Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—Al-Ahly striker Ahmed Abdul Zaher apologized to Egyptians on Tuesday for celebrating a goal with the so-called Rabaa salute, which has become a symbol of solidarity with ousted Islamist President Mohamed Mursi.
Egypt’s Al-Ahly Football Club suspended Zaher from next month’s FIFA Club World Cup competition in Morocco and are seeking to sell him at the next transfer window. The striker was celebrating a goal in the African Champions League final in Cairo. The four-fingered salute is raised by supporters of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi in remembrance of a military raid against Cairo’s Rabaa Al-Adawiya protest camp in August which led to a large number of deaths.
The Egyptian striker has seen a quick reversal of fortunes this week, from helping Al-Ahly secure its eighth African Champions League trophy on Sunday, to receiving sharp criticism and exclusion for his contentious celebration. Zaher scored the second of Al-Ahly’s goals in a 2-0 victory against South Africa’s Orlando Pirates, securing the Egyptian club a 3-1 aggregate victory.
“In an official statement today, Abdul Zaher apologized to Al-Ahly management and all Egyptian football fans for displaying the ‘Rabaa’ sign,” the player’s agent Mohamed Shiha said on Tuesday.
In comments to Ahram Online, Shiha said: “The player didn’t intend to offend anyone. His behavior was only to show solidarity with one of his friends who died in Rabaa.”
For his part, Abdul Zaher was quoted by Egypt’s football website FilGoal as saying: “Yes I raised the sign of Rabaa… but I didn’t mean political excitement to any one side or fan. All I meant to do was to remember the dead, whether in Rabaa, any other citizen and even policeman.”
Al-Ahly’s technical manger Mohamed Youssef announced that the striker’s celebration will be investigated by the club, while Egypt’s national football federation said Abdul Zaher will be banned from all competitions until the investigation is completed.
The Egyptian club issued an official statement on Tuesday announcing that “in light of the club’s principles, its firm rejection of mixing politics with sports, its adherence to the regulations of FIFA…and the player’s confession that he had made a mistake and that he would accept any punishment, the club has decided…to suspend the player and ban him from next month’s Club World Cup, deprive him of the Champions League triumph rewards, place him up for sale in the January transfer window.”
Egypt’s Sports Minister Taher Abu Zeid initially sought to play down the incident. Speaking in a television interview following the match, he said: “Al-Ahly’s Champions League triumph is bigger than Abdul Zaher’s sign. This does not matter, what matters is that Al-Ahly won the title.”
“Al-Ahly is a patriotic club that was always at the heart of any revolution,” he added.
However in later comments, Abu Zeid said that the player’s “grave insult” must not go unpunished. The Egyptian Sports Minister added that he was confident that both Al-Ahly and the Egyptian Football Association would take the appropriate action against Abdul Zaher.
Abdul Zaher is not the first Egyptian sportsman to find themselves in hot water for political reasons. Egyptian kung fu champion Mohammed Youssef was stripped of a gold medal after showing support for ousted President Mohammed Mursi earlier this month. Youssef was photographed at a tournament in Russia wearing a T-shirt bearing the Rabaa sign.
“Kung Fu player Mohamed Youssef will be recalled from Russia due to his behavior,” Egypt Kung Fu Association executive officer Gamal El-Jazzar informed Al-Ahram newspaper.
“He will also be banned from representing Egypt in the coming Kung Fu World Championship that kicks off on 27 November in Kuala Lumpur,” he added.