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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Egyptians cancel soccer match with Palestinian Arabs

On March 4th I mentioned that the Egyptian Olympic soccer team intended to travel to Jerusalem to play a friendly match against the Palestinian Arab team near Jerusalem at the end of the month. The Egyptians stressed that they were traveling in such a way so as not to require Israeli visas, and therefore they wouldn't be contributing to "normalization" with the Zionist enemy with which their government signed a peace treaty some three decades ago.

Yesterday, Bikya Masr reported on increasing pressure in Egypt to cancel the match:
The Egyptian Football Association has accepted the invitation to play the Palestinians, adding that its Christian players would visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Muslim players would pay homage to the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. But, here in Egypt, activists and religious leaders are not pleased with the move, arguing that it marks “normalization” with the Jewish state.

“How can they do this, knowing that our Egyptian players will step foot on occupied territory and in Israel itself?” asked Sheikh Mohsen Goma’a, a former al-Azhar cleric who now runs a larger mosque in Imbaba, a poorer neighborhood in Cairo. He questioned if now is the time to play a football match.

“Maybe they should wait and see what happens politically before entering into a match of this kind. There are too many arguments on both sides and here in Egypt to play football when the Jews are doing these things to our Palestinian brothers and sisters,” he added.

Among the worries of Egyptians is that the players will be forced to have Israeli stamps in their passports, however a Palestinian official told local Egyptian newspaper al-Masry al-Youm that the players “will not get Israeli visas.” PFA chairman Ameen al-Rajoub added that “the visit to Jerusalem does not mean normalization with Israel. The Israeli occupiers do not want Arabs to visit Jerusalem.”

The Egyptian Football Association told Bikya Masr that this is a match between Egypt and Palestine and “Israel has nothing to do with it. It is not normalization. We are there to play football and show solidarity with Palestine.”

Despite the claims, Egyptians remain worried over the match and how the country will deal with Israeli involvement in the match, visas and traveling throughout the West Bank.

“Sure, they can say that it is between us and Palestine, but who is in charge there? The Israelis,” said Omar. The young activist said there would most likely be more protests and he would participate if the match isn’t reconsidered or “moved to Gaza, where there would be no contact with Israel.”

The Gulf News added:
"The upcoming visit will mean that the Egyptian players will land at an Israeli airport with their passports having an Israeli visa," said cleric Shaikh Mustafa Hussain.

"Thus, the visit will signal Muslims' acceptance of Israel's occupation of Jerusalem," Hussain told Gulf News. "If it is necessary for the team to make the visit, why shouldn't they go to the Gaza Strip to show solidarity with its people who are suffering under a relentless Israeli blockade?"

The visit has, meanwhile, drawn sharp criticism from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, a banned opposition group that nevertheless wields tremendous power. Its members, elected as independents in the parliament, have filed protests with Prime Minister Ahmad Nadeef and chairman of the governmental National Council for Sports, Hassan Saqr, over the visit.

"Going to Jerusalem means that the team will have to apply for Israeli visas," said Ebrahim Abu Ouf, an Islamist MP.

"This visit will offer a reward to the Zionist enemy who builds tunnels under Al Aqsa Mosque in order to demolish it. Moreover, it will imply recognition of Israel's control of Jerusalem. We should be careful not to fall into the trap of normalisation with Israel on the excuse of visiting Al Aqsa Mosque or other holy sites in [occupied] Jerusalem," he added.
Finally, the pressure was too much - and the Egyptian National Sports Council caved to the demands of the extremists. Of course, they cannot admit to that being the reason, instead saying that it was a response to the recent Arab riots in the Jerusalem area:
The National Sports Council (NSC) has called off a friendly match between Egypt's Olympic team and the Palestinian national team, previously scheduled for 28 March.

The cancellation comes as a response to recent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces in Jerusalem.

The decision to hold the match faced fierce opposition from politicians and sports professionals, as the Egyptian football delegation will have to get Israeli visas which, critics say, is a form of normalization with Israel.
The political capital that Israel would have received from a football match was negligible - in fact, the Egyptian team planned to turn it into a political statement against Israel by scheduling the match for Land Day and highlighting the separation barrier. On the other hand, the emotional boost that the Palestinian Arabs would have felt being visited by Arab sports heroes would have been huge.

Which just goes to show that the Egyptians hate Israel far more than they love "Palestinians."

In a larger context, it is just one more piece of evidence that the Arab world's support for a "Palestinian" state has little to do with humanitarian concerns and human rights, and everything to do with being another step to destroy Israel.