Five-time World Military Cup winner Egypt will be playing for more than just the Egyptian military’s honor when it competes this July in Brazil for this year’s cup. With the military in power since last month’s ousting of President Hosni Mubarak by mass anti-government protests, the team will represent not just the military but the government too.
Its performance is likely to be a barometer for the military’s living up to its promise to lead Egypt to democracy by this fall. So far, many Egyptians are skeptical about the military’s real intentions despite an anti-corruption campaign that has led to a travel ban for Mubarak and his family, the arrests of some of his ministers and investigations of senior soccer officials and moves for constitutional reform.
In a bid to enhance its chances on the soccer pitch, the military has announced that almost half its team in Brazil will be made up of players from storied Cairo club Al Zamalek FC, whose management was among the most pro-Mubarak during the protests and has close ties to the military. Five Zamalek players—Amr Zaki, Shikabala, Mohamed Abdul-Shafi, Ahmed Ghanem and Hassan Mostafa—have joined the military for training," military team director Abdul-Gaber Ahmed told Egyptian soccer website FilGoal.com.
The military’s focus on its own soccer performance contrasts starkly with its reluctance to allow Egyptian soccer to return to normal after the protests that virtually paralyzed Egypt for weeks and prompted a suspension since late January of all professional league matches in a bid to prevent the pitch from becoming a rallying point for the opposition. The military has yet to respond positively to a ten-day-old request by the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) that it lift the suspension.
Manuel Jose Da Silva, the Portuguese coach of crowned Cairo club and Zamalek arch-rival Al Ahly SC, warned that Egyptian soccer, one of Africa’s best-performing countries, could be ruined if the suspension continued.
“Egyptian football is the best in Africa and we must save it from losing its superiority on the continent. I ask the officials to resume the League's activities as soon as possible because all the teams are severely affected by the current stoppage. Football in Egypt could collapse and the teams could go into bankruptcy if the situation remained as it is,” Jose said in an interview with Ahly’s TV channel.
The Egyptian Football Association (EFA) this week began introducing financial austerity to cope with the fallout of the political turmoil by announcing a salary reduction for all its employees.
The reduction comes amid fury about EFA proposals to cap transfer pricing as well as salaries of players and coaches. The EFA said on its website that no member of its staff would earn more than $2,500. It put the association’s minimum wage at $250. The statement said the reduction was "in-line with the spirit of the revolution.”
The EFA said it intended to meet with the clubs to agree on a compensation deal for players who play for the national team.
James M. Dorsey is a visiting senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog