Mo Salah, the face of Ramadan in Cairo

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Ramadan lantern bearing the image of Liverpool's Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Salah hanging on sale at a market in Cairo's central Sayyida Zeinab district. AFP
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Traditional decorative lanterns known as "fanous", with the image of Liverpool's Egyptian forward soccer player Mohamed Salah, are seen at a market, before the beginning of the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Cairo, Egypt, in this May 16, 2018. (REUTERS)
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Egyptians sing religious songs to celebrate the arrival of the holy month of Ramadan in front of a model scale building in the shape of a mosque at Al-Barageel in Cairo, Egypt May 16, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 25 May 2018
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Mo Salah, the face of Ramadan in Cairo

  • Ramadan, shoppers have flocked to buy a fanous — a traditional Ramadan lantern
  • Salah lanterns have even made it on to the official World Cup Twitter feed

CAIRO: They call him the Egyptian king. The king on the wing. Mohamed Salah, the gift from Allah. And that is just in the English city of Liverpool, where he plies his trade as a footballer of exceptional talent. Here in his homeland, he transcends the sport that has made him famous.

In Cairo this Ramadan his face is everywhere, adorning everything from lanterns to bedlinen. Egypt has a tradition of naming dates — traditionally eaten to break the fast — after celebrities. Unsurprisingly, the Mohamed Salah date is by far the top seller.
Meanwhile, in March it was reported that there was strong support for him in the presidential elections — and he was not even a candidate.
The ordinarily packed streets will be deserted during Saturday’s Champion’s League final between Liverpool and the mighty Real Madrid. It is the same story whenever there is a Liverpool match on: The streets go quiet and the cafes fill up. Cairo’s leading clubs, Al-Ahly and Zamalek, now have to play second fiddle to a club thousands of miles away on another continent.
“I make more money when Liverpool are playing than on any other day,” Hamdi El-Wahsh told Arab News. He owns a cafe in the Maadi district of Cairo and on the day of the Egypt Cup game featuring Zamalek, he had to warn customers that if the match went into extra time they would have to miss it because he was switching over for the pivotal Champions League semifinal between Liverpool and Roma.
“They did not mind. On the contrary, they seemed more excited to watch Liverpool because of Salah,” said El-Wahsh. “Nobody is really interested in a domestic match. They mainly come for Salah.”

Football achievements
At just 25, and after only one season with the English club, Salah’s footballing achievements are remarkable. He was the top scorer in the Premier League and was named Player of the Year by his peers in the Professional Footballers Association. He was also African Footballer of the Year in 2017, and it was his last-minute goal against Congo that secured Egypt a place in next month’s World Cup for the first time since 1990.
But Salah’s impact on his country reaches far beyond the football field, and he is loved for much more than what he does with a ball at his feet.
As a 14-year-old growing up in Nagrig, a village of 15,000 people in the Nile Delta, getting to training sessions with his first senior team, El Mokawloon, meant a four-hour journey each way by bike, several buses and on foot. Nowadays he drives a Porsche Turbo and a Mercedes GLE, and with a weekly salary of £90,000 will never again have financial worries, but he is not keeping his wealth for himself.
He has donated a dialysis machine to a hospital in Nagrig, paid for land to build a sewage treatment plant and renovated a public sports center, a school and a mosque. An empty car park is set to be the site of an ambulance station. The Mohamed Salah Charity dispenses financial support to families in need.
“He is constantly donating money to charities and to his home town,” said Said Elshishiny, Salah’s childhood football coach. “It’s enough to make anyone adore him.”
When the head of Zamalek, who decided not to sign Salah to the club, tried to give him a gift — variously reported as a humvee or a luxury villa — the footballer declined and suggested that he buy medical equipment instead.
He is a committed and effective anti-drugs campaigner. A video he took part in last month, promoting the message “You are stronger than surrender, you are stronger then drugs” produced 35 million interactions on social media. Within three days of its release, Egypt’s Ministry of Social Security reported a fourfold increase in the number of people seeking treatment for addiction.

Gold mine
In commercial terms, the man is a gold mine. His face is on video stores and shopping centers. One mural outside a downtown Cairo cafe has become a tourist attraction.
This Ramadan, shoppers have flocked to buy a fanous — a traditional Ramadan lantern — in the form of a moving, singing Mohamed Salah wearing the Egyptian national team strip, costing between 180 and 250 Egyptian pounds ($10 to $14).
“It’s the best-selling item I have now,” said Ramadan Salah, who owns a small shop in downtown Cairo. People come to my shop and specifically ask for it. One customer told me he was buying a Salah lantern as a birthday gift for his eight-year-old son who is a big fan.”
Demand has been so high that Egyptian traders have had to import Chinese-made lanterns. Salah lanterns have even made it on to the official World Cup Twitter feed with the caption: “Which toy do the kids of Cairo want? Woody, Hello Kitty, a surfing @mosalah? I think we all know the answer.”
Furnishings bearing the footballer’s image are premium items. Al Sayed Najida, a furniture trader in Ghouriya, admits he charges more but says that is because he uses superior materials for his Salah-themed wares. “We sell at a price that fits the cost of the raw material. He is a global player and God loves him as he loves us,” he said.


