Middle East

Aboutrika: The unlikely reunion of an exiled Egyptian icon and his former crew

“After 4 years of depriving me of my go to to Al Ahly, destiny has led the crew to play on the Membership World Cup in Doha, and I will likely be near them.

These had been the phrases of Egyptian soccer icon Mohamed Aboutrika in December, reflecting on the desirability of being near his former crew once more, years after being added to the Egyptian state. terrorism list and compelled into exile in Qatar.

Aboutrika commented on Al Ahly’s conquer rival Cairo Zamalek within the African Champions League remaining final yr, which confirmed his place on the Membership World Cup in Qatar. The world event, which kicked off on Thursday, sees the winners of all the foremost continental competitions compete for the perfect membership crew on the earth.

‘Aboutrika continues to be beloved and revered inside and outdoors Egypt – which might be why they proceed to see him as a risk’

– Mostafa Mohamed, sports activities journalist

The African Champions’ marketing campaign started with a relentless 1-0 victory over host nation crew Al Duhail. They’re now making ready for a semi-final in opposition to European title holders Bayern Munich on Monday in one of many greatest matches in Al Ahly’s current historical past.

Aboutrika isn’t any stranger to the competitors itself, having helped the Crimson Giants win a historic bronze medal and completed because the 2006 prime scorer in Japan.

However for the person adored by hundreds of thousands of Egyptians, might the long-awaited reunion along with his beloved crew become such an in depth case and but so far-off?

Aboutrika is extensively thought to be the best participant in Al Ahly historical past.

Between 2004 and 2014, the striker guided the membership to seven notable home league titles and 5 African Champions League triumphs, scoring over 150 targets within the course of. For the Egyptian nationwide crew, Aboutrika scored 38 occasions in 100 appearances, serving to the Pharaohs to Africa Cup of Nations glory in 2006 and 2008. He scored the successful objective within the latter’s remaining, strengthening thus its standing as a nationwide icon.

He has additionally gained a number of particular person accolades, together with beating Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto’o to be topped the BBC African Footballer of the 12 months in 2008. The 42-year-old has usually been thought of among the finest footballers. by no means have performed in Europe.

‘Forbidden’ from the visiting crew

The irony isn’t misplaced on some {that a} man reputed to not have left Egypt on the peak of his footballing talents can now not return to his residence nation.

After Aboutrika’s feedback on the ‘destiny’ of Al Ahly’s arrival in Doha, which had been made in his function as an skilled for Qatari broadcaster beIN Sports activities, enthusiasm has grown on social media Egyptians a couple of memorable assembly on the membership’s coaching camp in Doha. Sadly for hopeful followers, hypothesis was rapidly put to mattress with a press release on nationwide tv.

Mo Salah and Aboutrika in Egypt: between the love of the individuals and the fist of the regime

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“Aboutrika won’t be able to go to the Crimson Giants delegation because of the circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic,” stated Khaled Murtaja, board member of Al Ahly, in an interview with broadcaster ON TV this week. final.

“We keep in a lodge like a jail. It’s forbidden for anybody to enter or go away the lodge. We go from the lodge to the coaching and there’s no type of mixing with anybody.

Egyptian sports activities and enterprise journalist Mostafa Mohamed was not satisfied that the pandemic was the one rationalization.

“The Covid-19 restrictions and the strict system of medical bubbles surrounding gamers and officers collaborating within the event are a sensible excuse for what may in any other case have been a sticky state of affairs for Al Ahly,” he informed Center East Eye.

“The political state of affairs, of which Aboutrika and the membership are very a lot conscious, would most likely not have allowed Aboutrika to fulfill the crew in any official capability throughout their keep in Qatar.”

Nationwide hero on and off the pitch

The political fallout between the Egyptian state and certainly one of its greatest soccer stars started greater than a decade in the past.

Within the mid-2000s, beneath the reign of long-time former President Hosni Mubarak, die-hard Al Ahly followers, referred to as Ultras Ahlawy, grew to become each a gaggle of soccer supporters and a rising subculture of anti-establishment and anti-government activism.

Journalist and creator James Montague, whose newest guide 1312: Among the many ultras tells the story of how excessive followers world wide have been remodeling soccer and politics, assembly and profiling the Ahlawy group since its inception in 2007.

“ He may not have been the loudest voice, however he at all times led by instance and supported the individuals ”

– James Montague, journalist and creator

“Earlier than the 2011 revolution, there was no idea of mass group or activism; all the things was crushed by Mubarak. However within the ultras, there was a ready-made youth riot with expertise in retaliating in opposition to the police and authorities, ”Montague informed MEE.

Ultras of bitter rivals Al Ahly and Zamalek put apart their variations and joined forces to march by the 1000’s via Tahrir Sq., enjoying a key function within the overthrow of Mubarak, whose 30-year reign has ended brutally in February 2011 on the top of what got here to be referred to as the Arab Spring.

“Aboutrika was a key determine in all of this,” Montague stated. “It wasn’t simply Al Ahly followers, he was beloved throughout Egypt and the Center East. He may not have been the loudest voice, however he at all times led by instance and supported the individuals.

