Political Turmoil in North Africa Threatens to Disrupt Africa Cup of Nations

Political upheaval across North Africa threatens to throw a monkey wrench into the Africa Cup of Nations with Algeria and Egypt backed by Tunisia likely to urge the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to postpone until August matches scheduled for March.

The Algerian and Egyptian soccer federations last month suspended league matches because of the turmoil. Critics charge the prolonged suspension complicates a resumption of matches.

Anti-government demonstrations toppled Tunisian President Zine Abdedine Ben Ali in January. Mass protests supported by fanatical soccer fans have paralyzed Egypt for the past two weeks in a bid to force an immediate end to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule. Algeria is bracing itself for a mass demonstration scheduled for February 12 that follows protests last month in demand of a halt to rising commodity prices and greater political freedom.

At immediate stake are the fate of Egypt’s match against South Africa scheduled for March 25 and Algeria’s qualifier against Morocco planned for March 27. Algeria and Tunisia already postponed their encounter that was to be played this week allegedly because they could not identify an available stadium.

"There is a strong possibility that the match will be rescheduled in Algeria, Tunisia or even Europe, on a date convenient for both teams," said Tunisian Football Federation chief Anouar Hadad.

Algeria viewed its match against Tunisia as a warm up for the March encounter with Morocco.

The political turmoil has disrupted training in Algeria, forcing some teams to travel to France to train. Egypt’s national team is urging the Egyptian Football Association to allow it to resume training amid controversy about public support for the embattled Egyptian leader expressed by national coach Hassan Shehahta.

Both Egypt and Algeria are reluctant to lift the suspension of league matches and allow training because they fear that the soccer pitch will become a rallying point for anti-government protests and that political cracks sparked within soccer teams by the wave of demonstrations in North Africa will further aggravate the crisis.

Several prominent Egyptian players and coaches have joined the thousands on Cairo’s Tahrir square demanding Mubarak’s ouster.

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