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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Conflict between Zamalek and Egyptian soccer body spotlights pro-Mubarak officials


An escalating conflict between the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) and crowned Cairo club Al Zamalek SC shines the spotlight on controversial soccer executives associated with ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

The EFA this weekend suspended Zamalek football director Ibrahim Hassan for one game and fined him $850 for protesting a decision by the referee in the club’s recent match against Maqassa, which Zamalek lost 1:0. The club was fined $3,400 because Zamalek fans threw stones on the pitch in protest against the referee’s decision.

Zamalek fans demonstrated in front of the EFA’s headquarters accusing it of “oppression.”
EFA executive Azmy Megahed attempted to calm the situation by saying in a statement that “the EFA board is aware of the critical situation and our decisions will satisfy all parties.”

Mr. Hassan, known for his temper and for carrying his emotions on his sleeve, has been under attack from militant soccer fans for openly supporting Mr. Mubarak, calling for the cutting off of supplies to demonstrators camped out earlier this year on Cairo’s Tahrir Square as part of mass anti-government protests that forced the president to resign and leading a counter demonstration against the protesters.

Mr. Hassan is also accused of having incited militant soccer fans to storm the soccer pitch in April during an African championship match against Tunisia’s Club Africain. The Confederation of African Football sanctioned Zamalek for the incident by ordering it to play its next two African matches behind closing doors and fining it $80,000.

The sanctioning of Mr. Hassan comes as embattled Egyptian national coach Hassan Shehata is fighting for his job because of the team’s poor performance in this year’s Africa Cup of Nations tournament and his support for Mr. Mubarak.

Mr. Shehata could lose his job if Egypt fails to defeat South Africa in a match in Cairo on Sunday. Failure to win would mean that seven-time African champion Egypt would not qualify for the tournament’s final for the first time in 29 years. 

In his protest of the referee’s decision, Mr. Hassan made remarks that threaten to reignite Zamalek’s historic bitter feud with Cairo arch rival Al Ahly SC.

The feud between the two clubs was put on the backburner earlier this year because both clubs were struggling to cope with the fallout of a three-month suspension of Egyptian professional soccer to prevent the pitch from becoming an opposition rallying point during the protests that toppled Mr. Mubarak and immediately after the president’s departure.

It was also the result of militant fans of both clubs who earlier bitterly fought each other standing shoulder to shoulder in Tahrir Square demanding Mr. Mubarak’s resignation. 

Fans of both clubs jointly played a key role in the battles between protesters, the police and supporters of the ousted president. The fans resent Mr. Hassan and Mr. Shehata’s support of Mr. Mubarak at the very moment that they were risking physical harm, if not death, in their bid to force an end to autocratic rule and corruption.
Zamalek leads the Premier League by one point ahead of Ahly.

Mr. Hassan charged that the referee in the match against Maqassa ruled against a crucial Zamalek goal because he was being manipulated by Ahly. “Ahly’s policy of attacking referees to influence their decisions bore fruit tonight. You all saw what the referee did tonight. He ruled out a legitimate goal and denied us a clear penalty,” Mr. Hassan said at a news conference.

Scores of Zamalek fans phoned into television sports programs charging that the EFA was biased in favor of Ahly. “I want to know why we are even bothering to play in the league; we should declare Ahly as winners from the very beginning,” one fan quoted by Al Ahram Online said.

Zamalek initially threatened to withdraw from the Premier League if the EFA failed to order a rematch against Maqassa but then reversed its position and said it would continue to compete in the league.

Zamalek has since said it may withdraw from the EFA because its president Samir Zaher had “failed to satisfyingly manage” the association.

Mr. Zaher, another controversial Mubarak-appointed soccer official who has been suspected of corruption, last month said that he would step down before his contract ends in 18 months.

Zamalek is also demanding that all remaining League matches be refereed by foreign referees to counter Ahly’s alleged grip on Egyptian referees.

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