Cairo Dispatch: Even With Mo Salah in the Planet Cup, Egypt Can’t Appear to Catch a Break
CAIRO &mdash When Russia scored its third purpose against Egypt in the Planet Cup last week, the tidal wave of heartache that rippled across Cairo seemed to land squarely on the broad shoulders of Mahmoud Abdel Razek.
The burly accountant had already spent the preceding hour perched on a rickety chair outside a tiny cafe on Kasr al-Aini avenue, its usual flood of targeted traffic now strangely quiet, with his eyes glued to a little television atop a pile of red crates.
He stamped his feet. He slapped his thigh. He banged the modest gold tea table at his side, muttering prayers and soft curses. But right after the third purpose, he couldn&rsquot bear it any far more.
On screen, Mohamed Salah, Egypt&rsquos star striker who has acquired Godlike status here, clumped his renowned curly hair in his hands, despair etched on his face. Mr. Razek mirrored the gesture.
&ldquoWe thought God was with Egypt,&rdquo he stated in a choked voice, motioning to the sky. &ldquoBut no.&rdquo
Egyptians, it seems, just can&rsquot catch a break.
Already, their nation is going via bitter times. The prices of water, electrical energy and fuel have soared in recent weeks. Censorship is rampant and tens of thousands of political prisoners are in jail.
Some specialists warn that under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt is sliding from authoritarian rule into a totalitarian technique where even a smidgen of dissent is intolerable.
Even soccer, the nation&rsquos most beloved sport, is meticulously controlled. Domestic games have been played prior to empty stadiums because of a ban on crowds at soccer games instituted in 2012, driven in portion by fears that opposition forces could harness the power of a huge public gathering.
But then the World Cup came along and with it, a cloudburst of unfiltered national happiness.
For the very first time in 28 years, the national soccer group, recognized as the Pharaohs, qualified. And they got there courtesy of Mr. Salah, a objective-scoring machine who has rocketed to worldwide fame in the previous year, fueled by the adore of his soccer-mad compatriots.
Mr. Salah is a soccer magician, the ball seemingly glued to his left foot as he weaves about defenders before smashing it into objective. He mostly plays for his club, Liverpool, where he scored a record 44 objectives last season in a blazing overall performance that catapulted him to the ranks of superstars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. But in this World Cup, he represents his country, Egypt.
The streets of Cairo exploded with joy in October when Mr. Salah scored a dramatic last-minute purpose against Congo that propelled the national side into the Globe Cup finals. Egyptians, riven by so a lot worry, division and bloodshed considering that their Arab Spring uprising in 2011, had ultimately found an undisputed hero.
&ldquoSalah is the king,&rdquo mentioned Moataz Badr, a 16-year-old high school student, as he left a street cafe in the Cairo district of Agouza right after a recent game. &ldquoKing of Liverpool. King of England. King of Egypt.&rdquo
But sport has little respect for fairy tale endings, and intoxicated hopes that Mr. Salah could propel Egypt to the second round of the Globe Cup crashed to the ground this week. However handful of Egyptians are giving up on Mr. Salah.
In a nation where hope is fragile, numerous see him as a once-in-a-generation star &mdash a moral as properly as a sporting force, an ambassador for country and faith.
Stories of his charitable giving and humility have turn out to be the stuff of legend. He lavishes funds on schools and ambulances in Nagrig, his small hometown in the Nile Delta, and avoids hobnobbing with wealthy company figures.
A devout Muslim, he prostrates himself as if in prayer after scoring &mdash a gesture that shattered cultural barriers even with soccer fans in Britain.
&ldquoIf he scores one more handful of, then I&rsquoll be a Muslim as well,&rdquo goes one Liverpool chant.
He unifies Arabs as well. Following Mr. Salah declared on Facebook that he was wearing his soccer boots on behalf of one hundred million Egyptians, fans across the Middle East jumped in. &ldquoKing Abu Salah, add 20 million Syrians,&rdquo said 1. &ldquoAdd 50 million Iraqis,&rdquo mentioned yet another.
That type of popularity can be hazardous in a country like Egypt. Following Mr. Sisi won re-election in April in a broadly discredited vote in which 1.7 million votes had been spoiled, some voters crossed out the president&rsquos name and wrote in Mr. Salah&rsquos.
A law introduced this month threatens anybody with far more than five,000 followers on Twitter with criminal prosecution if they broadcast false news. Mr. Salah has six.4 million followers.
Renowned singers, belly dancers and even puppets have been jailed or silenced for saying the wrong factor.
Final year Mohamed Aboutrika, who captained Egypt&rsquos soccer team for a decade till 2013, was placed on a terrorist watchlist last year for alleged ties to the banned Muslim Brotherhood group. He presently lives in exile in the Gulf nation of Qatar.
In interviews, Mr. Salah has studiously avoided talk of politics, and insisted he was not phased by the crushing stress of shouldering the hopes of 97 million Egyptians.
&ldquoThey are not a weight on me. They are driving me,&rdquo he said.
But for the fans, this Planet Cup has been a tear-streaked ride.
A beefy tackle by Genuine Madrid defender Sergio Ramos in Could, 3 weeks ahead of the contest, left Mr. Salah with a shoulder injury that raised anguished fears he may well miss the Globe Cup.
&ldquoThe Evening Egyptians Cried: Ramos the butcher dislocated Salah&rsquos shoulder,&rdquo howled a headline in the Egyptian newspaper Al Masry Al Youm.
Mr. Salah missed Egypt&rsquos 1st Globe Cup match against Uruguay, which the group lost 1-. When he did lastly seem on Tuesday, against host nation Russia, his only score was a consolation penalty that brought the final tally to three-1.
Right after the game, emotions ran high.
In the Nile Delta city of Tanta, a fist fight erupted at a cafe following 1 client spat at the television and cursed the national group. Ahmed Abdulla, a taxi driver watching the brawl, suffered a scalded leg right after a buddy kicked more than a table loaded with teacups.
&ldquoI don&rsquot care,&rdquo he mentioned. &ldquoThe aim was far more painful than the burn.&rdquo
Elsewhere, shellshocked fans wept quietly or walked away silently. In a single Cairo cafe, men left without having paying for their drinks and the waiters didn&rsquot have the heart to stop them.
Given that then, the aggravation has spilled into a social media war with Egyptians exchanging sharp retorts calling on Mr. Sisi to resign or defending his record. In Chechnya, exactly where the Egypt group is coaching, the autocratic leader Ramzan A. Kadyrov made Mr. Salah an honorary citizen.
On Monday, Egypt plays its third and final game against Saudi Arabia, the competitors&rsquos lowest ranked group. Mr. Salah is expected to score. Although Egypt can’t progress to the subsequent round, a win could salve the nation&rsquos bruised morale, said Hatem Maher, a sports journalist with the state-owned Ahram On-line news web site.
If practically nothing else, the roller-coaster Globe Cup ride has offered a pointed lesson to Egyptians conditioned by decades of strongman rule.
&ldquoIt shows that we can&rsquot rely on 1 guy,&rdquo Sabir Mohammed, a carpenter, said soon after the Russia game. &ldquoWe have to learn to play as a group.&rdquo
Published at Sat, 23 Jun 2018 15:03:02 +0000