After heated words and blows were exchanged between Egyptians and Algerians, the dust appears to be settling in the aftermath of the recent Egypt-Algeria soccer matches. Politicians speak of reconciliation, although tension still remains.
On the surface, Egyptian and Algerian relations appear to be improving after the disastrous incidents surrounding the Egypt-Algeria soccer matches, reports Dina Ezzat at Al-Ahram Weekly.
Throughout the month of November, qualifying soccer matches between Egypt and Algeria have been tarnished with violent incidents as the two Arab countries competed for a spot in the 2010 FIFA World Cup. While the Egyptian team prevailed in Cairo, Algeria was the ultimate victor in Khartoum, Sudan.
Aggressive rhetoric preceded the games, as both Egyptians and Algerians engaged in vicious comments through the media. “For weeks, Egyptian and Algerian fans engaged in cyberwars, taunting each other in online forums, trading doctored team photos, provocative homemade songs, and YouTube videos,” writes Ursula Lindsey for Foreign Policy.
Lindsey recounts an inflammatory comment by Amr Adeeb, anchor of "Al-Qahira Al-Youm (Cairo Today).” The night before the match in Cairo, Adeeb stated, “What annoys me is the way the Algerians talk ... this provocation, this conceit ... Why do the Algerians hate us so much? We supported them during their million-martyr revolution; we sent them teachers to teach them Arabic.”
Algerians also engaged in the taunting, using Egypt's controversial relationship with Israel to degrade their opponent. Before the games started, Algerian hackers installed an image of the Star of David over the Egyptian flag on the teams’ official website. An Algerian newspaper also referred to Cairo's stadium as the “Tel Aviv stadium.” According to Gulf News, Algerian and Egyptian youths composed rap songs demonizing their opponents as “villains who must always lose.”
The rivalry was not limited to heated words-- injuries among athletes and fans alike were reported throughout the matches, although Algerian and Egyptian sources offered drastically different accounts. Lindsey notes that the Algerian newspaper Echorouk posted a video claiming that an Algerian rapper's brother was killed in Egypt, however the video was apparently a hoax.
The furor over the matches also extended to the political arena. Alaa Mubarak, son of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, used television talk shows to complain about the behavior of Algerians in Khartoum, denouncing their “terrorist” conduct. Escalation of the tension following the match in Khartoum lead Egypt to withdraw its ambassador from Algeria and forced Libya's leader, Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, to mediate between the quarreling nations.
Several Egyptians began to blame their own government for exploiting Egypt's soccer defeat for its own political gain, writes Michael Slackman at The New York Times. Among those critics is best-selling Egyptian author Alaa Al-Aswany. He notes that “the leader who uses power and oppresses his citizens and forges their will in elections cannot convince anyone when he speaks about the dignity of the citizens.”
Foreign Policy's Ursula Lindsey also attributes the tension to Egyptian and Algerian government officials. She claims that “authorities could almost certainly have put the lid on this incitement, if they'd wanted to.”
Dina Ezzat from Al-Ahram Weekly shares the same sentiment. She attributes the end of the “media war” to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Algerian President Abdel-Aziz Boutaflika exerting their influence over TV channels and newspapers, thus putting a stop to the fiery rhetoric.
It now seems that both countries are moving past the soccer feud. Recently, Hosni Mubarak said, “Algeria is a sister state and I want no problems with [it].” Algerian presidential advisor Mohamed Barrah called upon the “joint will of Egyptians and Algerians” to help improve bilateral relations.
In a similar attempt, the Algerian Oil Minister Chekib Khelil announced that both nations will set up a joint oil company, reports Agence France-Presse. “You could say we are looking forward” to improved ties between the two countries, Khelil added optimistically.
Despite the appearance of reconciliation, people from both countries continue to take indirect shots at each other.
An Egyptian senior state official commented, “We never wanted to get into a confrontation with Algeria ... but we could not have ignored public anger over the incidents that followed the game in Khartoum.”
One Algerian civil servant, admitted, “Yes, it is true that some of our fans attacked your fans in Khartoum. But even so, do you think that this [is] a reason for your media to refer to our people as the nation of the 'one million whores'?”