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.”


Israel quiet on US claims it hit Iraq militia in Syria

Updated 19 June 2018
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Israel quiet on US claims it hit Iraq militia in Syria

  • The Sunday evening strike against the Al-Hari base on the Syrian side of the border with Iraq came less than 24 hours after Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would strike Iran’s “proxies” anywhere in Syria
  • Syrian authorities and the Iraqi paramilitaries both blamed Washington for the strike, which killed at least 52 fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights

JERUSALEM: Israel declined to comment on Tuesday on a weekend air strike against an Iraqi paramilitary base in eastern Syria after its US ally implicated it in the attack.
The Sunday evening strike against the Al-Hari base on the Syrian side of the border with Iraq came less than 24 hours after Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would strike Iran’s “proxies” anywhere in Syria.
Fighters of Iraq’s Hashed Al-Shaabi paramilitary force, mainly composed of Iran-trained Shiite militia, have played a major role in the war against the Sunni extremists of the Daesh group in Syria as well as Iraq.
But their presence has sparked confrontations with both Washington, which has been supporting a Kurdish-led alliance that controls other parts of eastern Syria, and Israel, which fears Iranian-inspired attacks on its forces in the occupied Golan Heights.
Syrian authorities and the Iraqi paramilitaries both blamed Washington for the strike, which killed at least 52 fighters, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
But US officials denied any involvement and instead pointed the finger at Israel.
“We have reasons to believe that it was an Israeli strike,” one US official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The Israeli military declined to be drawn on the US claims. “We are not commenting on foreign reports,” a spokeswoman said.
The military has carried out previous strikes against Iranian targets in Syria, but most have been significantly closer to Israel or the Israeli-occupied Golan.
Last month, Israel launched a large-scale attack on what it said were Iranian targets in Syria, raising fears of a major confrontation.
Those strikes followed a barrage of rockets that Israel said was fired toward its forces in the occupied Golan by Iran from Syria.
Even before that, Israel had been blamed for a series of recent strikes inside Syria that killed Iranians, though it has not acknowledged them.
Speaking at a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday morning, Netanyahu reiterated his position that “Iran needs to withdraw from all of Syria.”
“We will take action — and are already taking action — against efforts to establish a military presence by Iran and its proxies in Syria both close to the border and deep inside Syria,” the prime minister said.
“We will act against these efforts anywhere in Syria.”
Israeli seized a large swathe of the Golan Heights from Syria in the Six-Day War of 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community.
Iran has been a close ally of the Syrian regime for some four decades and, with Russia, has been a key supporter in the civil war that broke out in 2011.