Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Christians, Muslims and Soccer in Egypt

It is difficult for the majority of Egypt's Muslim majority, let alone outsiders (including the team Obama pinheads), to understand the depth of discrimination against Christians in Egypt.  The tendency is to only consider the issue when there is a violent outburst, which is quickly explained away as an isolated act by social deviants, a family feud or part of a conspiracy not involving Egyptians.  A more revealing reflection on the true status of the country's religious disharmony is seen in football, the country's national sporting pastime and passion.

Based on an unscientific review of the rosters of the nineteen or twenty teams of Egypt's still-dormant premier league for the 2012-13 season (even knowing the number of teams that will play in the league with an unknown start date is too much to ask for the comically disorganized football federation), there is not a single Egyptian Christian player, coach or trainer. If you stretch back over the past three or four decades, virtually no Copts are to be found (Hany Ramzy being the most notable exception, another the adequate but not super Mohsen Abdel Masih of Ismaily). The same holds true at the junior ranks and throughout the sporting clubs across the country.

There are several possible explanations for this. Maybe all Copts are billionaire moguls or priests. Maybe they just all suck at playing soccer. Maybe Copts are in fact proportionally represented in Egyptian football because they comprise 0.000001% of the general population, which reaffirms why Christians should not need to build any more churches in Egypt -- ever, and why it is just too hard to find any Christians who can be university deans, public school teachers, police chiefs, army generals, intelligence officers, judges, editors of state-owned newspapers, governors, ambassadors or government ministers (though Morsi managed to find one to serve in the key Ministry of Scientific Research, and another as "presidential assistant" -- not quite the promised vice president, and with no described authorities, but let's not quibble on the details).   

Meanwhile, more and more footballers in Egypt exhibit increasingly zealous religiosity on the field, with the mandatory group posturing after a goal (whether or not legitimately scored), and growing numbers of players with bushy beards and long shorts.  Off the field, there is the high profile backing of political Islam by the likes Mohamed Abou Treika, and in the stands, fans urge on the team with the rhythmic chants to pray to the prophet.  Former national team coach Hassan Shehata fueled the phenomena in declaring that a player's piety comes first in his team-building process, hence the highly dubious exclusions of free-spirited talents such as Mido and Shikabala.  The Muslim Brotherhood has threatened to go even further by fielding a team to compete in the league, but this might have been a step too far in challenging the even more insurmountable divide in Egyptian allegiances, that toward and between Ahly and Zamalek.

Though not new (Medhat Warda was busy bringing religion to sport in Egypt in the 1980s), nor unknown to occur in other parts of world (Tim Tebowet al), the pervasiveness of religious displays now seen in Egyptian football is extreme.  It has not quite reached the lunacy of Saudi Arabia, where the referee can stop games mid-stream to personally cut a player's hair if he finds it to be a bit too scrappy, but Saudi society hardly makes for a favorable comparison on anything.

The fact that none of this is really challenged, or even questioned, by the vast majority of Egyptians shows just how long a journey lies ahead for the country to embrace a modern and inclusive society, without which any "democratic revolution" will remain the fallacy that it is.

Agnostic Ahly supporters

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