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Egyptian soccer fans fed up with sacrificing too much

A dejected Mohamed Salah reacts after Egypt lost to South Africa in the Africa Cup of Nations © AFP / OZAN KOSE

CAIRO, Egypt, Jul 9 – Like many Egyptian football fans, Mahmoud Hashem sees “no reason to be excited” by the Africa Cup of Nations which continues in the country until July 19 without the host nation’s involvement.

“As a fan, I am deprived of everything that made me love football”, he despondently told AFP after the lacklustre hosts were knocked out Saturday by South Africa in the round of 16.

Sitting at a downtown Cairo, Hashem, 30, a fervent supporter of Egyptian powerhouse Al-Ahly, said he was having difficulty getting disappointed by the national squad’s latest embarrassing loss on home turf.

“There’s been a lot of problems in Egyptian football that have led me and many people I know to be less interested in the game,” he added.

The North African country’s football scene has been chaotic in the last few years with the Egyptian football association (EFA) in complete shambles and a war of words erupting about who is to blame for the game’s mismanagement.

Empty stands, such as these at the match between Senegal and Algeria, have been a feature of the Africa Cup of Nations © AFP / Khaled DESOUKI

The domestic league is also in disarray and a sexual harassment scandal involving one of its players only rounded off a turbulent tournament for the hosts.

– Forbidden fans –

For more than seven years, domestic league matches have been mostly played in ghostly stadiums empty of spectators.

Violence in stadiums in 2012 and 2015 in which around 100 people died and the security forces were implicated, led authorities to ban fans from games.

That ban has been relaxed in recent years with small contingents of fans allowed in the stadiums.

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They are required to present their national IDs and to apply to attend a specific games of their registered club, and that request can be rejected.

Mahmoud laments that the control extends to the way supporters interact with the game.

“Even some chants for a team or wearing jerseys of specific players is forbidden,” he said, referring to iconic Egyptian striker Mohamed Aboutrika.

Hundreds of supporters paid tribute to the legendary player, who retired in 2013 after helping Egypt clinch three African Cups during in the last decade.

They chanted his name at matches and in viral clips online.

Aboutrika has been in the crosshairs of the government who view him as Muslim Brotherhood sympathiser. The Islamist party was declared a terror group in 2013 after it was toppled from government.

Aboutrika is exiled in Qatar, where he works for Qatari sports network beIN Sports, and he remains on a terror watch list.

Egptian football fans like Mahmoud Hashem find little to get excited about in the Africa Cup of Nations – and Egyptian football in general © AFP / MOHAMED EL-SHAHED

For Hashem, the golden era has been replaced by a haggard Egypt team lacking vision and unity, even with the presence in its ranks of Liverpool star Mohamed Salah.

Hashem has stayed away from the stadium because he does not want his presence to be “exploited” by officials who have gone to great lengths to show off Egypt’s tournament organisation.

– ‘Glory days’ –

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Hani Abou Rida, the embattled president of the Egyptian Football Association (EFA), resigned on Sunday along with his highly criticised board after the Pharoahs lost.

Shady Habashy, 33, who hosts a YouTube channel dedicated to reliving the “glory days of world football” called “Tarikh and Korafia” (History and Football-ography) was pleased with the news.

His channel is aiming to educate younger generations about how the game was “more beautiful than the one played today”.

“I’m glad that my country is hosting such an event, that it shows off a beautiful picture and that visitors can easily come and go,” said Habashy, the father of a six-month old daughter.

“But these are foreigners and as an Egyptian, I see things from a different perspective,” he added.

He blamed Rida, a FIFA Council member, and his cadre of close EFA officials for Egypt’s footballing woes, particularly the poor “quality” of players chosen in the squad which showed a lack of “respect for fans”.

In his plush apartment in an upmarket Cairo suburb, the devoted Al-Ahly fan watches the Africa Cup of Nations games on his big screen plugged into beIN Sports.

He prefers to avoid the hassles of going to watch the matches from the stands for which a Fan ID — a special permit needed to enter the stadiums — is required.

“Soccer used to be much better years go for supporters than what we’re seeing now,” he said.

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