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Friday, February 18, 2011

Egyptian Military Authorizes African Match in Cairo Despite Turmoil

The Egyptian Football Association (EFA) has authorized an African Championship League match in Cairo scheduled for next week between storied Cairo club Al Zamalek SC and Kenya’s Ulinzi Stars.

The EFA green light supports the efforts to return the Egypt to normal by the military which rules the country since mass protests last week ousted President Hosni Mubarak after 30 years in office.

The authorization came on the very day that the opposition demonstrated with tens of thousands of demonstrators that it can still marshal the necessary numbers to confront the government if it fails to lead Egypt to democracy. The military has vowed to hold free and fair elections within six months, but many are skeptical.

Some demonstrators have vowed to remain in Cairo’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square, to force the military’s hand. They are demanding that Mubarak and his cronies be stripped of wealth allegedly acquired through corruption.

The match between Zamalek and the Stars will be the first in Egypt since the EFA suspended professional league matches a month ago because of the anti-government protests that paralyzed the country.

EFA president Samir Zaher is scheduled to meet Premier League team officials on Sunday to discuss a resumption of matches in March.

“After consulting the (military) authorities, we announce that Zamalek’s match against Ulinzi Stars will be played at Military Academy Stadium on 27 February,” the EFA said in a statement on its official website. “The Confederation of African Football (CAF) also agreed to allow Zamalek to host the match.”

Zamalek beat the Stars in a controversial match in late January in Nairobi played as protesters, including Zamalek fans, were in the streets of Egyptian cities demanding Mubarak’s ouster. Some Zamalek coaches and players joined the protests after the team’s return to Cairo.

The match and pro-Mubarak statements by board members highlighted differences in the club between supporters and opponents of the ousted Egyptian leader and are likely to sharpen the club’s bitter rivalry with Al Ahly SC.

That rivalry dates back a century to when Al Ahly was founded as a national meeting place for anti-colonial forces while Zamalek was established by the Egyptian associates of the British colonial administrators and supporters of the ousted Egyptian monarchy.

“Zamalek is the biggest political party in Egypt. We see the injustice of the football federation and the government against whatever once belonged to the king,” said Zamalek board member Hassan Ibrahim last year, discussing his club’s feud with Al Ahly.

Ibrahim and his brother Hossam were this week included on a blacklist of Egyptian celebrities that supported Mubarak.

The brothers were accused of leading a protest against the anti-government demonstrators chanting pro-Mubarak slogans. Ibrahim also supported Mubarak’s efforts to maintain a semblance of normalcy despite the protests by insisting that Zamalek was maintaining its training schedule although most other clubs had suspended all activity.

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