As the game progressed the Egyptians looked more sullen and spoke even less.
I poked my Canadian coworker.
This is strange. It’s like the Egyptians are bottling their anger and disappointment.
Though no sports fan, I enjoy sitting back and socializing over games with enthusiastic friends, sharing their excitement and learning a thing or two about the complicated world of sports so many swear by. (It’s similar to my fascination with religion…)
Yet, this game,the outcome of which would determine whether Egypt or Algeria would compete in the World Cup in South Africa, was different. No one talked, snacked or drank and tension filled the air. Though all day Egyptians had laughed, dawned flags and face-paint, now few looked like they were actually enjoying the action.
When Algeria scored the single goal toward the beginning of the match, there was complete silence. Did that really, happen? I squinted at the new “1” marking Algeria’s score, the replays and those around me. Though I was at an extremely crowded outdoor cafe, with tons more surrounding, there were no boos, or any other insults yelled at the offending goal.
Maybe they’re collectively not optimists? I wondered. During the previous game, which led them to this tie breaker, they scored in the first moment and last. They had needed to win by at least two points to advance and they had done it. After such a victory, the lack of optimism throughout the entire game surprised me. Rather than being a fun, social experience, the game seemed intensely personal to the Egyptian viewers.
The game ended and spectators rose and dispersed. The loudest noise was employers at the cafe forcefully stacking the cheap plastic chairs. We hurried out of their way.
The people can’t handle it, he explained. They’d go crazy. There’d be riots.
He also thought it would lead to less opposition toward Mubarak because as the primary supporters of the football team, Egyptians would environ the regime with their nationalistic aspirations for the team. Driving away from the cafe, our cab driver shared his views.
The next evening, another Egyptian friend and I sat in traffic in Zamalek. A natural occurrence in Cairo, we didn’t think much of it until we encountered riot police blocking entire streets and gangs of screaming boys donning Egypt flags and loud words.
In the past days, what seemed like it was going to be a losing M3lesh (whoops) for Egypt, quickly blocked from memory, has turned into a national and international attention steeling debacle. Though security concerns were present from the beginning, (BBC reported 15,000 security forces were at attention at the game in Sudan) because of pre-game violence, including Egypt attacking and injuring Algerian players in their bus and Algerians ransacking Egyptian businesses in Algeria, the level has quickly escalated and gained international attention.
Last week both nations recalled their ambassadors, leading the debate to switch from football to Arab unity and the secretary general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, used the opening of the World Economic Forum to call for peace between the two Arab nations. BBC has also reported that Amr Moussa asked Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi to mediate. So practical…
Verdict of the moment? Seems like Egypt might as have well won the match for all the trouble and politics being squeezed out of the plays.
Some links I referred to–though I’m in no way saying they’re all reliable news sources–part of the fun is the rumors. Part of the interest is the unverified facts and motives of the reports.
Today there are an abnormal amount of Egyptian flags blowing in the wind, hanging from car windows and painted on children’s faces.
It’s around 4:30 p.m., 3 hours pre-game time and the horns in the streets are already louder than I’ve heard to date….maybe they’re trying to be heard in Sudan, where the game is taking place.
Here’s what our beloved Tahrir looked and sounded like after the game Sunday. Egypt won 2-0 but needed to win by at least 3 in order to proceed to the cup.
Today’s the much anticipated final shot!
Football, aka American soccer, is the primary sport of interest in Cairo, and really most of the world beyond the United States. Yesterday the majority of our group, 23 students and Carlene, arrived at Cairo soccer stadium escorted by multiple security officers to watch Egypt play Angola.
We walked into the stadium, security forces lining the way on either side, hustled up a winding staircase and, behold–a brilliantly green field brightly lit brightly stretched before us.
If you’ve ever attended a sport event with me, you know I go for the conversation and atmosphere, not the plays. In this case, I got what I was looking for.
When we were warned we would draw attention at the game I expected mobs rushing toward us or boys whistling and staring. With our trusty van drivers (one of whom brought his adorable daughter) and security guards at our sides we got nothing more than friendly smiles, waves and curious glances as we took our seats.
Part-way through the game, adorned with large red-flags (James trumped us all and bought the humongous size), team hats (Rachel and Asha) and face-paint (John) the cameras started zoning in from all angles.
Most obvious, the stadium camera turned its large lens toward us soon after the game was underway. Abdu and our hotel staff were among those who enjoyed our faces on their TV screens.
A few minutes later my attention was drawn to a middle-aged man behind me. He had out his camera phone (yes, these are just as popular here as in the United States) and was video-taping my friends and I as we laughed our way through the game. I pointed the taping out to Rachel and Asha sitting next to me. They turned and looked to–though I’m pretty sure our looks were those of annoyance,, the man only smiled– unabashedly continuing his filming.
“Lematha?” (Why?) I asked pointing at him.
“Good luck,” he said.
His daughter sitting next to him smiled shyly before slipping between the seats and plopping down next to me.
One of the benefits of sitting on the end?
She told me her name was Abar and she was 8-years-old. She didn’t speak English so my limited Arabic and gestures defined our interaction. She shared salty seeds ( Like pumpkin, but I haven’t seen those here) with me (it’s impolite to refuse drinks and food) I showed her pictures I have of my brother Grayson and sister Cady and she operated my camera like a pro, zooming in and out to take pictures of the soccer players, my friends and I and her brother.
Her Dad, who spoke no more English than she did, intermittently whipped out his camera-phone in an apparent attempt to seal his “good-luck.”
I searched in my bag for some token to give her but didn’t have anything. I considered giving her U.S. coins but was afraid she or her family might take that the wrong way (any thoughts?) She didn’t want the gum I offered.
As the game came to a close (Did you even see any of the goals!?! My friends, considerably more into the game teased me) I gave Abar (pronounced Abiir) my notepad and asked her to write her name. Her dad took it and scrawled in perfect English Abar Emnad along with their phone number the words “Good Luck,” and E Youat–possibly a family name or his?
How do you know that? I asked surprised. He didn’t have the words to explain. A helpful guy a few seats a way chimed in to tell me he learned at school. After trying to have a conversation in English and Arabic with this second man–younger and dressed in a Western-style business suite, I discovered school was one the few English words he knew.
When we left the father handed me yet another slip of paper with his name and number. Was a middle-aged man lusting after me in front of his teenage son and daughter? I’d prefer to think he was just offering friendship in a overcrowded metropolis of 18 million plus. (No one worry, I’ll never call).
Back in our hotel room a few hours later, Asha and I fell asleep composing Arabic sentences out-loud in our beds. Next time insha‘allah (God willing –used by everyone in every context here) I’ll be able to ask a few more questions.