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Saturday, 21 October 2017

Egypt: Football and joy

Ziad Bahaa-Eldin , Thursday 12 Oct 2017
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A happy night it was when our national team qualified for the World Cup thanks to Mohammed Salah’s two goals and the efforts of the entire team, led by veteran Essam al-Hadari. It was all the more thrilling for coming in the apprehensive final minutes of the game, when the dream of the World Cup seemed irretrievably lost. But in the end, it was like a movie where the hero appears to save the day at the crucial moment and the audience leaves the cinema pleased and satisfied.

In the hours that followed the win, it seemed Egypt had rediscovered feelings that had been missing in the recent past. People celebrated at home, in streets and squares, at cafes, and with their whole hearts, sometimes boisterously, but mostly quietly and simply, each in his/her own way and true temperament. The celebrations were for everyone, without discrimination, hatred, or resentment. For several beautiful hours, the revelers gave no thought to who was Muslim or Christian. No one thought to condemn tonight girls’ participation in the cheering and joy, or see it as a departure from good manners and public morals. No one mocked the accent of an Upper Egyptian , or someone from Alexandria or Aswan, and those in the streets didn’t wonder if the person next to them was a Mubarak supporter or a revolutionary, an Islamist sympathizer or proponent of the civil state. Even the state, which usually permits no youth assembly of any kind, especially in Tahrir Square, held back on Sunday night and let young people express their happiness and breathe the air of freedom, if only for a few hours.

The joy occasioned by football is not unique to Egypt. It’s found in most countries around the world, or something similar in places captivated by another team sport. The reasons for the happiness are well known. Football is a democratic game that everyone plays, whether in a private club or in the street, shod in costly footgear or barefoot. It’s a sport in which anyone can participate, either by playing, watching, or opining. It’s an area of total transparency because players have no secrets; everyone knows where they’re from, where they grew up, how much they make, if they’re married and have kids, and at what price they were sold to another club. And it’s an arena of fair competition, where connections and influential contacts are worth little—the fans show no mercy to anyone who plays without enthusiasm and skill.

For all these reasons, the joy of winning a big football match comes not only from a sense of excellence and national pride, but from the feeling among fans that each one of them participated in some way and is part of the victory.

I don’t want to spoil the happy occasion by turning it into a political issue, but let’s remember that this football joy, though genuine, heartfelt, and inclusive, is also fleeting. Soon it will be overtaken by the difficulties and challenges of daily life and worries about the future. More important than enjoying these brief hours is thinking about how to restore that cohesion and togetherness to society and rekindle that enthusiasm and desire to participate among young people. We must think of how to overcome the anxiety and division that plague us, the way the national team and Mohammed Salah helped us to overcome them, if only for a brief moment.

 

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