Egyptian football has been strongly affected by the January 25 Revolution that ousted former president Hosni Mubarak. Political competitions during the transitional period and ongoing debates about the constitution and elections have drawn Egyptian eyes off the green field. A security void due to a drop in police presence - now re-activating gradually since the full withdrawal from the street on 28 January - allowed some sports fans to throw stones at players and invade soccer pitches in a rash of hooliganism rarely seen in Egypt before 2011.
Even hardcore football fans, like Ultras White Knights of Zamalek and Ultras Ahlawy of Ahly, played political roles during the 18-day demonstrations and take politics to the stadiums by chanting and waving revolutionary signs during matches, criticizing the players’ absence in the protests.
It was the national team's fans who, beginning in 2006, initiated the idea of taking to the streets by the thousands in support of the Pharaohs. The team went on to win three-successive African Cups of Nations, proving their supremacy in the region. However, fans swept up in the revolutionary tide were less interested in this month's embarrassing disqualification from the 2012 edition that forced Egypt’s most successful coach, Hassan Shehata, to quit.
League title race heated after day-26:
As of last weekend, Egyptian attentions have once again shifted as newspapers, social networks and everyday conversations are inundated with the subject of football before Wednesday’s big game, which will see the nation’s most popular teams on one field for the first time since the revolution.
The Cairo-based, arch-rivals Ahly and Zamalek are to face off Wednesday. They are the two closest candidates who stand clinch the first Egyptian League after the revolt. Ahly are seeking a seventh successive title while Zamalek are struggling to win their first since 2004. The summit match was to be a league decider, as the teams were separated by only two points, but Saturday’s results have muddied those expectations.
Zamalek, hosted by popular Port Said club Masry, disappointed their fans with a 2-0 defeat thanks to two headers by Malian defender Eliassou Issiaka, keeping the team stalled at point 50. In Cairo, Ahly hosted another coastal club, Ismaily, beating them 2-1 in a thrilling clash that raised both points and morale for the team and their supporters, effectively widening the points gap with Zamalek, who had led the league table for 24-rounds.
Sarcastic football-politics comments:
To illustrate the blurred lines of sports and politics, Ahram Online has picked out a few especially funny social-networking comments, made during and after Ahly and Zamalek matches:
@alshora: If Zamalek doesn’t win the title, I will be sure the revolt didn’t defeat the Mubarak regime!
@Hagrasali: Shikabla [Zamalek star] said to Masry fans “I am Zamalek. Who are you?” He reminds me of Gaddafi
@Ahmed_Eladawy: Zamalek is failing to accomplish one of the Jan25 revolt’s key demands!
@AhmedAbdo1985: Haven’t Masry players heard of the #EndHS [End Sexual Harassment] campaign?
@ahmedokail: We demand that Masry fans lock the Zamalek team in the stadium without food or water [referring to similar announcement by football director Ibrahim Hassan about Tahrir square protesters during the 18-days protests]
@lolo_Fouad: Hossam Hassan [Zamalek manager]: I speak to you during those critical times, I did not intend to lose the league [referring to Mubarak’s emotional speech on 2 February when he said that “I did not intend to nominate myself for a new presidential term”]
@SherifSoly: Ahly said ‘YES’ to the league title [linking announcements about votes on the constitutional amendments]
@DrMoNajjar: Zamalek needs a million man march
@memam8: Do you need more proof that the SCAF [Supreme Council of Armed Forces, running the country during the transitional period] is defending the old regime and preventing the revolution from changing the system? Ahly will win the league!