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Will Egypt's revolution end the Pharaohs' long reign?

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Piers Edwards | 13:46 UK time, Thursday, 17 February 2011

Whisper it quietly but the toppling of President Hosni Mubarak, often dubbed The Last Pharaoh, could also inadvertently end the reign of Egypt's national football team - aka the Pharaohs - as African champions.

For even though football has become understandably trivial to millions of fans and players, the revolution's timing couldn't really be worse for a country that has traditionally dominated the African game.

Next month the team, which has won the last three Africa Cup of Nations (and a record seven overall), travel to South Africa for a game where defeat would leave last year's World Cup hosts six points clear in Group G with only three qualifiers left and the North Africans with a mountain to climb.

The national team's African triumphs were a rare source of pride, joy and entertainment for many Egyptians under Mubarak's regime, but the Pharaohs' reign is facing a stiff test.

"If we lose in South Africa, we'll be out of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations," says Egyptian FA (EFA) official Amr Abu Elez. "The bare minimum we need is a draw."

Amongst myriad problems for national coach Hassan Shehata is the fact that his Pharaohs side started their qualifying group more sluggishly than a well-fed sloth, with a home draw against Sierra Leone, which was then topped by a 1-0 defeat away to ever-improving Niger.

But the revolution has thrown up other challenges, with the protests causing the league's suspension in late January - a real problem for Shehata when 90% of his squad are based at home (Sunderland's Ahmed Elmohamady is one of a handful who play outside).

The cancellation of the 9 February friendly against the United States compounded matters although better news came when many teams started training again this week, with Cairo giants Al Ahly holding a minute's silence for the protestors who died.

Yet any league action before early March is unlikely since there's no saying when the EFA will receive permission from the security forces to restart.

To minimise the impact, the EFA is planning to send the Pharaohs to Oman to ramp up their preparations and they could probably do with some time out of Egypt - not just to regain focus, but also because Shehata and his players were often widely criticised within Tahrir Square.

Many had wanted to see their heroes join the nation in taking a stance against Mubarak's hated regime but instead, they were largely conspicuous by their silence and absence (with only one former international known to have joined the protests).

Shehata even earned himself a place on an 'Enemy of the Revolution' blacklist - along with Mido, Amr Zaki and Hossam Hassan - after he rallied in support of Mubarak.

But it wasn't wholly surprising that Shehata was backing the regime, for his squad often benefited from close connections with it, and the coach himself was seen by many fans as untouchable given his strong relationship with Mubarak, and his sons Gamal and Alaa.

In truth, the coach was merely reciprocating the loyalty previously shown by the Mubaraks, who often propped up the Pharaohs whenever they faltered under Shehata.

In fact, the national team's success was such that they were pampered by Mubarak's regime and that proximity, which had captain Ahmed Hassan considering a post-football career in politics, has now backfired (he's also now on the blacklist) - meaning defeat in Johannesburg could bring about the end of an era.

While the short-term goal is crystal clear, Egyptian football's long-term future is anything but - as the potential ushering in of democracy will bring a number of changes.

Hassan Shehata needs a good result in South Africa to keep a growing army of critics off his back

Many hope that financial transparency might finally arrive, meaning that reduced corruption will mean more money finding its rightful place - namely investment into a football club itself rather than certain individual's pockets.

Then there's the possible levelling out of the national league, with questions over how those clubs financially backed by the border guards (Al-Jaish), the army (Harras Al Hadoud) and the police (Ittihad Al-Shorta) etc. will fare in a new era - with the public set to be less tolerant of seeing their taxes used to support them.

And although some hope that the sponsorship deals heavily skewed towards giants Ahly and Zamalek may be spread around in a freer market economy, one Ahly board member believes democracy will only make Africa's most successful club stronger still.

"We have a fan base of over 60 million, out of 80 million Egyptians, so Ahly has a great opportunity to get increased revenues out of this democracy, which I believe will bring a lot of foreign investment to Egypt," says Khaled Mortagey.

The revolution has already delivered one unexpected change (however brief) to Egyptian football, with fans of bitter rivals Ahly and Zamalek co-existing side-by-side during their protests - their traditional hatred wiped out as they united against a common enemy.

Over the years, the enmity has seen, inter alia, fans committing murder and a riot so violent that the EFA decided to cancel the league altogether that year.