Erdogan faces biggest challenge in tight Turkey polls

Updated 29 sec ago
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Erdogan faces biggest challenge in tight Turkey polls

ANKARA: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday faces the biggest ballot box challenge of his 15-year grip on Turkey, seeking to overcome a revitalized opposition against the background of an increasingly troubled economy.
A self-styled heavyweight champion of campaigning, Erdogan has won successive elections since his Islamic-rooted ruling party came to power in 2002, transforming Turkey with growth-orientated economic policies, religious conservatism and an assertive stance abroad.
But he appears to have met some kind of match in his main presidential rival Muharrem Ince, a fiery orator from the left of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) who has been unafraid to challenge Erdogan on his own terms.
The intrigue is deepened by the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections on the same day under controversial constitutional changes spearheaded by Erdogan which will hand the new Turkish president enhanced powers and scrap the office of prime minister.
The vote takes place almost two years after the failed coup aimed at ousting Erdogan from power, a watershed in its modern history which prompted Turkey to launch the biggest purge of recent times under a state of emergency that remains in place.
Some 55,000 people have been arrested in a crackdown whose magnitude has sparked major tensions with Ankara’s Western allies.
Only a knockout first round victory for Erdogan and a strong parliamentary majority for his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) will be seen as an unequivocal victory for the Turkish leader.
And many analysts believe Ince can force a second round on July 8, while AKP risks losing its parliamentary majority in the face of an unprecedented alliance between four opposition parties.
“This is not the classical opposition that he has been facing for 15 years and which he more or less succeeded in managing and marginalizing,” said Elize Massicard of the French National Center for Scientific Research.
“It’s a new political dynamic that has grown in magnitude,” she said.
The opposition was already boosted by the relatively narrow victory of the “Yes” campaign in the April 2017 referendum on the constitutional changes.
Most opinion polls — to be treated with caution in Turkey — suggest Erdogan will fall short of 50 percent in the first round.
Erdogan remains by far Turkey’s most popular politician and inspires sometimes near-fanatical support in the Anatolian interior, where he is credited with transforming lives through greater economic prosperity.
“A great Turkey needs a strong leader,” says the slogan on election posters of Erdogan plastered across Turkey.
But the elections come at a time when Turkey is undergoing one of its rockiest recent economic patches despite high growth, with inflation surging to 12.15 percent and the lira losing 20 percent against the dollar this year.
Erdogan brought the elections forward from November 2019 in what many analysts saw as a bid to have them over with before the economy nosedived.
The opposition has sought to play on signs of Erdogan fatigue and also echoed Western concerns that freedom of expression has declined drastically under his rule.
For the first time, Erdogan has been forced to react in the election campaign as the opposition set the pace.
He had to deny quickly when Ince accused him of meeting the alleged architect of the 2016 failed coup, Fethullah Gulen. Erdogan promised to lift Turkey’s two-year state of emergency only after the CHP had vowed the same.
“The opposition is able to frame the debate in the election and this is a new thing for Turkish politics,” Asli Aydintasbas, fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) said.
“A party that has been in power for so long is, in an economic downturn, going to experience a loss (in support) and lose its hegemony over politics,” she added.
While the CHP sees itself as the guardian of a secular and united Turkey, Ince has also sought to win the support of Turkey’s Kurdish minority who make up around a fifth of the electorate.
A rally held by Ince in the Kurdish stronghold of Diyarbakir in the southeast attracted considerable attention. “A president for everyone,” reads his election slogan, over a picture of the affably smiling former physics teacher.
The opposition, which argues that Erdogan has been given a wildly disproportionate amount of media airtime in the campaign, has sometimes resorted to creative and even humorous campaign methods.
The Iyi (Good) Party of Meral Aksener, once seen as a major player but lately eclipsed by Ince, put out humorous messages on Google ads and even devised a computer game where light bulbs — the AKP symbol — get destroyed.
Selahattin Demirtas, the candidate of the pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP), has campaigned from his prison cell following his jailing in November 2016. He made an election speech on speaker phone through his wife’s mobile but was allowed give a brief election broadcast on state TV, albeit from prison.