CAIRO (AFP) – President Hosni Mubarak vowed on Saturday that Egypt will be firm in dealing with attacks on its nationals, amid hot tempers and a diplomatic spat with Algeria over a World Cup football showdown.
“Egypt will not be lax with those who harm the dignity of its sons,” he told cheering MPs in parliament.
“The welfare of our citizens abroad is the responsibility of the country. We look after their rights and reject violations and transgressions against them,” he said in his first apparent reference to the diplomatic row with Algiers.
The row has erupted between Algeria and Egypt since a bus carrying the Algerian football team was stoned in Cairo last week and Egyptians were attacked by Algerian fans in Khartoum and Algiers.
Egypt twice summoned the Algerian ambassador in Cairo and on Thursday recalled its envoy in Algiers.
The dispute broke out ahead of a crunch match staged in Cairo on November 14, after Egyptian fans had stoned a bus carrying the Algerian players on its way from the airport.
Egypt beat Algeria 2-0, leading to a play-off in Khartoum for a place at next year’s World Cup finals in South Africa.
Busses carrying Algerian fans were stoned after the Cairo match and fans clashed outside hotels housing the Algerians, leaving at least 20 Algerian fans and 12 Egyptians wounded.
The attack led to reprisals in Algeria against Egyptian homes and businesses.
Protesters in Algiers attacked 15 offices of a local subsidiary of Egypt’s Orascom Telecom, prompting the firm to evacuate its 25 Egyptian employees and their families, and twice ransacked the Algiers offices of EgyptAir.
After the play-off in Khartoum on Wednesday, won by Algeria, Algerian fans attacked busses carrying Egyptians who were heading to Khartoum airport for the return home.
The media of both countries have traded invective and circulated rumours of Egyptian and Algerian deaths despite denials by both governments.
In a rare public statement, Mubarak’s elder son Alaa who was at the Khartoum game slammed the Algerian fans as “mercenaries” and said the Egyptian team had faced “terror” in Khartoum.
“There appears to be something strange in the composition of Algeria — it has spite and malice towards Egypt,” he was quoted by state news agency MENA as telling a television sports programme.
Reports of the attacks in Khartoum, which Egyptian Health Minister Hatem el-Gabali said lightly wounded 21 fans, enraged Egyptians.
An angry protest early on Friday outside the Algerian embassy resulted in clashes between demonstrators and riot police protecting the mission, leaving 35 policemen injured.
Algiers on Friday summoned Egypt’s ambassador to protest at attacks on Algeria by the Egyptian media, APS news agency reported.
It said Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci had expressed “incomprehension and major concern” at what he called “the escalating media campaign” in Egypt.