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Egypt vs. Algeria World Cup Violence Comes from Political Frustrations

Eye on Arab Media

New America Media, News Report, Jalal Ghazi Posted: Nov 17, 2009

Western media misread the violent Arab reactions to Saturdays World Cup match in which Egypts Pharaohs beat Algerias Desert Foxes 2-0, setting up a World Cup qualifying game between the two in Sudan on Wednesday. Some described the event as a match of hatred while others went as far as implying that a Soccer War may erupt, similar to the 1969 between El Salvador and Honduras.

Arab media, on the other hand, highlight the historical rivalries between the two countries as well as their socio-political conditions.

It started when Egyptian fans stoned the bus carrying the Algerian national team upon arrival to Cairo, injuring three players. Al Jazeera English quoted FIFA representative Walter Gagg saying, "We saw that three players had been injured - Khaled Lemmouchia on the head, Rafik Halliche above the eye and Rafik Saifi on the arm. These weren't superficial injuries".

Egyptian authorities responded by claiming that the Algerian team faked the attack, and that the Algerians had smashed the windows of the bus with emergency hammers from inside. This claim contradicts many video images aired on Arab television stations showing people throwing stones at the Algerian bus, and bloodied Algerian players.

According to Al-Quds Al Arabi, during a rally in support of the Algerian football team, soccer fans broke into the offices of the Egyptian telecommunications group, Orascom, and Egypt Air in Algiers and the Algerian authorities were forced to deploy security troops to the protect the area.

This level of tension and violence seemed unprecedented, but Al Jazeera's Amr el-Khaky pointed out that the Algerian and Egyptian soccer rivalry is very old and it has always been accompanied by tension and violence.

Egypt has qualified twice in major international tournaments at the expense of Algeria, most notably in 1989 when an Algerian players attacked an Egyptian fan, El-Khaky said.

Violence also broke out ahead of the 1990 World Cup, which, according to el-Khaky, was the last time Egypt qualified for the World Cup and they got through by defeating Algeria by one-nil.

Egypt is desperate to qualify, El-Khaky added, but the odds are against them because they need to win by at least three goals. If they win by two, there will be a playoff. The Algerians, however, will qualify even if they lost by one point. And they are just not going to miss this opportunity.

However, Arab media also said that the violence was more than reaction to a soccer match.

The unprecedented level of violence, which continues to unfold ahead of the Wednesday match, reflects high level of frustration of both the Algerians and Egyptians with their political and economic realities, reported Arab media.

Al Arabiya television showed how the soccer match was transformed into a litmus test exposing inequalities, corruption and hopelessness.

Hamad Lethi of Al Arabiya reported from Cairo about how most Egyptians couldnt afford to buy tickets to watch the match between Egypt and Algeria due to corruption.

With angry protestors in the background, Lethi reported that people showed up at these locations on time hoping to get a ticket for the match, but there were no tickets at all. Nobody seems to know what happened to them. You can only find these tickets on the black market and you have to pay 10 times more than the actual price.

He added, This [angry mob] scene is not surprising, it happens every time a major match takes place in Egypt.

The scene was similar to that when Egyptians stood in lines to buy bread from subsidized bakeries, only to find out that the government subsidized bread was sold out and was only available at higher prices elsewhere.

While waiting in long lines for non-existing tickets, Egyptians expressed their deep resentment. One Egyptian citizen expressed his frustration saying, How do you want us to encourage the Egyptian national team [without tickets]? Egypt does not like us.

Another said, The tickets are sold on the black market before we even have a chance to buy them. He added, I want to ask the security forces, are they going to fight the Egyptian people who came here to support the Egyptian national team?

A third Egyptian citizen said, This is taking place in our country. I can afford to pay 150 pounds, but what about the poor people who want to support their national team and enjoy the match?

No officials seemed to know what happened to the disappeared tickets. Al Arabiya reporter Lethi said, our crew went to the headquarters of the Egyptian union for soccer, hoping to talk with an official to figure out why ordinary Egyptians are being deprived from attending the match. However, no officials were there. Only God knows why.

After wide spread protests, Egyptian authorities have taken a different approach in the upcoming run off match in Sudan. According to Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper, Egyptian businessmen have taken on the mission of transporting thousands of Egyptian fans to Sudan.

Algeria has made similar arrangements. The Algerian Radio announced that its government has decided to transport 10,000 Algerians to Sudan free of charge.

Egyptian and Algerian authorities may have been able to divert mass unrests by taking such drastic measures, but they left Sudan with a big burden of maintaining security for the influxes of Algerian and Egyptian soccer fans, and of keeping them apart from one another.

The Sudanese Al Merreikh Stadium in Umm Durman fits 60,000 spectators, but according to Al-Quds Al-Arabi, there are not enough hotels to accommodate the huge influx soccer fans, which means that many have to sleep on the streets.

It is very likely that more acts of violence will take place under these circumstances, but the tension between the two countries will undoubtedly end once the match is over. The real question is will the Egyptian and Algerian governments deal with the real reasons behind the violence that their nationals are venting during these matches in the first place?

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