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One day before the much anticipated Cup of African Nations semi-finals game between regional rivals Egypt and Algeria, state newspapers and government mouthpieces alike are labeling the match a "meeting between brothers ... not a war."
World Cup football matches between Egypt and Algeria earlier led to violence between supporters of the two national teams, with each side alleging injuries and damage. At one point after last year's World Cup qualifying match, the matter even threatened diplomatic relations between the two Arab states. According to Al-Shorouq on Wednesday, "high-profile Arab mediators" have already failed to bring together the presidents of Egypt and Algeria for a conciliatory summit before the match.
Abdel Aziz Seif el-Nasr, Egypt's ambassador to Algeria, has not returned to his post in Algeria since he was summoned to Egypt after the games in December for deliberations on how to deal with the rising tensions between the two countries. Al-Shorouq talked to Algerians living in Egypt, who reported their fears of a repeat of the hostility and violence around the time of the match, which is scheduled for Thursday evening.
Al-Shorouq quoted unnamed government sources as saying that security had been beefed up around the Algerian embassy in Cairo, in addition to areas where Algerians live. They told Al-Shorouq that Egypt is in talks with Algeria in order to achieve similar security for Egyptians living there.
National newspapers Al-Ahram and Al-Akhbar, in addition to the pro-government Rose Al-Youssef, are trying to spread calm before the match with the three papers leading with coach Hassan Shehata's statement that the game is not a war but rather "a meeting between brothers."
Rose Al-Youssef said that Media Minister Anas el-Fikki has given instructions to the press, insisting that the pre-match coverage remain "objective and balanced" and that the game "be dealt with only as a sports event."
The paper also mentioned a fatwa (religious edict) issued by the head of the fatwa council in Giza that declared it haram (forbidden) to "create agitation" between Egypt and Algeria in the media.
Al-Gomhurriya meanwhile carried an interview by Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit in which the minister said that he had contacted his Algerian counterpart in efforts to calm and reassure Egyptians living in Algeria and vice versa. Abul-Gheit told the newspaper, ahead of a multi-leg tour in Europe, that he "hopes that the Algerian and the Egyptian people realize that they're brothers who [share a] bond that should not be broken because of a football match ... Egypt has supported Algeria in its war of independence while Algeria has helped in the 6 October War." The foreign minister added that the loss on either side in Thursday's game will not undermine the losing team's worth.
In other news, state-run Al-Ahram said that following a visit to the Upper Egyptian province of Aswan, First Lady Suzanne Mubarak has increased compensation to those affected by the flash floods that hit Sinai and Upper Egypt last week. Mrs. Mubarak said compensation would be increased from LE25,000 to LE80,000. The money will be paid in kind, in the form of new housing built elsewhere, away from flood areas.
According to Al-Ahram, President Hosni Mubarak has also promised that the amount of land allocated to those who have lost their homes will be increased, and that rescue and aid efforts will be maintained. The paper said that the food bank has dispatched to affected areas enough food to sustain families for a month.
The rains and the floods have already claimed more than ten lives, according to an official count carried in Al-Ahram. Hundreds lost their homes, businesses and inventories. The natural disaster has led to demonstrations in North Sinai and elsewhere, as people affected by the disaster expressed doubt that they will ever be compensated for their losses.
In Youm7, columnist Ashraf Balba said that the efforts made by President Mubarak are not enough. Balba predicted that the tragedy will be repeated as long as preventive measures are not taken years in advance, which should include preventing the construction of housing and slums in flood plains. He said that this should be carried out not by force or through evictions, but by "planning that respects science, and preserves the interests of citizens, and respects their humanity."