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When boxing legend Muhammad Ali came to Egypt

Ahmed Abd El Rasoul , Monday 6 Jun 2016
Muhammad Ali
In this file photo taken on October 05, 1986 shows Former heavyweight world boxing champion Muhammad Ali speaking during a press conference at the Marriott hotel in Cairo, Egypt (AFP)
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Throughout his glittering 30-year career, boxing great Muhammad Ali had some special memories with Egypt and Egyptians; visiting the country twice in 1964 and 1986.

Ali, one of the iconic sporting heroes of the 20th century, died on Friday in Arizona at the age of 74, leaving millions of his fans grief-stricken all over the world.

The three-time World Heavyweight Champion boxer, formerly known as Cassius Clay, was given a warm reception in Egypt just months after he converted to Islam, changing his name to Muhammad Ali early in 1964.

Muhammad Ali
American WBA Heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali (centre) visits the Egyptian Iron and Steel Mills in the Cairo suburb of Helwan, Egypt, June 1964 (Getty Images)

After receiving an invitation from the Arab boxing federation, Ali, who retired in 1981, spent two weeks in the North African country, visiting Alexandria, Port Said, Aswan, the Giza Pyramids and famous monuments in Luxor. 

"I only read about these monuments, but I didn't expect that they are that big and marvelous," Muhammad Ali, nicknamed “The Greatest,” was quoted as saying by Egyptian Media during the visit.

"Now, I saw the high dam [in Aswan] that I heard about before. Now I can say that it is not an easy project and it's an obvious proof of the greatness of Egypt's president Gamal Abdel Nasser," he added at the time.

Muhammad Ali in the Hussein
American boxer Muhammad Ali (4th from R, formerly known as Cassius Clay) prays with his hands open in a crowd at the Hussein Mosque in Cairo, Egypt. He is wearing pants, no shoes, a short-sleeved shirt and a tie (Getty Images)

During the same visit, Ali prayed at the famous Al-Hussein Mosque in Cairo and also received a gold-inscribed version of Koran from Egypt's Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs. 

Muhammad Ali in Giza
Heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali riding a horse near the Sphinx and the pyramids at Giza, Egypt (AP)

Also known as a cultural and political figure, Ali reportedly asked to meet Abdel Nasser during his stay in Cairo, a request that was accepted by the Egyptian president.

Some reports said that Nasser was his "role model" and that he considered him the "best president in the world".

He had a famous picture while kissing the president's photo and statue before meeting him at his office.

Muhammad Ali and Nasser
Heavyweight boxer Muhammad Ali (left) shakes hands with Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918 - 1970, right), watched by Ali's manager Jabir Herbert Muhammad (1929 - 2008, centre), circa 1964. Jabir Herbert Muhammad is the son of Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam (Getty Images)

“You can go to Japan, China, all the European, African, Arab, and South American countries and, man, they know me,” Ali said in an interview with Playboy magazine in November 1975.

“I can’t name a country where they don’t know me. If another fighter’s going’ to be that big, he’s going’ to have to be a Muslim, or else he won’t get to nations like Indonesia, Lebanon, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Syria, Egypt, and Turkey — those are all countries that don’t usually follow boxing," he added.

Muhammad Ali in Giza
Heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali pose for a picture near Giza's pyramids, Egypt, October 1, 1986 (Getty Images)

In 1986, Muhammad Ali visited Egypt again but this time as a goodwill ambassador. He also visited the pyramids, prayed at the Mosque of Muhammad Ali Pasha and spoke to Egyptian media in a press conference at the Marriott hotel in Cairo.

Muhammad Ali prays
Former heavyweight world boxing champion Muhammad Ali (C) prays on October 5, 1986 at the Mosque of Muhammad Ali Pasha or Alabaster Mosque in Cairo, Egypt (Getty Images)

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