Egypt and FIFA


First off, congratulations to the USA for winning the Women’s World Cup. But with corruption allegations throwing FIFA into a tailspin, here are some interesting tidbits from Egypt. First, on the nation’s resistance to corruption, said to cost it the 2010 World Cup. From Ahram Online:

Egypt refused to pay a $7 million bribe to ex-FIFA Vice-President Jack Warner to help Egypt win its bid to host the 2010 World Cup, former sports minister Aley Eddine Helal said on Thursday.

Egypt dramatically lost their bid to host the 2010 tournament, after failing to obtain a single vote in the 2004 poll for it, with South Africa beating competition from Morocco to win hosting rights of the football’s most prestigious tournament.

“I did not imagine that FIFA was so corrupt,” Helal told ONTV programme Manchet on Thursday. “Jack Warner demanded $7 million before the voting.”

“Egypt’s FA president El-Dahshori Harb met with the FIFA official in the United Arab Emirates and informed me that he wanted a $7 million bribe.”

“I told the EFA [Egyptian Football Association] president that Egypt could not participate in such a crime.”

There are mixed reports about corruption in Egypt, some showing improvement, one saying it is the worst in the world. But in this case, it seems, Egypt comes out clean.

But perhaps not here, though the charge is incredible. Ahram Online reports on the domestic league:

Ismaily, Egypt’s third-most successful club, want rivals Ahly stripped of the 2009 Premier League title following a corruption scandal that has engulfed world governing body FIFA over the past nine days.

Ahly defeated Ismaily 1-0 in a rare playoff six years ago to win the title, concluding the only exciting league race of the past decade and depriving their bitter foes of their first triumph since 2002.

Ismaily came within touching distance of the title on the final day after Ahly had scored two late goals to defeat El-Geish and force a decider, but in the end Ahly prevailed, thanks to a brilliant header from Angolan striker Flavio Amado.

“Ismaily demand an investigation into the 2009 league competition because of FIFA’s corruption,” the club, who were the first Egyptian side to win the African Champions League in 1969, said in a statement on their official website.

“The main reason for our loss was an illegitimate Ahly goal that was allowed to stand by the referee in their last league match against Geish … and we also want to know who was responsible for appointing a hardly known Spanish referee for the playoff.

“This Spanish referee also disallowed a goal by [midfielder] Mohamed Hommos against Ahly.

“After the recent discovery of the FIFA corruption saga, we will send a fax to the Egyptian Football Association to demand that we be awarded the 2009 title.

“If our demand is not met, we will file a complaint with the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” the club added, though it did not clarify how their loss against Ahly could be linked to FIFA’s corruption.

But not all believe Egypt is corruption free:

The Egyptian Football Association (EFA) have played down allegations by a Ghana FA member claiming that they offered a $1-million bribe to fix a 2014 World Cup qualifier.

Board member Kofi Manu was quoted by radio station Asempa FM on Wednesday as praising his boss Kwesi Nyantakyi for refusing “a $1-million inducement from fixers to throw the last match of the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifier in favour of the Pharaohs”.

Egypt has denied the allegation. They lost the match 6-1.

FIFA scandals are brewing around the world; what will happen in Egypt next?


Friday Prayers for Egypt: Eid Disappointment, and Disappointment?

Flag Cross Quran


The Eid holiday should be one of rejoicing. Abraham’s dutiful obedience in sacrificing his son is replaced with elation as a substitute is given. Muslim families slaughter a sheep in celebration, distributing a third to the poor, a third to neighbors and relations, and enjoying a feast with the rest.

But this Eid opened with severe disappointment, if ultimately trivial compared to the state of the nation. There is fear it may close with disappointment as well, though far from trivial for the future of the nation.

Egypt has not participated in the World Cup since 1990, despite unparalleled success in the African Cup. This year all that stood in their way was a home-and-home series with Ghana. On the first day of the Eid, away, the Pharaohs lost 6-1. Their hopes are all but shattered.

The final days of the Eid brought a significant statement. A leader in al-Gama’a al-Islamiya and a staunch supporter of Morsi declared a political solution to Egypt’s divisions would soon emerge after the holiday. Negotiations were ongoing between the Muslim Brotherhood and the army, he said, with both realizing they cannot defeat the other. A compromise could be in the works.

God, perhaps this is the sensibility and breakthrough Egypt needs. Perhaps not. It is this latter thought that will have millions of Egyptians disappointed should it come to pass.

