The World Cup qualifying football match between Algeria and Egypt, scheduled on Wednesday in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, has acquired strong political overtones.
The two teams would be clashing at Khartoum’s Al-Merreikh stadium because their earlier outing in Cairo proved inconclusive. Ahead of the game in the Egyptian capital on Saturday, a bus carrying the Algerian team from the airport to its hotel was attacked. Shaken by the incident, Walter Gagg, an official from FIFA, the world football governing body said three players and Algeria’s goalkeeping coach were injured.
The incident triggered unrest in Algiers, the capital of Algeria. The Palestinian daily from London Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported that soccer fans broke into the offices of the Egyptian telecommunications group, Orascom, and Egypt Air, forcing heavy deployment of security forces in the area. Despite the footage showing the bus being attacked, many in Egypt blamed the Algerian team of engineering trouble. The growing street level tensions in the two capitals forced Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to speak over the telephone to his Algerian counterpart, Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Analysts say that both leaders are fully aware that the situation can get out of hand, given the intense football rivalry among the two nations, which has brought violence to their streets in the past. Eventually, the Egyptian team defeated the visitors 2-0, but the margin was not sufficient enough for Egypt’s automatic qualification for the World Cup matches.
Arab media are reporting that the soccer match in Khartoum has become an occasion for people to pose uncomfortable political questions about corruption, inequality and social despair in their countries.
Hoping to ease the subterranean rumblings, Egyptian businessmen have decided to transport thousands of Egyptian fans to neighbouring Sudan, Al-Quds Al Arabi reported. Algerian Radio also announced that the government had decided to ferry free of charge, 10,000 Algerians to Sudan. While both Egypt and Algeria appear to have outsourced their immediate problem to Sudan, Khartoum is facing the prospects of keeping apart restive Egyptian and Algerian fans, who are likely to throng the streets on Tuesday night in the absence of sufficient hotel rooms in the Sudanese capital to accommodate the sudden neighbourly influx.