Football: the drug of the nation?

It’s been days now. Days since Egypt was defeated by Algeria in its last chance to play in the 2010 World Cup. But Egypt’s not letting go.

Even though Ireland is calling for a rematch from a goal handballed in by a French player who admitted his deed, and the whole European soccer scene is plagued by allegations of widespread match-fixing and subsequent healthy but unusual betting wins, Egypt is still shaking its fist at its North African rivals.

Even I am getting hate Skypes because I’m in Cairo, with someone skyping me and my mother bad names. After giving me a serve in Arabic because I rejected the call, he beat me to the ‘block’ button, spraying venom by text then declaring “iam algerien”. How rude! How badly spelt!

The football channels are full of news of Algerian youths rioting in Marseilles, of stories (quickly disproven) of 11 Algerian deaths in Egypt, of reports of Egypt fans threatened in Sudan, where the game was held. Footage of Algerian fans waving knives (so much for the 15,000 Sudanese riot police) as they chanted in the stadium are flooding the net, and on Friday, what started as a peaceful protest outside the Algerian embassy in leafy (well, as leafy as you’ll get in Egypt) Zamalek ended in yet another riot.

“They are not our Arab brothers,” say my football friends. “We have ended diplomatic ties with them.”

It might come as a surprise to some of you that there are some people in Egypt who are not into football. “At least we’ll talk about something else,” one said to me. Yeah, like bread prices. As my lovely Arabic teacher pointed out, Egypt is full of families who can’t afford their daily bread, which has doubled in the past year to what equate as 12 cents for a plain round of aish balady (brown bread – the processed white is, of course, more expensive again). Instead, they’re reliant on the government bread, at half the price and, apparently, half as palatable.

It’s true football is a drug. I would have said before yesterday, that it is a drug that’s cheaper and healthier than, say, Egypt’s rough and nasty budget drug of choice, bango, which is famously trafficked from the Sinai. But if the alternative is the severance of diplomatic ties with a North African neighbour and fellow Arab country, makes you start thinking otherwise, doesn’t it?

(ps: apologies to The Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy for bastardising the title)

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