son told me that after the Spanish team won the 2008 European Championship, the team’s goal keeper and captain Eker Casillas asked the Spanish authorities to name a Madrid street after his mother”. Another lady decided to support Uruguay after she read in a newspaper that Diego Forlan of the Uruguayan team expressed his happiness to join Manchester United because it would enable him to treat his handicapped sister. If anything, they reveal how soft-hearted Egyptians are.
Religious identity often determined which team to support. Some supported Spain on the basis of the lost Muslim dream of Andalusia, others supported the Ghanaian team which had more than one Muslim player; and the same applied to the French team. Many Egyptians wondered why didn’t Muslim players kneel down to thank God every time they scored a goal as the Egyptian players did.
Along the same line, many Copts supported Argentina, after they saw Maradona, the team’s technical manager gesture the sign of the Cross, before one of the games began. They also decided to cheer for Mexico after it was said that the Mexican delegate in South Africa asked to be given a room that they can use as a church. As if Egypt needed more religion in football.
But Ghana, France, Argentina and Mexico all came out of the championship empty-handed.
Driven by the prevalent climate in Egypt, which sees the West as disdainful of Islam and supporting Israel, the desire for a Muslim nation to win the Cup was overwhelming to revenge the ‘colonial, atheist countries’. The same attitude enveloped the Copts, who feel persecuted in their country; they cheered for teams who shared their religion to win the Cup.
Now that the Championship is over, and the Cup has been won by the Spanish who definitely earned it, one can but bow in respect to Spain, a nation which, though it suffered foreign occupation for centuries in the past, is today one that upholds freedom, equality, and human rights.
18 July 2010