"I'm positive that if you held an Ahly-Zamalek game right now, the two sets of fans could - for the very first time - sit together without a single incident of violence," says United Nations employee Ahmed Ragab, 42, an Ahly fan who was in Tahrir Square for the protests.


  • Comment number 1.

    i'd have thought egypt would struggle anyway - most of their key players (ahmed hassan, mohamed aboutrika, wael gomaa, mohamed zidan, mido, hassan ghaly, mohamed barakat) are coming to the end of their careers.

  • Comment number 2.

    This article does have some interesting points, but its way too whiplashed. Yes Egypt started its qualification run horribly, but that doesnt mean anything, Egypt always start poor in any qualification runs. Yes the protests could easily have a negative effect on the national team, but you completely forgot the nile basin cup last month. Its not like Egypt havent been playing for months, they got a good 6 games in around 2 weeks. Yes it wasnt against any tough teams, but that was the types of games Egypt tend to play bad at. With bad games against Sierra Leone, and Niger, games against Uganda, Kenya, and etc... definitely helps sharpen the team. Also with Zidan and Ahmed Hassan hopefully making it back from injury, the team will find its shape again. But this article was way too whiplashed, so by your logic, should Morocco, and Algeria not make it as well since they too are going through the same thing as Egypt both politically and football result wise, come on now. Im not saying its going to be easy, it'll probably take till the last qualifying match, but god willing Egypt will qualify

  • Comment number 3.

    Egypt are not the traditional African Champions of Africa over nothing especially considering that there success and 99% based on home based blood and that’s were the myth comes from. Egypt success in my opinion is 70% based on an astonishing patriotic spirit the same spirit that toppled one of the most stable regimes in the world and they have done it peacefully in a record 18 days time and that same unaltered spirit I believe will prevail once again in SA and during their CAN qualifications and will ultimately guide them to success. Somehow I believe it will work to the Pharos benefit that many including SA are writing Egypt off due to their current conditions in Egypt and that is a fatal mistake that I believe will be the back bone of Egypt's success in the coming days

  • Comment number 4.

    If Egypt go down in South Africa a good half of the team will find new homes at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Too many old players and too little time for the young talents to blend in.

    If South Africa win, they will need just four points from Sierra Leone (at home) and Niger (away) to take the group ticket even if they lose in Cairo.

    Though I want a new African champion I'd want to see Egypt in Gabon-Equatorial Guinea and at the moment it's looking pretty grim for the Pharaohs.

  • Comment number 5.

    Just a small correction: Haras el Hodoud are backed by the border guards, Al jaish by the army.

    Egypt's squad is getting really old, with Shehata doing little to take in younger players. With players like Gedo and a few others breaking through, i don't see how we can maintain a squad capable enough to help us achieve the things we've achieved over the past 8 years or so. Too few new players, too many players retiring/getting too old. And most of the league's clubs aren't well equipped to produce new Amr Zaki's or Abutreka's.

  • Comment number 6.

    if any one watched the nile basin tournament, they would have seen the new influx of players from the premier league that hassan shahata has brought to the national team, ali farag, ahmed hassan mekky, walid soliman, geddo more regularly as a starter, Al sayed Hamed, ahmed bilal. They just needed games so that they could gel together. there are the good young players available, they just needed time. and with the nile basin tournament, the results should be better for Egypt, god willing

  • Comment number 7.

    Shehata or no Shehata, the golden cream of Egyptian football, that is terrorised opponents on the African scene for the past 6-8 years are reaching the twilight of their career. Moreso, there comes a time of (re-)construction in the football life of any country. And this does not usually go along with an equal measure of continuous success. The Egyptian case may not be different.

  • Comment number 8.

    Out of 80 million Egyptians, 60 million support Al Ahly? Yeah, right.

  • Comment number 9.

    its funny every tournament, no one counts Egypt to win, no one thought that Egypt would have a say, but we did, everyone can keep on bashing, but Egypt will make the africa cup no doubt about it

  • Comment number 10.