Non-Islamists have rejoiced, God. The nation is finally rid of the poisonous Brotherhood.

Islamists have fumed, God. The nation was usurped by the murderous army.

So if instead they cut a deal, what will become of the partisans who rallied on both sides? Can they accept their fervor was engineered and used as a negotiating tactic?

God, in whatever side is right, wherever there is right, bring transparency and justice. At the same time, bring dialogue and consensus. Holding together all these principles, sort out the details in fairness and respect.

But heal the souls of Egyptians torn asunder in this dispute. Honor their zeal, but assuage their anger. Reveal whatever is ugly in their pursuit of Egypt’s best.

Egypt could have benefitted from World Cup joy, God, but your providence did not see fit to yield it. Maybe the panacea would only mask the hurt the nation still suffers. Give them a real unity soon.

Perhaps the Eid was this beginning. Egyptians prayed together in squares and mosques throughout the country. Few tensions were reported. For a moment all was quiet.

May it last, God. Pursue all criminals. But may the good people of Egypt find ways to transcend their differences in a spirit of peace and humility.

Many Egyptians have been willing to sacrifice all they have, even their lives, for the triumph of a particular vision. Give them a fitting substitute, God. Give them all reason to rejoice.



The World Cup and Objectivity: Scenes from the US Defeat

It has now been a few days since the US World Cup defeat against Ghana. While it is only about now that I could bring myself to write about it, recovering from the disappointment of shattered dreams, I must also apologize for opening old wounds for those of you now similarly recovered. Well, I’m sure there are a few-to-many non-soccer readers of this blog who wonder what the fuss is about. For you, hopefully the cultural scene will be entertaining; for those still mourning, all I can say is that we mourn together. Ah, the sting of what could have been.

As mentioned last post, to watch the game I went to downtown Cairo, meeting up with friends who live there. Maadi, the affluent suburb in which we live is a far cry from the vibrancy of city life. Here, while I have enjoyed watching matches in the local coffee shops frequented only by Egyptians, there has never been fervor in the audience, which has ranged from five or six to a high of forty or so, for the England-Algeria match. Interested fans, yes; cheering for goals, sort of. The scene is one of subdued approbation, perhaps akin to that of an accompanying friend at a pee-wee soccer game. “Nice job, kid.”

Downtown was entirely different. I was met at the metro by my friend, who led me through the busy streets for several minutes. We passed by many shops with TVs tuned to the game, and not a few cafés which were starting to fill up. We, however, were heading to the big screen TV in the open air, found recently by my friend, who enjoyed also the inexpensive tea and hookah.

When we turned the corner we entered a wide promenade, and the masses emerged. Every few feet I expected us to stop, as we passed by open-air cafés with large TV screens. Midway through we reached our goal. This café, wherever the physical location may have been, had arranged perhaps two hundred chairs around a projection system casting the game on the outside wall of a building. As we took our seat I scanned the whole promenade – surely there were several hundred to a thousand people gathered to watch the match. Of course, this was the US vs. Ghana – not exactly a blockbuster fixture unless you care for one of the teams. I didn’t bother to watch Japan-Paraguay, for example. Imagine what the crowd could have been for the England-Germany or Spain-Portugal match. Having not yet returned, I cannot say. It is a bit of a hassle to get downtown, and I enjoyed these matches from Maadi.

As game time approached, however, we discovered that we were among partisans. There were scattered other Americans here and there, and a few from our office met up to watch with us. The Africans, though, were present in the dozens. A number cheered at the close of the Ghanaian national anthem, but everyone erupted with their first goal less than a quarter hour into the game. We were outnumbered, and greatly.

They may have been Africans of any nationality, but they were supporting the lone African team to emerge from group play. The Egyptians who filled in the rest of the crowd rediscovered their African identity as well, and cheered wildly as we sunk dejectedly into our seats following yet another early deficit.

The crowd quieted as the Americans eventually took the better of play and converted a penalty kick to tie the game. They were quite nervous as we pressed for the winner denied repeatedly by good goaltending or profligate finishing. In extra time they found cause to cheer again, having been gifted their second goal, and held out happily to victory. One voice cried out in English, in an accent I couldn’t place, “Good bye America!” and I felt like spitting water in his face – whoever, wherever he was. Amazing the evil that sport can summon.

