Egypt and its National Soccer Team, the Pharaohs, have a history of not only being one of the most talented and popular team’s in both Africa and the Middle East, they also have a history of political involvement for more than 100 years. According to The Fédération Internationale de Football (FIFA), Egypt’s national soccer presence began in 1907 with the formation of the Country’s first professional soccer club, Al Ahli. The Arabic word “Ahli” translates into “national”, and some of the largest followers of Al Ahli were people who were both fans of soccer and fans of the popular movement to secede from Great Britain’s colonial rule. The team’s stadium clubhouse in central Cairo served as the unofficial meeting place for young Egyptians as they made their plans for the future of Egypt.
“These same students staged Egypt’s revolution in 1919,” said Sports Illustrated soccer writer, Grant Wahl. The Egyptian students and Al Ahli fans were as passionate for liberation as they were for soccer, and in 1919 Egypt won its independence with soccer and politics standing by on center stage, hand-in-hand as major participants in the revolution. Several years later, according to FIFA, Al Ahli changed its charter to allow only members who were Egyptian by birth, and so the soccer club was dubbed “the people’s club.” Almost instantly the club grew into one of the most popular soccer clubs in all of Africa. Today, Al Ahli continues to be one of the most admired teams in the world, and boasts a fan base of more than 50 million people.
According to FIFA, several players from Al Ahli not only participated in FIFA’s second World Cup tournament in 1934, they also made the Pharaohs the first African team in history to advance to the tournaments’ finals. While it would be 56 years before the country qualified for another World Cup tournament, Egypt and soccer continued their close involvement with politics.
New York Times Opinion Pages writer, Alaa Al Aswany explained for example that during the 1930’s and 1940’s, the young Egyptian revolutionary Saad Zaghloul was simultaneously head of the country’s nationalist party and the president of Al Ahli soccer team. This trend continued, according to Aswany, during the 1950’s. “The Al Ahli soccer team president post was later filled by Gamal Abdel Nasser who became president of Egypt in 1956,”said Aswany.
Nasser held both his post as Egyptian president and honorary soccer club president until he died in September, 1970. Throughout the 1980’s, 1990’s and even into the new millennium, Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, became a familiar and regular fixture of the Egyptian National Soccer Team. He was present during each of the team’s three consecutive African Championship runs, and witnessed the Pharaohs return to the World Cup tournament in 1990 where they once again qualified for the finals.
As the new century began its march on time and as the 2014 World Cup tournament approached, Egypt, soccer and politics would again prove to be close associates. This time by an unlikely leader, Bob Bradley, the former United States National Soccer Team head coach. Bradley would lead the Pharaohs into an historic six-game victory World Cup qualifying run, only to be quashed in a qualifying elimination match with Ghana. Once again, as Egypt rallied around the Pharaohs, political turmoil surrounded the African nation. This turmoil took the shape of a popular revolution that unseated long-standing president Hosni Mubarak, and was followed by a military takeover and then mass killing of 800 protesters.
Today, Egypt is still looking to build another soccer team for the 2018 World Cup while the fate of the current president stands on thin ice, illustrating again that in Egypt, politics and soccer will be involved together for many years to come.
By Vincent Aviani