    Those raving about the fact the more than of the Egyptian national team are reaching the twilight of their career and that’s not news don’t really know the wealth of new coming talents that Egypt has. Do u know that the best player in Egypt has not yet played for Egypt's national team and that player named Shekabala is capable of taking the international world of football by storm he is something very much like Christian Ronaldo with one difference he is dark skinned. That is addition to 7 new players one of which is the top scorer of the nile basin competition named Sayed Hamdy, while names like Gedo, Walid Suliman, Ahmed Samir Farag, Abdala Shahat, Ahmed Fathi and Amr Suliya are all under 26 of age. All in all as a keen follower of the Egyptian league I can solidly confirm that Egypt has at least 20 names that can wear the Egyptian jersey and easily win not only reach the coming African Cup of Nations and i am sure the world will be stunned with this new generation of Egyptian stars that they never heard of and just think this before you ever heard the names Treka, Zaki, Moteb and Ahmed Hassan you never though those players worth anything until they take the African scene by storm with club and country that’s because so few of you including the author of this blog has no idea of the Egyptian league that is the main source of talent for the national team hence you will never be able to put Egypt into real prospective

  • Comment number 11.

    How can you possibly trivalise the unshackling of a Nation, to the fall of a soccer team. A little more football analysis and a little less political might serve your piece well. Frankly I am flumoxed that you could even write.... "revolution's timing couldn't really be worse for a country that has traditionally dominated the African game." There is no bad time for removing a dictator. As you say yourself they are already in a rotten place in the table and if they are defeated in their next game they will most likely not qualify. Obviously to everyone, the Egyptian team wasn't playing in the last 18 days, so frankly your argument from the off is faulty. Their record of played 2, lost 1 drew 1 is your story, not the revolution. Pity you had to trivalise it.

  • Comment number 12.

    Bring back 606 on match day

  • Comment number 13.

    I'd say that the penduulum has swung once more to the powerful central and coastal african sides.

    The north African sides seem to qualify for tournaments with regularity without making any impact once there. I'd have to attribute this to the fact that they produce more players of a decent standard without producing any world class stars.

    Senegal, South Africa, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Cameroon have all produced crops of players that have gone onto be world class players, playing in world class competition in europe.

    True - there will be exceptions who opted to play for say France instead but I think until this happens. Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco Algeria etc will always toe the line.

    This doesn't quite translate to the African Cup of Nations where North African sides have excelled but this must have something to do with the large domestically based squads these teams have.

    Players in other countires have to be affected by joining up mid-european season.

  • Comment number 14.

    The most utterly useless rule ever by FIFA is that a cup holder should play qualifiers. Any cup competition without the holder competing, is worthless. Most African fans are still peeved that South African won 1996 nations cup without Super Eagles the defending champions.

    I think very soon FIFA will suggest that the hosting country should also play qualifiers.

    African Cup of nations 2012 without the undisputed champions - Egypt; God forbid!

  • Comment number 15.

    Aboutrika must be one of the best players I have ever seen, and I live in Scotland and watch the premier league and la liga every week. Man is incredible

  • Comment number 16.

    At 1:28pm on 18 Feb 2011, collie21 : I completely agree with you, the Egyptian revolution has too trivialised.

    On the issues raised of a dying team; i really have my doubts. The same was said when they were coming over in Ghana in 2008 and when they were going to Angola in 2010,- after they were somehow dubiously awarded a place in the final of the 2006 edition on home soil after Senegal was robbed in the semifinal - and yet they left those countries with the trophy at the end.

    Prior to those two tournaments all you BBC pundits were focusing on Ivory Coast lifting the trophy only on the basis of the names that make up their team and not the team itself.

    The fact of the matter is Egypt will struggle but at the end of the day they will qualify to the Nations cup and be a force once they get there. As to whether they will win: I am not too sure.

  • Comment number 17.

    I'm certainly not attempting to triviliase the revolution but am trying to look at the impact it may have on the country's football - and given the varying challenges thrown up by the current state of uncertainty, one would have thought that postponing next month's key match would be the fairest solution.

  • Comment number 18.

    Collie21 what are you on about here mate?!! I am an Egyptian an I didn’t sense any “trivialisation” of any sort to our historic revolution from near or far so where are you coming with these big words from ..The whole blog is purely football and is very decently asking the big question about Egypt's national team future in light of the revolution and the statement "revolution couldn’t have picked a worse timing .." is totally hypothetical and sarcastic in nature to those who have the minimum degree of sense of humor and finally it is your comment that Egypt are in a "rotten" place in the table so basically they deserve what they get is an extreme trivialise of the Egyptian national team and its caliber who was last ranked 10th in the world for over 8 months and by all means capable of rounding table as he usually does to reach the next CAN however with over 21 days without football now yes it is very difficult however knowing my players and my people and knowing where they gain there unfaltering spirit from I say we will still make it to Gabon at the end with God’s grace ..