We left walking back with our friends, some of whom were European sympathizers, who may have felt it odd to watch Americans lament the outcome of a soccer game, but offered comfort nonetheless. I was too downtrodden to really notice the reaction of the African / Egyptian crowd, so I am afraid I cannot report. This is the problem, I suppose, when a journalist gets involved in the stories he covers. Objectivity goes out the window.

It is true, though, that the episode gains the touch of humanity often missing in the nightly news. In our work I feel like a pseudo-journalist; I must tell the story, but I have a goal beyond objectivity. We wish to aid understanding and peace building both here in Egypt and in intercultural relations in general. You are free and invited to question the descriptions given above, or in any other reports offered. Yet at the same time, please receive the dual assurance: I will not manipulate stories, and I will strive to care about our subjects, investing myself wherever possible. If either one of these is neglected, then why bother at all?

A final note, to return to the soccer narrative: Looking back, I can identify two premonitions that tugged at me as the game was about to begin. First, I do not generally consider myself a patriot, but I increasingly coordinated my clothing with US colors as the tournament went on. That evening I wore my red t-shirt only to find that it was Ghana wearing nearly the exact same color. I thought of removing it, but propriety intervened. Should I have done otherwise?

Second, our oldest daughter has always had difficulty pronouncing the name of her Uncle Aaron. In her parlance, he becomes ‘Uncle Gyan’. Gyan, though, is the name of the Ghanaian forward, and the player who tallied the winning goal. Why did this thought enter my head in the minutes before kickoff? What cosmic effect did the failure to exorcize it have on the outcome of the game? Was it worsened by the fact I remained shirted? Amazing the lunacy that sport can summon.

So, another four year World Cup cycle awaits. Ecstasy to agony is the story for all but the champion, including the legions of fans who fall by the wayside. Fortunately, the metro stays open until 1:00am during the summer, so the miserable ride home cost only eighteen cents rather than a four dollar taxi fare. Egypt is a wonderful country, even if their soccer fans side against us. Alas.


Soccer, Twitter, and Electricity

With one day to go regarding the USA World Cup match tomorrow afternoon, I thought I would give a short summary of our experience with the last game, a last minute 1-0 triumph over Algeria.

I wish there was a lot to say. There could have been on two fronts.

On the first we are at fault. Having attended and reported on the England-Algeria match from a local coffee shop, I would have been curious to see who local Egyptians rooted for in the US-Algeria game. Would they finally find solidarity with their North African cousins, so that soccer animosity be overcome in antipathy against the United States?

I cannot say. A 5:00pm local start time suggested we end the day a little early at work, and my English colleague and I organized an office viewing at a local trendy restaurant, with few Egyptians present. It was a great place to watch the game – big screen TV and surround sound – but little cultural flavor.

On the second front the power grid is to blame. Our group from work, plus Julie and the girls and one other wife, numbered about ten, with seven Americans, but all pulling for the Yanks. For those who watched, you know the game was tense, and all were riveted to the screen.

(A drama reducing pause and clarification is needed, though. Shortly after intermission Julie and the girls went down to play on the playground, and were joined later by the other wife. So, not all were riveted. Even so, this was a good sign, for the US comeback against Slovenia commenced once my family similarly descended for the slides and swings.)

With about twenty minutes to play, the power went out. This is a frequent summer occurrence in Maadi. There is a disproportionately higher middle to upper class population, both foreigner and Egyptian, and the air conditioner use will overload the power grid, which will blackout a neighborhood or apartment building from anywhere to five minutes to an hour or longer.

This was not to be of the five minute variety.

Fortunately, Egypt is better equipped in another variety of technology. One colleague had a Blackberry and was able to pull in from the wide 3G network updates on his Twitter account. As the clock ticked, we stared at the black screen, waiting for resumption, but also getting 140 character status reports on the ever increasing missed American chances. Huddled mostly silent around a cell phone, we also lamented the loss of the air conditioning, trapped inside in 100 degree heat.

As all was lost, suddenly a colleague received a phone call from a friend informing of the winning goal. As we wondered in disbelief if it was a prank, seconds later Twitter confirmed the victory. Our cheer roared, informing the rest of the clientele about the result, and all went home happy, if bittersweet at missing the classic moment. Still, it is a story to be remembered forever.

Tomorrow I will bypass the restaurant in favor of a downtown café. With the US game not starting until 9:30pm local time, it will not be a family affair. Instead, I will join friends in the heart of Cairo, taking in my first game there, hoping also to find the pulse of the city for the World Cup in general. US-Ghana is not a powerhouse matchup, but will it take the imaginations of local Cairenes nonetheless? If there is a story to tell, be sure I will relate it. I just hope that the ending is happy.


