Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Football and Hate Wars | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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I joked with one of the Egyptian security guards of the building where I live, asking him if the crisis with Algeria was over. This question wiped the smile off his face as he began to cast a series of accusations [towards Algeria] that ended with him saying “No way, the only solution is to sever diplomatic ties.”

Examples of the level that the Egyptian-Algerian crisis has reached are shocking. Reactions have intensified from verbal abuse and violence, to the threat of severing ties and cutting investment. Furthermore, there are even cases of divorce, and athletes with dual nationality being disqualified [from competition], and it is likely that things will only get worse.

It seems that we will witness, analyze, and talk about the repercussions of this football game that resulted in chaos and violence, and caused a political crisis and vehement media war between Egypt and Algeria, and it does not look like this is something that is going to end anytime soon.

Everybody has had their say on this “war” including the politicians, the athletes, and those in the entertainment industry. However the real stars of this carnival of hatred and those who incited this public anger, unfortunately, are members of the press and media. Well-known journalists and media figures [in both countries] stooped to the level of uttering obscenities and insults; insulting the history, language, and culture of the other country. Fervour and fanaticism have flared up in both countries and there is no sign that this will be contained in the near future.

The Arabs – both Arab [political] regimes and Arab societies – have a long history of exchanging accusations [with others] and inciting fanaticism through words and actions. Just a quick look at what happened between Syria and Lebanon, Iraq and Kuwait in the past few years, as well as in some other Arab countries with regards to bottled-up animosity, sectarian and chauvinistic feelings, and bitter clashes and violence on both sides, allows us to see how fertile the Arab world is to being drawn towards mass hysteria, and the violence following a football match is one of the least manifestations of this.

Some people rightly believe that the blatant inflammatory role played by certain satellite television channels and newspapers and the aggressive and provocative language that they used resulted in tensions that had been created by years and years of crises in Arab society boiling over. These tensions had been building up due to the erosion of freedom of expression [in the Arab world] not to mention an increase in marginalization and poverty. Politics also played a role in causing this anger over a football match to boil over and to be transformed into a battlefield where pent-up anger that had only intensified over the years was released.

There can be no doubt that the media has worked towards highlighting a lot of political crises in the past, and at times, the media may have even doubled the impact that these crises would otherwise have had. However the strict control that ruling regimes have over the media and the press has always been enough to rapidly contain such excesses without actually treating their underlying cause. This containment policy aims to delay the explosion, rather than defuse it. The latest crisis allowed bottled-up anger to surface against the backdrop of a football match; however the slogans being raised were political, and their end result was hatred and mutual rejection.

The media was unleashed to play its game, inciting feelings over a sporting event, rather than politics. Those who incited these tensions thought that it would not hurt to provoke this anger, as the matter would not go beyond the emotional reaction of some football fans. It seems that investing patriotic sentiments in sport has become the job of the ruling regimes in order to heal internal rifts…and this is something that both the media and [those] with pent-up anger got caught up in.