  • Comment number 19.

    18. At 04:21am on 19 Feb 2011, mmjnr wrote:
    Thanks for the word twist. I did not say your team deserves what they get. Read what I wrote instead of reading what you want to see. My Point to clarify again. Is if Egypt don't qualify, it's not because they have a revolution, it's because of their results, results which have not been good before the revolution. Do you understand? Can I be any clearer. They have played two matches won zero and are foot of the table. Those are the facts. Journalism should stick to the facts and not hyperbole and dreaming up possible consequences of a revolution that so far has had zero effect on Egypt's prospects to negotiate the competition.

  • Comment number 20.

    19. At 11:21am on 19 Feb 2011, collie21 wrote

    Sadly mate you are again missing my point and I am getting really confused with which one of us is more difficult to understand but let me try to get this as straight as possible this time round as your insulted has been repeated for the 2nd successive time with no apology here or there .. Now my friend in any decent footballing nation in the world when football stops completely for around and over 30 days i.e the Egyptian national team players have not been training for this period of time not even doing the regular jogging now surely that affects the form of ant team in the world whether senior or junior, Pro or amateur hence yes the revolution in Egypt and the absence of any sporting activity in the nation has definitely reduced Egypt's chances dramatically..2nd point you are stipulating that Egypt already almost lost its chances with or without the revolution because in as you mentioned "They have played two matches won zero and are foot of the table" and that is insult to the Egyptian team who are ranked 10th in the world and in their current situation with zero points without any interruption they will be more than capable of making up the deficit and that is not only my opinion but the view of the majority of the top rated international specialized football website's including BBC Sport Africa, etc. all still vote Egypt to top its group and that was before the revolution started ofcourse!! And that opinion is based on the fact that its only the 2nd round and by virtue of Egypt’s potential as a world class team rated 10th in FIFA World ranking..
    Now if you still don’t get my point I expect the moderator of this blog Mr. Piers Edwards to clarify his and my point of view which is almost identical!!

  • Comment number 21.

    @Mmjnr - I really can't see the insult in saying that Egypt played poor in the first two qualifiers. That's fact. After Egypt missed out on the World Cup following a bad start to the qualifiers, they didn't want to make the same mistake this time. They didn't underestimate Sierra Leone - who could have won with more experience, neither did they underestimate Niger. Shehata was roundly blamed for his tactics on that one.

    I disagree that the qualifier should be postponed because Egypt had taken full advantage of the five-month break in the qualifiers to steady their wobbly team with the Nile tourney - and to South Africa's disadvantage. If the advantage of having most of their players in the Egyptian League was exploited to Egypt's advantage during the Nile tourney, the disadvantage of suspending the Egyptian league games cannot also be suffered by SA.

    Besides, there is absolutely nothing that says Egypt, Africa's undoubted best, cannot be beaten to the group's ticket. That will be a tad insulting to the other teams, don't you think?

  • Comment number 22.

    Dear Oroufu thank for your comment however I wasn’t hinting that the insult is coming from Egypt's undeniable dismal display in the 1st two rounds. What I resented is some people take advantage of this blog which is merely stating a fact that Egypt has been destabilised at all sorts of life including football and typically the Egyptian national team and that this situation has seriously affected our chances in qualifying in a way much worse than it ever was before the revolution. Also I am not asking for any postponement of the next game with SA even though I see its fair to be postponed for a couple of weeks yet that remains out of my subject and I totally believe in fair play as I believe that no team in the world can guarantee a qualification ticket to any tournament especially with the position Egypt is in yet however I believe that Egypt's chances have reduced by atleast 40% due to the current situation and I also believe that Egypt will still put on a strong show against SA but not as strong as I hoped under normal circumstances ..respect to all fellow African neighbors

  • Comment number 23.

    As the debate continues, just to say that the Egyptian FA has now said it will be asking the Confederation of African Football to postpone the fixture in light of the political situation in the country:

  • Comment number 24.

    Seems you have to copy and paste that link for some reason to get to the page...


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