Football, not politics, gives young Egyptians hope


On the second night of voting in Egypt’s one-sided presidential election, a crowd of young men gathered excitedly in a cafe in a middle-class district of Cairo.

Shouting and talking animatedly among themselves, the group were all feeling patriotic because of the event unfolding around them, yet they had no interest in voting and expressed little enthusiasm for the eventual winner, the incumbent Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.

What energized the young men that night was the football match being shown on the cafe’s television, not an election that has been plagued by weeks of government-backed intimidation and only token nods toward democratic values.

The best way for them to show their love for Egypt was through supporting the national team in its 0-1 friendly defeat to Greece, they told Arab News, rather than going to the polling station just down the road.

“Our voice is heard when we cheer and make a difference to the players, who are also doing something for the sake of this country. But if we go and vote in the election, our voice does not count — it makes no difference,” said Hassan Allam, a 28-year-old local resident.

El-Sisi won this week’s election with 92 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results released on Thursday, but his victory was never in doubt.

For the young men of Cairo, many of whom participated in the massive Arab Spring protests of 2011 that toppled the autocratic government of former president Hosni Mubarak, the election simply showed they are back to square one.

“There was no real competition against El-Sisi and many of the people I know were harassed by security forces for their political affiliations,” said Allam. “The only safe route for us to support the country is by cheering on our national football team; we have nothing else to do.”

Egypt were without their talisman, Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah, in Tuesday’s defeat, but the national team has galvanized the nation by qualifying for this summer’s World Cup in Russia — the first time it has reached the tournament in 28 years. It has been drawn in the same group as Russia, Uruguay and Saudi Arabia.

The feelings of the young men in the cafe were typical of the general feeling across the Egyptian capital. Many of the polling stations visited by Arab News in Cairo during the three days of voting were dominated by elderly voters. Few youths were spotted.

Sherif Ragy, a 26-year-old engineer, took part in the 2011 revolution that overthrew Mubarak. “I no longer care about politics; my love for Egypt is only represented in football now,” he told Arab News. “I’m going to Russia to cheer on the team there.”

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