Galal Ibrahim, the chairman of storied but embattled Cairo soccer club Al Zamalek SC, has resigned amid mounting criticism of his financial management, according to Egyptian soccer website FilGoal.com.
Ibrahim’s resignation comes as Zamalek is battling the financial fallout of the political crisis in Egypt that last month forced President Hosni Mubarak to resign after 30 years in office.
The club is also struggling with demands for the resignations of prominent Zamalek board member Ibrahim Hassan and his brother and the team's coach Hossam Hassan because of their public support for Mubarak at the very moment fans were playing a key role in the protests that toppled the president.
FilGoal said Galal Ibrahim’s resignation was prompted by criticism of his management by disgruntled club employees, and that he was about to officially announce his resignation. Ibrahim was temporarily appointed as chairman in September of last year.
Ibrahim would be the first casualty of a growing rift in Egyptian soccer over efforts by the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) to introduce financial austerity to cope with the economic fallout of Mubarak's toppling. The call has put fans at odds with their clubs and star players who are resisting proposals for a capping of transfer prices and salaries for star coaches and players.
“You're asking for millions and you don’t care about the poverty of Egyptians,” read an Al Ahly fan banner displayed last week when Zamalek played a friendly match against Harras El-Hodoud, the Premier League squad of the Egyptian Border Guards.
Calls for social justice, a phrase rarely heard in the past in Egyptian soccer, now dominate Internet forums on which fans vent their anger.
The Yellow Dragons, the ultras of Premier League team Ismailia SC, have threatened to boycott their team’s matches if the club fails to cap players’ salaries.
Their threat forced star midfielder Hosni Abd-Rabou to lower his sights in negotiations with Ismailia for a renewal of his contract. Abd-Rabou was reportedly demanding an unprecedented $850,000 in a country where half the population lives off $2 or less per day.
Ismailia SC staff has gone on strike to demand higher wages.
“We shouldn’t have waited for a revolution to do the right thing. Pundits have been talking about that barometer for around 15 years but nothing was realized. I’m not against the players who earn millions of pounds if they are able to bring to their club a large amount of money through their capabilities. We should not blame the players, we should blame the unprofessional administrations of the clubs,” said prominent Egyptian sports critic Hassan El-Mestekawy in an interview with Reuters news agency.
The introduction of transfer pricing and salary caps could transform Egypt, whose professional league is among the most competitive in the Middle East and Africa, from a player and coach importer into an exporter of talent with players and coaches seeking greener pastures abroad.
The transformation would allow cash-starved Egyptian clubs to shore up their finances. “Players should be aware that the clubs’ current financial position is not healthy,” said Adli Al-Qaeyi, marketing manager of Zamalek archrival Al Ahly SC and the architect of his club’s high-profile signings.
James M. Dorsey, a senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute, is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog.