Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Game Time

Everyone has probably heard about the Egypt/Algeria stuff going down lately, especially the Western media view, so I wanted to talk about my own experiences and thoughts a bit. A few days ago, Lynette over at Gilded Serpent posted the photo at right from me with the following text (my writing):

"The first picture is of the riots that happened in Cairo on November 14th, when Egypt won a world-up qualifier match against Algeria. Looks scary, but it was actually a lot of fun roaming the streets in between all the stopped cars with people dancing everywhere brandishing flags! It was quite a controversial match, as the Algerians claim to have been attacked on the way from the airport to their hotel, the Egyptian officials and police refuse to back up their story, and the word on the street is that the reason the Algerian players' bus was attacked was that they burnt the Egyptian flag before heading off to play the match! No one is sure what exactly happened, but Egypt's 2-0 victory means that they will play [in] Sudan tonight to pass this round of qualifications."

I received the following reply on GS which is what made me think about the issue more and want to blog about it:

"In response to the photo and description in Kaleidoscope of the aftermath of the Algerian/Egyptian soccer match that states that the Algerians burned an Egyptian flag on the way from the airport and that caused the problems, please watch the 50 or more YouTube videos that show that a mob of Egyptians threw rocks at the team bus that was supposedly protected by Egyptian security forces.

One Algerian player had four stitches and three others were wounded. The French team doctor on the bus gives a first hand report that is in on USA Today. World newspapers are all reporting that FIFA was not abiding by its own rules and the match should have been postponed and played in a neutral country. Of course, now the emotions are so high that there has been widespread violence and destruction of Egyptian businesses in Algiers. Well, this is why I refer to dance than to compete!!"

Yeah, no kidding! I'd rather dance too, but this is the world we live in I suppose and I've been provoked to think about the situation again, and why not?

Well here's the problem I have, with my perspective from living here. We heard about the attacking of the Algerian bus of course, and I myself watched the footage on AlJazeera which looked extremely incriminating indeed. For my flatmates and their friends it was a well-of-course-those-stupid-Egyptians-attacked-the-bus-they're-nuts situation, but it didn't quite ring true to me completely. Not completely made up, but I felt like I was missing a piece of the puzzle. Yes, Egyptians are very nationalistic, and very passionate about soccer, but there is a difference between passionate nationalism and what people were saying went down, which was fanatical nationalism. I mean think about it, why would it benefit Egyptians to attack the Algerians over an impending match? After would be more than plausible, but right before? Why? I think most people that follow soccer are aware, FIFA moves games to other locations if the security proves to be unsuitable, so that means the match should/would have been rescheduled.

The next day a couple people flat-out told me that the police were right, the attack was completely staged, and that the Algerians had injured themselves to make Egypt look bad internationally. I also heard that the hotel the Algerians were heading to was less than a half-mile from the airport, so we have the new angle of what kind of security forces were present. Frankly, I have no idea, but this is a state with military personnel to spare--if they wanted to they could protect those players. It still seemed weird, because I could see people hanging around threateningly and maybe getting riled up, but breaking the windows of the bus? Really? Then again, we haven't gotten news of a complete police investigation so who knows what happened.

Then, the day after the match I heard another interesting piece of news which was that the Algerian team supposedly burnt an Egyptian flag before heading off to Cairo. A good American friend of mine deemed that, "downright provocative" and I have to agree. Egyptians are nationalistic enough (and let's face it, us Americans are too) that if someone burnt a flag, they'd be riled up about it and potentially violent. It's then a political insult, not to mention nothing to do with sports!

Of course none of this justifies anyone getting hurt, but there are a lot of angles going on to the story. I think what most likely happened is that the bus did get attacked, but the Algerian players perhaps were also guilty of provocation, and hamming it up or creating more injuries to encourage FIFA to move the match off Egyptian home turf--if you were an opposing team in this important of a game, would you want to play here?? In any case, those are some pieces of info I have that are bouncing around to ponder, and from an on-the-ground perspective I think that's the most likely explanation. I am not simply content to take the "Egyptians are crazy, nationalistic, and violent" route, because it is impossible for me with the people that I know here personally who would never engage in that behavior, support it, or encourage it.

What I think is even more important is the way the international community is looking at this, and the way Egyptian and Algerian leadership is using the matches to distract. One of my professors flat out remarked that he was frustrated about the World Cup because Egyptian authorities are encouraging the drama as they want to have a smokescreen for domestic issues, albeit temporarily. Seems like a bad strategy to me, because they'll have to face their issues sooner or later anyway! I guess they'd rather stall like anyone with a piece of work we don't want to tackle--but that doesn't make it any better. I'm sure the Western powers wouldn't mind a little political infighting in the Arab League to exploit either, but hey that's just because I'm studying the political history of the region right now! I'm actually glad I can't read a US newspaper to see how they're spinning this, because we all know how America likes to paint an "Us and them" portrait that I find irritating and a root of racial bigotry.

In any case, hopefully it's all over now as Egypt lost today's match against Algeria 1-0. What a NASTY match too, my god! Huge number of fouls, 5 yellow cards to Algeria, and one to Egypt, cleats in sensitive areas, arms nearly broken, at least 3 or 4 players had to be peeled off the grass and driven away in the medical carts--it was pretty dirty, people. Not to mention very close.

Ok, khalas that's my big speech of the day, just my 2 cents!

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