This week we have witnessed an Arabic drama that depicts the media and popular frenzy over a football match between two Arab countries, one which features many heroes but is essentially built upon a flawed premise. One country is an icon of struggle against the Zionist enemy and a pioneer in the field of science and enlightenment i.e. Egypt, while the other country is one that fought against French colonialism and presented the most magnificent model of resistance [to the world] and which has come to be known as the country of the million martyrs i.e. Algeria. However the plot of this drama took a turn for the worse and it became something of a dark comedy. The play-off game which would see the lone Arab representative qualify for the most important sporting event – the FIFA World Cup in South Africa – was transformed into an occasion full of anger and revenge.
This all sparked off when the Algerian national team bus was attacked in Cairo (there have been contradictory reports that Egyptian fans threw stones at the bus smashing its windows, or that the bus was deliberately sabotaged from inside by the Algerian players themselves). What is certain is that the Algerian national team bus did not receive the adequate level of protection because footage clearly shows the bus being chased by some Egyptian fans. However what happened after this game, with Egyptian citizens and property in Algeria being attacked, is something that cannot be justified under any circumstances.
This whole thing [Egyptians being attacked in Algeria] was portrayed as if it was a battle, or a vendetta, and the Algerians were only responding to [prior aggression]. This all took place without the Algerian security authorities intervening, until the entire situation reached its climax with the violent attacks in Khartoum following the end of the play-off match, and the clear [Sudanese] security incompetence.
It goes without saying that choosing Khartoum to host such a game was a bad idea. Sudan is a country in a state of civil war, especially in southern Sudan and the Darfur region; it has its own security problems to worry about. The history of sporting encounters between Egypt and Algeria is full of tension, anxiety, and dramatic confrontations. This meant that a venue more suited to dealing with this fiery match should have been chosen to host the game. South Africa would have been a much better choice, because it is already gearing up to host the World Cup, and recently hosted the Confederations Cup.
Egypt dealt with the events that took place with emotional exaggeration and unjustifiable emotional incitement on the part of some; this led to a public flare-up, and the game being depicted as if it were the most important event in the world and the ultimate “To Be or Not To Be” game. This was an actual headline used by an Egyptian newspaper to outline the importance of the game to the whole nation. This is the reason why the Egyptians were so tense and on edge.
As for Algeria, unfortunately, these events confirm a typical pattern of violence, especially in light of the violent events experienced by the country on account of the fighting between the extremist groups [in Algeria] and the ruling regime.
The public reached such conclusions based upon what they have observed on television, and the facts that they analyze. The bridge of Arab interaction is one fraught with cracks and flawed slogans.
The latest Algerian – Egyptian drama reminds us of the disputes that we have seen during the invasion of Kuwait and the Nasserite period, as well as the Syrian – Lebanese disputes, and the North African dispute with the Gulf States. These are deep-rooted grudges, and as long as we continue to address them in a simplistic manner, they will continue to occur and create the tensions that everybody witnessed. This is something that will persist until such grudges are exorcised from the Arab world.