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
0

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.”


Abadi faces US wrath at U-turn on Iran sanctions

An intended visit to Tehran was canceled and Abadi’s office denied that the visit had even been planned. (REUTERS)
Updated 15 August 2018
0

Abadi faces US wrath at U-turn on Iran sanctions

  • Iran has maintained close ties to Iraq's government since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, Tehran's archenemy
  • The administration says the renewed sanctions are meant to pressure Tehran to halt its alleged support for international terrorism

BAGHDAD: Failure by Iraq to comply fully with tough new US economic sanctions against Iran would be insane, analysts told Arab News on Tuesday.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi risked incurring US wrath after contradicting himself in the space of a few hours over whether his country would comply.
Amid diplomatic maneuvers, as he negotiates for a second term in office after divisive and contested elections, Abadi offended both Tehran and Washington with conflicting statements on the US sanctions, which were reimposed last week.
First, the prime minister said that while Iraq disapproved of the new sanctions, it would reluctantly comply. “We don’t support the sanctions because they are a strategic error, but we will comply with them,” he said.
“Our economic situation is also difficult and we sympathize with Iran. But. at the same time, I will not make grand slogans that destroy my people and my country just to make certain people happy.”
His position provoked anger in Iran. An intended visit to Tehran on Tuesday to discuss the issue was canceled, and Abadi’s office denied that the visit had even been planned.
There was also criticism inside Iraq, especially from groups close to Tehran, such as the Asaib Ahl Al-Haq and Badr paramilitary movements.
Within hours, however, Abadi had reversed his position. “I did not say we abide by the sanctions, I said we abide by not using dollars in transactions. We have no other choice,” Abadi told a news conference in Baghdad.
Asked if Baghdad would stop imports of commodities, appliances and equipment by government companies from Iran, he said the matter was still being reviewed. “We honestly have not made any decision regarding this issue until now,” he said.
Michael Knights, the Lafer Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Arab News: “Iraq can’t afford to be cut off from the dollar-based global financial system, so it makes sense to avoid sanctioned Iranian financial entities. Iraq should also protect its dollar reserves.
“These are the only sane options for a country that desperately needs international investment.”
Iraq is the second-largest purchaser of Iranian non-oil exports, and bought about $6 billion worth of goods in 2017. It also buys Iranian-generated electricity to deal with chronic power cuts that have been a key factor sparking mass protests in recent weeks.
On Tuesday, the British renewable energy investor Quercus became the latest major company to pull out of Iran as a result of the new sanctions.
It halted construction of $570 million solar power plant in Iran, which would have been the sixth-largest in the world.