Writers decry Egypt-Algeria ‘football war’

At a press conference at the Egyptian Journalists Syndicate today, writer Gamal Fahmy and several other public figures announced the launch of an initiative condemning the "sensationalist media coverage" that has accompanied the ongoing Egypt-Algeria football rivalry.

“The main purpose of this initiative is to convey to the world that we don’t support what happened and that these foolish people [who engaged in football hooliganism] don’t represent Egypt,” said Fahmy, describing the ongoing row between the two Arab countries as “hysteria and craziness."

Fahmy also criticized coverage of events by the Egyptian media. “Some retired footballers such as Khaled el-Ghandour — who understand nothing about political issues — consistently incited Egyptians against Algerians,” he said.

In an interview with Al-Masry Al-Youm, Fahmy blasted recent remarks made by Alaa Mubarak, son of President Hosni Mubarak, which were aired live on call-in talk shows. “He tried to curry favor with the public by expressing his anger towards the Algerians,” said Fahmy. “The only difference is that Alaa got out of his Mercedes surrounded by bodyguards while poor members of the public were beaten.”

Last week, a number of Algerian intellectuals issued a similar statement in which they denounced the way the media — both Algerian and Egyptian — had handled the crisis.

“We hope such statements will help reconcile the two nations, which share a long history that cannot be written off because of a football match,” prominent Egyptian Poet Gamal Bekheit told Al-Masry Al-Youm following the press conference. “Why has everyone ignored the voices of reason?”

Galal Amin, economics professor at the American University in Cairo, described the initiative as "a positive development." He went on to call it “a message from Egyptian thinkers to the Algerian people, who, I believe, are of the same mind.”

Fahmy pointed to other recent conciliatory statements by Algerian commentators that have been downplayed by the media. “No one has mentioned these statements,” he said, noting that the omission betrayed a deliberate intention by the media to obscure the facts.

“I’m deeply sorry for our media blackout on these Algerian statements. I hope this initiative can do something to correct this,” said Fareeda el-Shoubashy, a journalist and supporter of the initiative. Accusing the media of "pouring oil on the fire," she added: "Nothing would be more harmful than severing political relations with Algeria."

Abdallah el-Senawy, chief editor of Nasserist weekly Al-Araby, described the initiative as "an attempt to start over.” He went on to call for “a voice of reason that takes the importance of Egyptian-Algerian relations into consideration." El-Senawy went on to question the reasons behind "all this politicization and collusion by the regimes of both countries.”

Ya’qoub Ahmed, an Algerian university student in Cairo who attended the conference, agreed with the latter assertion. “I sense collusion between the two governments,” he said.

Efforts to contain the post-match fallout have not been limited to public figures.

Amr Magdy, an Egyptian physician who attended the conference, told Al-Masry Al-Youm that he had just launched an online petition — bearing the title “Reconciliation and Honesty" — urging reconciliation between the two rivals. According to Magdy, the appeal has already been signed by more than 200 supporters.

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