In 2008, Aboutrika gained the respect of many after being reprimanded by soccer officers on the Africa Cup of Nations for revealing a T-shirt beneath his jersey that learn “Sympathize with Gaza”, in protest in opposition to a Israeli blockade on the area.

He later said in an interview he could be buried within the T-shirt.

He expressed his assist for the motion in Tahrir Sq., supporting Mohamed Morsi, affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, who grew to become the nation’s first democratically elected president.

‘Canceled’ by the state

Maybe an important occasion in Aboutrika’s life befell in February 2012.

Following an away recreation in opposition to Al Masry within the coastal city of Port Mentioned, Al Ahly supporters had been violently attacked by supporters of the native crew armed with golf equipment, stones, bottles. , knives and fireworks. A number of exit doorways from the stadium had been locked, leaving outdoors supporters trapped inside, many dying in a stampede. A complete of 74 individuals misplaced their lives, together with a fan who died within the arms of Aboutrika within the locker room.

The Port Mentioned bloodbath was largely blamed on the safety forces for permitting armed supporters to enter the stadium and stand prepared because the violence unfolded. Many imagine the incident was a deliberate act of revenge by Mubarak sympathizers in opposition to the Ahlawys for his or her function within the rebellion.

Aboutrika visited the households of every of the victims and have become an emblem of their battle for justice. On a short mortgage at Emirati membership Baniyas in the direction of the top of his profession, he wore the quantity 72 jersey in honor of those that died.

“It’s nonetheless not identified whether or not there was collusion within the Port Mentioned bloodbath, however there was definitely incompetence on the a part of the authorities,” Montague stated. “It was one of many first plans for the top of the revolution.”

When navy normal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi took energy in a navy coup in 2013, the Ahlawy had been dissolved and all different types of anti-government group had been suppressed. It wasn’t lengthy earlier than Aboutrika additionally grew to become a goal.

al ahly al duhail fan sign
A fan holds up an indication honoring Ultras Ahlawy throughout Al Ahly’s match with Al Duhail on February 4 (AFP)

In 2015, his property was seized, after a tourism enterprise he helped arrange was accused of being linked to the banned Muslim Brotherhood – an allegation the soccer star denies. Two years later, he was added to the state’s terrorism checklist, once more for suspected ties to the Brotherhood.

“One of many issues that may be very clear in Sisi’s Egypt is the smoothness of their pores and skin,” Montague stated. “It’s a aspect of each dictatorship and of each autocratic regime. Any signal of something in opposition to their narrative, particularly of a robust character, isn’t tolerated.

“We additionally noticed it in Turkey with Hakan Sukur,” he famous, referring to a former Turkish soccer star. “Like Aboutrika, it was banned and canceled – which is actual cancel tradition – and that is actually unhappy to see. “

Sukur, who stays the Turkish nationwide crew’s prime scorer, lives in exile in the US after Ankara seized all of his property on expenses of ties to Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish Islamic scholar as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused of an tried coup in 2016.

Caught within the center between regional rivals

Aboutrika lived in exile in Doha for a number of years and constructed a profitable profession as a family identify within the beIN Sports activities studio, commonly reviewing video games from prime European leagues. He was additionally concerned in selling the group in Qatar of soccer’s most prestigious occasion, the 2022 FIFA World Cup, as an envoy of the Supreme Committee for Supply and Legacy.

Al Ahly’s go to comes at an essential second for Doha and for Cairo, simply weeks after the signing of an settlement to revive diplomatic relations. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain ended their joint blockade of Qatar in January, three and a half years after accusing the then rival state of interfering of their inner affairs and selling terrorism – accusations Doha denied.

As Qatar blockade ends, soccer diplomacy with Egypt begins

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At such a delicate time, a gathering between Al Ahly and Aboutrika might show to be controversial.

“Qatar is extraordinarily astute politically. They know that in the event that they do an amazing track and dance with Aboutrika through the Membership World Cup it could possibly be thought of inflammatory, ”Montague stated.

“Small gestures could be disproportionate. With the immense amount of cash Qatar has spent on the World Cup and the political capital they’ve constructed up, they will not need something to get in the way in which.

Aboutrika himself most likely would not wish to make a fuss, says journalist Mohamed. “He is well-known for his modesty and reserved demeanor, and he most likely would not have needed to overshadow the makes an attempt by Al Ahly gamers to put in writing their very own story.

However whereas the previous footballer may not make a track and dance to his presence, his followers actually are. Throughout the conflict between Al Duhail and Al Ahly within the Qatari city of Al-Rayyan final week, supporters sang the well-known track “Ya Trika” within the twenty second minute, celebrating their hero who wore the quantity 22, for a lot to the delight of many returning Egyptians. .

“This gesture is not going to have gone unnoticed by the Egyptian authorities, nevertheless it is not going to have stunned them both,” Mohamed stated.

“Aboutrika continues to be beloved and revered inside and outdoors Egypt – which might be why they proceed to view him as a risk. His standing as a determine of admiration stays largely unchanged inside Egyptian society at massive, which has not forgotten the enjoyment he introduced them on the pitch and the respect he earned for it.

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