EGYPT: Are politicians exploiting Egypt's football success?
Egypt's seventh African Cup soccer championship has set the whole country alight, bringing out hundreds of thousands of fans to celebrate and more than a few opportunistic politicians trying to bask in the limelight.
Sunday's victory gave Egypt its third consecutive African Cup title, a record unmatched by any other national team in a continental or global competition. It is understandable that such a win brought joy to millions of soccer fans, who were still bitter just two months after missing out on a place in this summer's World Cup in South Africa.
Soccer has been a source of pride for Egyptians over the last eight years. Amid political, social and financial setbacks, millions have found their saving grace in watching their teams perform well on the international stage.
Nonetheless, what is increasingly notable is the Egyptian government's endless care and support for soccer in a manner that makes other political, social and economic matters seem pale by comparison.
While President Hosni Mubarak and Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif were first to welcome the Egyptian team at Cairo Airport upon their return from Angola – where the African Cup took place – similar attention was not evident when hundreds of families were made homeless by heavy floods that swept across the Sinai Peninsula and Southern Egypt early last month.
Mubarak's son Gamal, who is head of the ruling National Democratic Party's policies committee and is being groomed to succeed his father, flew to Luanda to support Egypt during the final game with his older brother Alaa. It is apparent to many that since soccer became one of the very few sources of happiness to Egyptians, politicians have been doing their utmost to connect themselves to the national team.
Ibrahim Eissa, editor of the independent Al Dustour, believes that despite some politicians' efforts to appear close to soccer, their popularity will not increase among the poor.
"How many times have we seen Gamal Mubarak cheer for our team from the stands? How many times have we seen Egyptian Football Assn. members hypocritically praise politicians for improving the game? Did it make people love them more? Never," Eissa wrote on Tuesday.
"Hypocrites' attempts to rub shoulders with our soccer players and their achievements has become similar to some fans who jam our streets, start fires and harass girls while celebrating any big win," he added.
-- Amro Hassan in Cairo
Photo: President Hosni Mubarak with Egypt captain Ahmed Hassan carrying the African Cup. Credit: Associated Press