Football, not politics, gives young Egyptians hope

‘Our voice is heard when we cheer and make a difference to the players. But if we vote in the election, our voice does not count — it makes no difference,’ said a local resident. (AP)
Updated 30 March 2018
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Football, not politics, gives young Egyptians hope

CAIRO: 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.”


Syrian Kurds accuse Assad of policy of ‘oppression and violence’

Syrian Defense Minister Ali Ayoub, above, said the government is determined to return the Kurdish-led areas. (AFP)
Updated 53 sec ago
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Syrian Kurds accuse Assad of policy of ‘oppression and violence’

  • Syrian defence minister made the remarks during a press conference on Monday
  • SDF said the remarks expose the government’s divisive plans

OMAR OIL FIELD, Syria: Syria’s Kurds have criticized the “threatening language” of the Damascus regime after it pledged to retake northeastern areas they control by reconciliation or by force.

The minority have largely stayed out of Syria’s war, instead carving out a de-facto autonomous region across a large swathe of northern and northeastern Syria.

That region is held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces who have been battling the Daesh group with backing from a US-led coalition.

Syrian Defense Minister Ali Abdullah Ayoub on Monday said his government would recapture all areas held by the SDF “in one of two ways: a reconciliation agreement or... by force.”

In a statement late Monday, the semi-autonomous administration slammed his comments.

“The Syrian defense minister’s statement regarding the SDF... reflects the continuation of the racist and sterile policy that has led Syria to this disastrous situation,” it said in a statement.

“The use of threatening language against the SDF who have liberated and protected the north and east of Syria from terrorists only serves those forces working to divide Syria,” it said.

US President Donald Trump’s announcement in December of a pullout of all US forces from Syria shocked the Kurds and sent them grappling to mend fences with Damascus.

Dialogue between both sides has been ongoing, but has failed to bear fruit.

Damascus rejects Kurdish self-rule and wants a return of government institutions to oil-rich SDF-held areas.

The Kurds want protection from a long-threatened Turkish offensive, but seek some form of decentralization from Damascus.

“The autonomous administration... stands by its position of the need for a solution and dialogue within the Syrian framework for all pending issues,” the Kurdish authorities said.

“But we want all sides to know that we, while choosing the political solution, we will spare no effort in the legitimate defense of our rights if necessary,” he said.

Eight years into a war that has killed more than 370,000 people, the Damascus regime controls almost two-thirds of the country after a series of victories against rebels and jihadists.

But the SDF-held region, a northwestern jihadist bastion and border areas held by Turkey’s Syrian proxies remain beyond its control.