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A soccer humiliation spins into Egypt’s politics
CAIRO (AP) - A hammering 6-1 loss to Ghana was more than just a blow to Egypt’s faltering hopes for a spot in next year’s World Cup finals. The humiliation immediately became entangled in Egypt’s bitterly divisive politics.
Politics even intruded during Tuesday night’s World Cup qualifier match, held in the Ghanaian town of Kumasi. Some Ghana fans in the stands held up a four-finger gesture symbolizing support for Morsi and the Islamists _ apparently to taunt the Egyptian fans, some of whom replied with angry thumbs-down gestures.
Egypt has been profoundly polarized by the July 3 coup. Since the ouster of Morsi _ the country’s first freely elected president _ the new military-backed government has waged a fierce crackdown on his Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist allies.
Supporters of the military say Morsi and the Islamists tried to take over Egypt and represent a violent, radical force. Morsi supporters, in turn, accuse the military of wrecking a fledgling democracy and leading the country back into autocracy.
“It cannot be a coincidence,” Alaa Sadeq, a career sports commentator turned Morsi supporter, wrote on his Twitter account after the loss. “Can success be on the side of a nation being run by a coup?”
Egypt’s soccer addicts have been buzzing for months that Aboutrika’s political persuasion may be causing divisions in the locker room. In one incident, he got into an acrimonious political argument with an army officer assigned to escort the team to its hotel when it returned home from a foreign trip after nighttime curfew.
Brotherhood opponents accused pro-Morsi fans of rooting against their own team. That too had a political overtone: Many accuse the Brotherhood of being more loyal to its international Islamist agenda than its own nation.
Brotherhood “people hope that Egypt loses,” tweeted Mahmoud Salem, a prominent blogger known as “Sandmonkey.”
Heading into the match, the government had given a pro-military spin to the team.
The sports minister said the Pharaohs were taking to Ghana “the spirit of October,” referring to the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war that is touted in Egypt as a victory for its military. The minister also accompanied the team to Kumasi.
By John R. Bolton
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