North Africa’s Football War
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 22nd November, 2009
Football matches can be a tribal affair and in several parts of the world the ‘beautiful game’ can turn into a battlefield. In Lebanon, so I am told, many games are played without crowds of supporters in case they break out into sectarian fighting and restart the civil war. In case you think that sounds far-fetched, remember that the Central American states of Honduras and El Salvador did indeed go to war in 1969 in a conflict triggered by their qualifying match for the 1970 FIFA World Cup (though of course there were political issues at stake as well). In an alarming development over the past few days a similar stand-off has been brewing between Algeria and Egypt following their recent 2010 World Cup qualifier replay in Khartoum, Sudan. The Algerians say some Egyptians threw stones at them, while the Egyptians claim Algerian fans set on them. Whatever the truth of the matter, there have been angry demonstrations in both Cairo and Algiers and many injuries. Ambassadors from the two countries have been called in by their respective host governments for a dressing down and the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, has waded into the affair, basically saying that it is normal for people to hit someone who insults their country. All this is a useful distraction for him, of course, to turn people’s minds away from Egypt’s own internal problems and the big question about what will happen when he dies or retires. Meanwhile, the new ’football war is a depressing reminder not only of how tribal soccer can become, but more seriously of how disunited the Arab world is, even within North Africa.