Preview: Egypt's Premier League back to life, but will it survive?

Hatem Maher, Monday 23 Dec 2013

The Egyptian Premier League kicks off on Tuesday amid concerns it might not be completed, with Egypt still grappling with political unrest that is keeping security forces on their toes

Zamaek vs Daghlia
Zamaek vs Dakhlia during their Egypt Premier League soccer match in Cairo, 2013 (Photo: Bassam El-Zogby)

The return of Egypt's Premier League will come to the rescue of the cash-strapped clubs who are struggling to stay afloat but a key question remains over whether the competition will be completed amid security concerns in the turmoil-stricken country.

The Premier League was cancelled the last two seasons after Egypt's authorities deemed it impossible to resume the elite competition following two headline-grabbing incidents which ignited a series of clashes, leaving many casualties and leading to a complete halt of domestic football.

The league was called off at the halfway stage in 2012 following the Port Said disaster, which left over 70 Ahly fans dead. It was resumed the following year but was also cancelled just before the final four-team playoff after the army's ouster of President Mohamed Morsi led to a wave of unrest.

Since then, many clubs have been complaining of the lack of action that left them in disarray, with many of them failing to pay the salaries of their players, including Cairo giants Zamalek who risk losing Mahmoud "Shikabala" Abdel-Razek, one of their prized assets.

Zamalek's arch-rivals Ahly, who won the last league to be completed in 2011, appear in a healthier financial position than their peers, having been boosted by their African Champions League triumph last month and their subsequent participation in the FIFA Club World Cup.

The clubs are looking forward to the new season, which kicks off on Tuesday, to shake off a crisis but Egypt's ongoing turmoil casts doubts over the authorities' ability to avert another cancellation.

Matches in the first half of the season will be played behind closed doors but security forces will have to be present at stadiums anyway, adding to their burdens ahead of the upcoming referendum on a newly-drafted constitution and parliamentary and presidential elections

"Egyptians want the league to be resumed. They want to take some psychological rest after what they have gone through. They only watch demonstrations, clashes, chaos and blood on television screens," said Hassan El-Mestekawy, one of Egypt's renowned sports critics.

Masry saga

Port Said-based club Masry are back in action after opting to skip last season's competition to avoid stirring tensions with the die-hard supporters of Ahly, who vowed not to let their bitter foes come to Cairo.

The Animosity stemmed from the Port Said tragedy prompted the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) to decide to hold all Masry's home and away games in Suez. They were supposed to open their campaign against Zamalek in Cairo.

The EFA stuck to the same two-group format of last season, with the top two in each group going into a final playoff to determine the winner. Ahly and Zamalek were separated in the draw.

Zamalek, who won the Egypt Cup last season to end a five-year title drought, are reeling due to persistent financial woes, with winger Shikabala threatening to depart over unpaid dues.

They have not won the league since 2004, with Ahly outshining them to win seven straight titles. Zamalek will begin life without former Egypt skipper Ahmed Hassan, who retired from professional football to join the national team's technical staff.

Ragaa, a little-known club which is based in Marsa Matrouh governorate, close to the Egyptian-Libyan border, will make their Premier League debut after earning promotion in dramatic fashion while the Upper Egyptian side of Minya will play in the competition for the first time in 15 years.

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