Coptic Conference, Egyptian Triumph

The two items in the title today bear no relation to one another except for the day. In the end, it was a true Egyptian experience.

This past weekend the class I am with at the Coptic Bible Institute – its actual name is the Institute for Orthodox Doctrine and Spiritual Guidance – had its winter retreat at a former monastery turned conference center in Beni Suef, the first major city to the south of Cairo, about a two hour drive away. Julie and the girls were able to come, as did the families of other students in the class, which made for a nice atmosphere for all. We were put together in a single room in a typical dorm style residence facility, and while I participated in the activities Julie was free to roam around the grounds with the kids, not quite a babysitter, but not exactly comfortable with the hands-off attitude which prevailed. The retreat lasted three days and two nights, and was a nice break from the routine of the city.

The program of the conference focused on communication skills, body language, and the five love languages, which may be known to some readers of this blog as a popular study in many churches. It surprised me somewhat to see it in an Egyptian Orthodox retreat program, but much of American Christianity has come to Egypt through its Protestant churches, and then works its way as well into the greater Orthodox majority. Each day had two lectures and a study group, which I was able to ‘feel’ as normal retreat procedure, but the rest of the activity reminded me I was among those of a different tradition.

We did not necessarily wake early, but the day started with prayer, which was not the common ‘everyone give a request and talk to God’ procedure during Protestant sessions. Instead, we worked through the Orthodox prayer book. Traditionally, and still present in monastic practice, Christians would pray seven times daily. These prayers are scripted, though there seemed to be some variety in the selections. I was more confused than would ordinarily be expected, for instead of breaking for prayer seven times, we combined two prayer sessions into one, ending the day with the single, seventh prayer, and according to a pattern everyone knew except me, intermingled the selections from the two readings.

Within each session there consisted the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed, a ‘Lord have mercy – Kyrie Elasion’ reading, a Psalm, a reading from a Gospel, and general other intercessions. It was all very scriptural, but it was very fast. In part this was because my Arabic reading is still slow, and I was trying to keep up with unfamiliar material, but it also seemed like readers rushed through the selection given them to read. Some seemed like they had memorized the portions, others were less confident, but some read in a sing-song that was very beautiful. We stood standing the whole time, about twenty to thirty minutes, and faced East. I would say that East is the direction of Jesus’ second coming, but that doesn’t sound exactly right, as early Christianity expanded in all directions around Jerusalem, and his return, though to be seen by the whole world, will be, according to his own word, on the Mount of Olives. Nevertheless, within the Orthodox liturgy is a directive to ‘Look to the East’; I will need to ask a bit more to find out why.

 The other activity was also unfamiliar; following the prayer we learned a Coptic hymn. Though most of Coptic Orthodox liturgy is now conducted in Arabic, and has been for centuries, there is a conscious effort on the part of Orthodox Christians to maintain the use of their original tongue. It is only a liturgical language, but its study is mandatory for all priests and monks, though no one speaks it at home and only the learned would be able to follow along except for the known and familiar passages. At the Orthodox church we attend they put the words of the liturgy on a screen; on one side is the Arabic text, on the other is the Coptic language, written in Arabic script.

This hymn was being taught in preparation for the coming Easter fasting session, for it is used only near the end of Lent, if I understood correctly. It contained also an interesting theological twist. The opening lines praise Jesus for his fast, which he undertook for us. I had not heard this notion before. The question of why Jesus chose to fast forty days is a question not really answered definitively in the Bible, but the general answer that I have heard was that it was in preparation for his public ministry, which began immediately after he emerged from the desert. For Protestants who rarely fast, this is seen as a commendable but exceptional event, but one that is designed to draw one especially close to God, and as such, it is understood that Jesus did this for himself.

I am not yet sure of all the formulations, but Orthodox do fast regularly, almost half the year in varying levels of severity, and it has an element of repentance from sin. I may be wrong in this, but if I am not, they do have Biblical warrant. Yet since Jesus had no sin of which to repent, nor need to draw closer to God, the Orthodox may be more pressed in this understanding to figure out why Jesus fasted in the first place. The answer I received, as the hymn celebrates, is that he fasted for us. He undertook his fast to teach us to fast, and in some way, to perfect and complete the fasting required of his followers. Christians are said in the Bible to be ‘in Christ’; as such their lives are mixed with his, and his deeds also become theirs. I was nervous that this made Jesus’ life somewhat of a theater, in which he was playing a role rather than living his life in a real way. The Orthodox believe, of course, that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine, and that during his fast he suffered greatly, as any human would. The motivation, however, seems peculiar. Again, I will have to ask more questions.

