Saturday, November 14, 2009

A soccer match or national hope: Egypt vs. Algeria

By: Dalia Ziada

Today, at 7:30pm, the whole of Egypt will, unusually, turn to silence. It is the calm before the storm; either a storm of anger or storm of joy. It depends on the results of a football match between Egypt and Algeria national soccer teams. For weeks, the exchange of statements and symbols emphasizing pride and patriotism between the peoples of the two competing nations did not stop. Some fans from both sides went extreme and insulted the history and culture of each others’ nations!

In Cairo, flags are hanging on every street and posted everywhere on the Internet. Logically, Egyptians must beat the strong Algerian team by at least three goals to ensure qualification for next year’s World Cup. This is the last chance for the players of the current team to compete for this great honor. Egypt has not been to a World Cup Finals since 1990.

By stepping out of the box of the breath-taking developments of today’s match inside and outside the playground, we can clearly read Egypt’s future. For years, Egypt has been sinking into a dirty pool of sectarian tension between Muslims, Copts, and Bahai’s. All of a sudden, they forgot about these tensions and silently agreed to unify for a week or two unti the end of the match.

Egyptians decided to stop speaking about their daily problems of pollution, political repression and the deteriorated economic situation. Polls and surveys running online and in newspapers now are not concerned with the next president of Egypt any more. They are all about the results Egyptians expect in today’s match.

Egyptians are crazily supporting their national soccer team, despite the fact that according to logical calculations, the Algerians are in a better position and Egyptians might not make it to the World Cup next year. Egyptians, who immigrated to Europe and North America, seeking better opportunities of dignified life are now restoring their confidence in their homeland and are not ashamed of linking their origin to the land of Pharaohs.

An Egyptian-American friend of mine, who left with his family to America 26-years-ago, is visiting Egypt this month. He came particularly to watch the match with his Egyptian friends and celebrate with them the joy and pride of being Egyptian, before and during the match. He told me he never thought he “loves Egypt that much!” He can hardly speak the Egyptian dialect, but he understands almost every Egyptian word because he was brought up by two Egyptian parents and watched Egyptian movies all the time. Yet, the soccer match restored his confidence in his original homeland.

Football is the most popular sport in Egypt. Yet, it was never of such a great impact on all sectors, age groups, gender and class. It is clear that something more valuable and more important is popping up: a hope for a national story of success. This is exactly what encouraged all Egyptians to unify under the banner of one goal and one hope. I think this is a clue that witty political activists and reformists should use to ensure the change they are seeking for Egyptian society. Egyptians are not passive. On the contrary, they are willing and all-the-time ready to take action and move towards a common goal. Egyptians are not hostile. They are not fighting each other day and night over political and religious differences. These are the symptoms of the real disease of depression and lack of common hope.

This is the clue: common national hope. Give Egyptian people a common hope to fight for and they will make it, not only towards the World Cup 2010, but also towards a better economic and political future.