Cairo life resumes its grind after World Cup hopes dashed

Cairo life resumes its grind after World Cup hopes dashed

Nov 19, 2009 (AFP) – Loss and bitterness replaced triumph on Thursday as life in Cairo resumed its daily grind after Algeria ended the Pharoahs’ World Cup hopes.

Egyptian football fans had been jubilant on Saturday when the team beat Algeria 2-0 in Cairo to force a playoff against the Desert Foxes in Khartoum for the final African place in next year’s tournament in South Africa.

But the outpourings of joy came to an abrupt halt as Algeria won the second match 1-0 to qualify.

"The usual end: a big shock," ran the headline in Egyptian independent daily al-Masry al-Youm, which had exuberantly covered the lead up to the match.

Issandr El Amrani, an independent analyst in Cairo, said: "It’s not unusual for countries to be enthusiastic about football teams."

"Egyptians are fond of their country. You do sense a real sense of patriotism here that is stronger than in some other countries."

"But in a lot of commentary you see in newspapers, you see that people have much higher expectations of their country and are depressed to see Egypt’s economic situation… and its sharp drop in regional influence," he said.

The failure of Egypt’s Culture Minister Faruq Hosni to win an election for the top job at UN children’s organisation UNESCO in September left a sense of national humiliation in the Egyptian press.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s efforts to broker Middle East peace efforts have stalled in the face of its failure to achieve a reconciliation between rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas.

Independent daily Al-Shorouk pointed out on Thursday that Egypt and Algeria are rivals in another field off the football pitch.

"Egypt and Algeria tie… in corruption," read its headline on a report about Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, released on Wednesday.

Egypt and Algeria share a lowly 111th place in the league table of graft.

The thousands of Egyptian fans who made the trip to Khartoum had expected a certain victory after their team’s success before a raucous home audience in Cairo four days earlier, which left the two nations neck-and-neck in their group and prompted the playoff.

There were few dissenting voices in the media against the police’s official account that the Algerian team had faked a stoning attack on their bus, which injured three players in Cairo.

United in celebration on Saturday, many Egyptians closed ranks as reports starting coming in of attacks against Egyptian workers and companies in Algiers.

Comparisons were made to Egypt’s 1973 war with Israel, in which Egyptian troops stormed Israel’s formidable Bar Lev defense line, still a source of pride here after Egypt became the first Arab country to sign a peace deal with Israel in 1979, alienating every other Arab government at the time.

But hopes of another historic achievement were dashed on Wednesday night, and crestfallen fans trickled out of cafes in every Cairo neighbourhood, shellshocked after watching the defeat in Khartoum.

In Khartoum, Egyptian fans told AFP that stones were thrown at their bus as they made their way back to the airport.

Shards of window glass littered the street outside Khartoum airport.

"At least three people were hurt, including a woman (hit) in the head," one supporter said.

Khartoum police spokesman Abdel Majid Al-Tayeb said four people were hurt after the match. "There were minor incidents, four people were lightly wounded," he told a press conference.

The football contest is over, but the diplomatic tit for tat between the two countries escalated on Thursday with the summons of the Algerian ambassador in Cairo.

The Egyptian foreign ministry summoned the Algerian ambassador in Cairo to protest against the attacks in Khartoum and express its "anger" over reports of continuing harrassment and assaults against Egyptians in Algeria, official news agency MENA reported.

"We were all defeated before the match even started," said Essam Erian, a senior member of Islamist opposition group the Muslim Brotherhood, referring to the tensions whipped up between the two countries.

"It was a defeat for Egypt and a defeat for Algeria," he said, adding: "whichever team won would have soon been eliminated from the World Cup anyway."

The Source