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EGYPT: Mubarak steps into Algerian football spat

November 21, 2009 | 11:57 am

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Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has sought to calm an angry and defeated Egypt following the nation's dramatic soccer loss to Algeria, which has led to riots in the streets and a nasty international political row between the two North African nations.   

Delivering a previously scheduled speech to Parliament today, the 81-year-old president spoke publicly for the first time about the violence that erupted over the last week during two World Cup qualifying matches. Algeria's players were attacked by Egyptian fans, and Egyptian fans were threatened and assaulted by Algerian mobs. Tensions between the nations further intensified when Egypt recalled its ambassador to Algiers.

"I want to say in clear words that the dignity of Egyptians is part of the dignity of Egypt," Mubarak said without directly naming Algeria, which on Wednesday defeated Egypt 1-0 to advance to the World Cup championship in 2010. "Egypt does not tolerate those who hurt the dignity of its sons." 

While many fuming Egyptians are calling for cutting political and economic ties with Algeria, Mubarak was keen not to give any conclusive statements during his speech: "We don't want to be drawn into impulsive reactions," he said. "I am agitated too, but I restrain myself."

Anger

The president's words came less than 48 hours after the Ministry of Interior announced that 35 people, including 11 police officers, were injured in clashes when hundreds of Egyptian demonstrators attempted to break into the Algerian Embassy in Cairo on Thursday evening and early Friday.

Despite a longstanding reputation for crushing protests before they begin, the Egyptian police, according to media reports, seemed to sympathize with the rioters. It has appeared in recent days that the entire nation -- from top government officials to shopkeepers -- has needed to vent its anger. The soccer violence has cut deep into the national psyche at a time Egyptians were looking for inspiration and pride from a country marred by corruption, unemployment and failing government services.

Tensions between two of the Arab world's poorest nations began before the teams' first qualifying match in Cairo one week ago, when Egyptian fans hurled stones at a bus carrying Algerian players from Cairo International Airport to their hotel. Three Algerian players and one coach were injured.

Algerians were further provoked when the Algerian newspaper Al Chourouk falsely wrote that 11 Algerian fans were killed in clashes following Egypt's 2-0 win last Nov. 14. Consequently, some members of the Egyptian community in Algeria, as well as Egyptian-owned businesses, were attacked by furious Algerians. Orascom Telecommunications reported that damage to its offices in Algeria totaled millions of dollars.

The bitter rivalry between the continued in Khartoum, Sudan, on Wednesday when Algeria defeated Egypt 1-0 to win a spot in the 2010 World Cup championship. Violence quickly spread after the match. Egyptian fans who had traveled to Khartoum called TV stations claiming that Algerian mobs attacked their buses on the way from Omdurman stadium to Khartoum International Airport.

Mubarak's youngest son, Alaa, who was present in Khartoum, immediately expressed his outrage: "Whoever was there to support Algeria weren’t football fans. They were a group of mercenaries practicing some sort of terror," Mubarak Jr. told Dream TV on Thursday. "I could see in their eyes an enormous amount of hatred towards Egyptians. Now I'm grateful they won, otherwise they could have started a massacre against us."

He added: "Whoever dares to beat an Egyptian should be hit on his head."

 -- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Credit: Agence France-Presse
 

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