Less people were familiar with the hymn than with the prayers, and people seemed less eager to participate in the learning thereof. I thought it was fun in the beginning, but I tired of it as the retreat went on, realizing I was never going to memorize it, and even if I could, would I even recognize it during the few weeks it entered into the liturgy? Perhaps other people felt the same way.

As a note, I have by now memorized some of the more celebrated parts of the liturgy that are repeated every week. It is fun to be able to participate fully during these parts of the service, whereas so much else is still unfamiliar. I keep in the back of my mind, however, the traditional Protestant critique of liturgy. It may well be fine and Biblical, but does the eternal repetition lead to routine monotony? I would like to be inclined to believe it does not have to, but this is an answer I can only discover in time through experience. By the visible participation of many during the mass I can see they are engaged; by the visible participation of many others, there is little indication.

During the retreat, however, mass was the one thing we failed to participate in fully. Justifying ourselves that this was a retreat and thus a good time to catch up on some needed rest, we slept in, resisting the knock at our door which was given to all at around quarter to seven. We did arrive a good half an hour before it ended at 11:00, so who knows what type of credit we received if we were found in attendance following communion. I suppose for full disclosure we should also admit to not participating in the seventh late night prayer, performed at around 10:30pm. We may be striving for a sense of belonging, but we are not yet Egyptians, we need our sleep.

Following Sunday mass and a final group session we were due for lunch and then departure at 3:00pm. This is a key detail, for Sunday was also to be the final of the African Nations Cup. Egypt had defeated hated rival Algeria (see this post, from Julie, and this one, from Jayson) in the semifinal, 4-0, and the country was awash in excitement in advance of the final match against Ghana. In addition, having won the past two African Nation Cups, but missing out on qualification for the upcoming World Cup, this was a chance at national redemption. Our bus was scheduled to leave with plenty of time allotted to return to Cairo before the match began.

Of course, nothing in Egypt goes according to schedule. Lunch was prepared by a classmate’s family who lived in the area. Though delicious, it was an hour late. Then when we had finished, the bus to return had still not arrived. When it came, it was smaller than the one which brought us, causing extra delays in trying to fit everyone and their luggage (we did, somehow). Meanwhile, three of our group had gone into the city for some reason, and needed to be picked up along the way out, except that they were not where they were supposed to be, and we had to search for them. At long last we got on the road, and it was clear we would not make it home in time for the start of the match.

In vain we tried to find the match broadcast on the radio. The best we could do was find a station which gave updates every few minutes, but the frequency was not clear. Fortunately, we were in the first row, so we could hear the time pass with confirmation of the same result, no score. We had no indication of the time elapsed, however, but it seemed likely we could make it home before it ended, and certainly for the overtime which seemed likely.

Then, the bus had an accident. It was no real accident, but there was no reason for it, as best I could tell. We were so close to home and the driver pulled into what seemed like a strip mall. I think he was looking for a shortcut to get over to the main road to take us back to the church, realized he made a mistake, but then backed up into another car. Five or six of the men of our group got out with the driver to investigate, and another lengthy delay ensued. I let things be and stayed in my seat, otherwise I could fill in the details, but I have seen the confrontations that sometimes occur over fender benders, and thought the presence of a foreigner might not help things. In any case, about fifteen minutes later we were on our way again, as there seemed to be no complications from the accident.

During the final approach back to church we saw evidence of the result. People were slowly but increasingly swarming into the streets to celebrate. Those in cars began honking their horns incessantly, including what seemed to be a wedding party in convoy. Children were dancing while waving flags over their heads. Others were shooting off fireworks. Every club or café we passed was emptying. The nation was in euphoria.

We learned in the taxi ride on the way home that Egypt had scored in the final five minutes, and then held off the Ghanaian attack to win 1-0. The next several hours were filled with horn honking throughout the city. Egypt, seven times champion, three in a row. I am glad we attended the Coptic conference, wished we would have been able to watch the match, but at least witnessed the emergence of celebration. We witnessed true Egypt, from the first experience to the last.