Zamalek's fan favourite pays price of Ultras-chairman enmity

Hatem Maher, Tuesday 4 Nov 2014

Omar Gaber
Zamalek's Omar Gaber celebrates after scoring a goal against derby rivals Al Ahly during their CAF Champions League soccer match at El-Gouna stadium in Hurghada, about 464 km (288 miles) from the capital Cairo July 24, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

A Zamalek die-hard fan turned versatile player was caught up in the ongoing enmity between chairman Mortada Mansour and the club's ardent supporters, paying the price of voicing absolute support for the controversial Ultras White Knights group.

Omar Gaber, who came across as a promising Zamalek youngster a few years ago, was shown the door upon a swift order from outspoken lawyer Mansour, who was enraged by the player's unwavering support of a group he accuses of trying to assassinate him.

The 22-year-old said in an interview with Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm that his relationship with the Ultras White Knights is "eternal", dismissing suggestions that such a statement could land him in hot water.

Actually it did.

Although such a decision remains void unless approved by the club's board of directors, Mansour insisted he would not allow Gaber to enter the club headquarters, saying that his dismissal should deter any player who "promotes this terrorist and militant group".

Violent altercations

What started as a war of words between Mansour and the UWK over relatively minor issues such as the chairman's inability to coax authorities into reversing a crowd ban had astonishingly evolved into violent altercations.

Mansour, a bad-tempered man who was a member of Egypt's parliament in the early 2000s, pointed the finger at the group for allegedly trying to assassinate him in August after he was attacked by unidentified men.

The incident marked a shocking twist and almost a dozen UWK members were arrested as a result, prompting hundreds of their colleagues to stage a protest in Cairo's Shubra neighbourhood, with security forces detaining another 26 supporters for violating a controversial protest law.

Another hit-and-run incident occurred last month when a couple of men attacked Mansour with "bags containing urine and feces", with the UWK Facebook group releasing a video of the confrontation to dispute the chairman's claim that he was the subject of  what he called an "acid attack".

Mansour repeatedly branded UWK a "terrorist group" and said he was dismayed by the interior ministry's apparent reluctance to arrest the culprits, who remained at large for a while but were eventually captured.

No football talks  

The group that was once so passionate about its team, discussing football and disparaging arch-rivals Ahly in a trademark cat and mouse game turned its Facebook page to a duel against Mansour.

The hardcore supporters barely talk about their football team and Gaber, a mild-mannered midfielder who can also operate as a right-back, was punished for supporting them amid a media campaign against all such fan groups.

He further incensed Mansour for declining to comment on the attacks on him and he explicitly accused the 62-year-old of targeting him because of his support of the UWK.

"I believe in them, they are my friends," said Gaber, whose energetic moves upfield is likely to be missed as Zamalek seek to end an Egyptian Premier League drought stretching back to 2004.

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