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Friday, May 6, 2011

Egyptian Soccer Boss Resigns Signalling Transition to Post-Mubarak Era


Egyptian Football Association (EFA) president Samir Zaher is to step down in a move signalling that Egyptian soccer may be on the cusp of radical change.

“I will resign from my post soon to give the youth take their chance,” Mr. Zaher said in a television interview. He said he would resign 18 months before his current term ends.
Prosecutors were reported earlier this year to be investigating Mr. Zaher on suspicion of corruption.

An appointee of ousted President Hosni Mubarak, Zaher has been a target of Egyptian soccer fans demanding change in the management of Egypt’s most popular sports. Fans have also denounced soccer players for their failure to join them in the anti-Mubarak protests.

Mr. Zaher is but one of a number of Egyptian sports and soccer executives who are in the fans’ sites. Others include National Sports Council chairman Hassan Saqr, national goalkeeper trainer Ahmed Soliman who is suspected of having abused political prisoners in Mubarak’s jails, crowned Cairo club Al Zamalek SC board member Ibrahim Hassan, national team coach Hassan Shehata and Hassan Hamdi, chairman of Egypt’s most popular club, Al Ahly SC.

Mr. Hassan and his twin brother, Hossam Hassan, the Zamalek coach, provoked the ire of fans because they publicly supported Mr. Mubarak at the very moment that thousands of militant Zamalek and Al Ahly fans played a key role in battles in January and February on Cairo’s Tahrir Square in battles between anti-government demonstrators, the police and supporters of the former president.

Ibrahim Hassan is a particular focus of fan ire because he led a demonstration against the protesters and called for preventing food and medical supplies from reaching the square where protesters camped out for 18 days until Mr. Mubarak resigned.

“We will never forgive them for supporting Mubarak. The Hassans are whores,” said Muhamed Hassan, a leader of the Ultras White Knights, the militant Zamalek supporter group who was injured in fighting the police in Tahrir Square.

Egyptian authorities last month remanded in custody controversial lawyer Mortada Mansour, the former head of Zamalek, in the first post-Mubarak arrest of a senior football figure.

Authorities are investigating Mr. Mansour’s alleged role in the February 2 attack on anti-government protesters in Tahrir Square. These attacks have been attributed to supporters of Mr. Mubarak; they were riding camels and donkeys. Mr. Mansour has denied any involvement in the attack.

Mr. Zaher said he would back EFA board member Hani Abou-Reda as his successor.

Like Mr. Zaher, Mr. Abou-Reda is a leftover of Mr. Mubarak’s control of the EFA in a bid to increase his popularity and repair his tarnished image by riding on the coattails of Egypt’s soccer success as an African champion several times over.

“The youth can lead the association and they can make useful changes” Mr. Zaher said.
In the television interview, Mr. Zaher also said that he would discuss with Egyptian clubs the fate of this year’s Egyptian Cup. The EFA president suggested that the Cup would not be resumed this year

Cup matches along with all other professional soccer games were suspended in late January when the anti-Mubarak protests erupted in a bid to prevent the pitch from becoming an opposition rallying point. The ban was lifted in mid-April.

“I will meet with the FA members next Sunday to determine whether to resume the Egyptian Cup. I expect the tournament won’t resume this year,” Mr. Zaher said.

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