Members of the board of storied Cairo soccer club Al Zamalek SC have denied claims that they supported ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and opposed the mass protests demanding political and economic reform.
In an interview with government-owned Ahram Online, Ibrahim Hassan, Zamalek’s director of soccer, speaking also on behalf of his brother and fellow board member, Hossam Hassan, said they supported the objectives of the protesters, but were concerned about the impact on soccer and believed that Mubarak had served his country and should be treated with respect.
Hassan’s comments were similar to those of many who supported the authoritarian Mubarak regime, but since its fall have tried to strike a balance between their views and the new wind blowing in Egypt.
The two brothers were earlier this week included in a blacklist of Egyptian celebrities for allegedly organizing demonstrations against the protesters and shouting pro-Mubarak slogans.
Ibrahim Hassan supported various Mubarak-inspired efforts during the build up to the ousting of the former president that were designed to return Egypt, paralyzed by the demonstrations, to a semblance of normalcy. Some 365 people were killed mostly by security forces during the protests.
The EFA proposals included lifting the month-old suspension of professional league matches, but to exclude the public from the game. Zamalek played Kenya’s Ulinzi Stars in Nairobi during the protests, in which many of its supporters participated. Some Zamalek players and coaches joined the protests after returning to Egypt. Hassan also insisted that Zamalek was conducting business as usual with its squad training rigorously.
The protests forced the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) to cancel this year’s Egypt Cup. EFA president Sami Zaher is scheduled to meet the Premier League clubs this weekend to discuss a resumption of matches on a revised schedule. The EFA earlier this week authorized Zamalek’s return match against the Kenyan champions on February 27 in Cairo, the first soccer match to be played since the protests erupted on January 25.
“The protests that happened in Egypt over the past weeks and their consequences, including the suspension of football activities, put the competition's committee in a very difficult position. They didn’t have a lot of options, and now we have a new situation and we must deal with it,” Ahram Online quoted Hassan as saying.
Hassan defended his statements during the protests, saying that “we didn’t insult or offend anyone, we just expressed our opinions. I say to those who attack me: watch my interviews again. And I say to those who do not agree with me: no offence, but you have to respect my opinion because this is the democracy that you have been fighting for.”
He said he and his brother after returning from Kenya had “praised the protests asking for the change of the regime. We all suffered from corruption in all sectors and we were against it for years. Everybody knows who Hossam and Ibrahim Hassam are and no one should dare doubt our loyalty to Egypt.”
Hassan did not deny backing the call that the demonstrators return to work after Mubarak resigned when he visited the protesters on Cairo’s Tahrir Square, but insisted that “we thanked the protesters who forced Mubarak to end the corruption, name a vice-president and a new prime minister and promised that he will not run for presidency again.”
The board member noted that “Mubarak spent his entire life serving Egypt so we must never humiliate him because nobody is perfect and democracy is about respect.”
Mubarak left in secrecy 10 days ago for the Sinai resort of Sharm el Sheikh, as his vice president announced the president’s resignation. The ailing president faces calls that he be held accountable and a worldwide search for his assets. Switzerland this week announced the freezing of assets associated with the Mubarak family.
Zamalek’s stance during the revolt against Mubarak contrasted starkly with that of its arch rival Al Ahly SC, whose supporters played a key role in the protests. Al Ahly constituted a major stumbling block for the EFA’s efforts to support Mubarak’s efforts to maintain a sense of normalcy despite the turmoil.
The stark differences between the two clubs are rooted in their history, with Zamalek having been founded a century ago as a pro-British, monarchist rallying point while Al Ahly was created as a base for the anti-colonial, republican forces.
James M. Dorsey authors The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog