Egyptian football stupidity

I’ve never made much secret of the fact that I hate football. I have done since I was forced to play it at school as a child, but I equally dislike the acrimonious rivalries, the overblown salaries and transfer deals, the diva-like behaviour of some of the players, the bad-loserism and the boorish behaviour of some fans (this has improved somewhat in the last few years, although earlier this year they proved themselves to be still capable of a touch of organised thuggery). I suspect that the game would be a bit more honest if you could get the same result from diving on the pitch as this lady got from diving onto her bedroom floor in her sleep.

Football is not inherently the most violent of sports; unlike boxing, it does not reward players for damaging their opponents’ brains, and unlike rugby, you don’t have these ridiculous scrums which have been known to collapse and leave players with broken necks, paralysed and sometimes on ventilators for life. Still, at least those victims are players, not bystanders or people who happen to come from the same town or country as the team which had the temerity to beat another team, which is what both were trying to do.

I have no idea, and don’t much care, who started the violence in Egypt (and Sudan, and Algeria). What I care about is the fact that Muslims are so exercised about a game of football that people have been beaten up, that people have been killed, that offices have been raided, that people are being told to stay indoors if they are (or look) Algerian and are in Egypt (or vice versa), and that countries are recalling their ambassadors and talking about war. This is just a game. Why can people not see that? I cannot understand why Muslims watch it anyway, given that men usually dress in less than they are actually required to in Islam. Many of them would not let their wives or daughters out of the house without a hijab on, so why do they watch men running around with their thighs exposed?

I find the statements made by the Egyptian president, Mohammed Hosni Mubarak, and crown prince Alaa, to be particularly distasteful. Daddy Mubarak told the country’s Parliament that “the dignity of Egyptians is part of the dignity of Egypt and vowed that Egypt will not tolerate those who insult it’s citizens”, while his son called a TV talk show and “delivered a 40-minute rant”, which included:

“It is impossible that we as Egyptians take this. We have to stand up and say, ‘Enough,’” he said. “When you insult my dignity … I will beat you on the head.”

The National, published in the Emirates, quoted him as saying this:

“There is nothing called Arab nationalism or brotherhood, this is just talk, that doesn’t mean anything in reality,” said Mr Mubarak. “When Algerians learn how to speak Arabic they can then come and say that they are Arabs.

This rather gives the impression that Egyptian politics thrives on the need for a hated outsider. In the past, that has been the Jews or Israelis, and Tantawi himself has been accused of giving sermons which call the Jews “sons of apes and pigs”. Still, the Algerians are a softer target, as they are further away and don’t have nuclear weapons, and Algerian-bashing won’t win them any enemies or bad press in the West. Just as long as the Egyptian people have things to focus their anger on, other than lack of freedom of speech and assembly, poverty, bureaucracy and corruption. I read today that Colonel Qaddafi had proposed to mediate between the two sides, but if the game was won or lost fair and square, there need be no mediation (least of all by Qaddafi); what needs to happen is that the people responsible for the violence should be punished and the devious politicians stop trying to stoke hostility when there is no reason for it.

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