After winning the first match against Algeria, Cairenes took to the streets.
It’s that time of the season. World Cup qualifying matches! And so on November 14th, Algeria found itself playing in Cairo against Egypt to decide who would be representing their group in the World Cup. From what I understand, this match was kind of like the last regular season game for both teams. In order for Egypt to advance to the World Cup, they had to win 3-0. To force a playoff in Sudan, they needed to win 2-0. Any less and Algeria was World Cup-bound.
Tensions ran high leading up to the match, to say the least. Apparently, a few decades ago some Algerian player gouged out the then Egyptian’s team doctor on the pitch after Algeria lost. The day before the match, Algerians accused an Egyptian mob of throwing stones and injuring several players as their bus left the Cairo airport. The Egyptian press, which had nicely whipped Egyptians into a frenzy about the game in the months before the match, claimed that Algerians faked the attack on the bus. It was getting strange already.
I was heading to Maadi, a sort of upper class part of town where all the expats live, to watch it with a friend in a coffeeshop. I left Zamalek a couple hours early in case of delays, and so I could pick up dinner along the way. Along the way, I walked past the Algerian embassy, where demonstrations were already beginning, and numerous mini parades of Egyptians. Most cars, businesses and homes had Egyptian flags displayed. I walked downtown, got onto the metro and headed to Maadi.
Upon arrival in Maadi, I stopped at Lucille’s for the first time. Lucille’s is an American style diner that I had heard great things about, and since I hadn’t eaten a good American meal in awhile, I decided to stop in. This was a fantastic decision. For one, they have the best coffee I have had in Cairo. And second? Cornbread. Wow. It was so delicious. They had a south of the border selection (and I missed some good Mexican more than I missed a good cheeseburger), and so I also devoured some enchiladas, a basket of chips and salsa and Mexican rice. Completely satisfied, I met my friend and headed to the coffeeshop.
We somehow snagged a seat pretty close to the television and ordered tea and shisha. Soon the place was completely packed and the employees found drums and flags and everyone was involved in a rousing chant of “Misr, Misr, Misr!” (Egypt, Egypt, Egypt). The game started, and Egypt scored almost immediately. Excitement ensued. The place went wild, chairs were knocked over and more chanting started. Egypt only needed one more goal to force the playoff, but at this pace, it didn’t even look necessary. The game stretched on, but no more goals materialized. As the game approached the end, I began to fear my trip back to Zamalek. A loss in Cairo wouldn’t be pretty. Then, in the 5th minute of extra time (I think there was 1 minute left before the end of the game), Egypt got a shot on the goal. Miss! Another shot. Miss! And someone kicked it back into the box, and another shot and…
The world kind of just exploded into a mass of red, black and noise. I have never witnessed anything like that in my life. The screaming (of the joy variety) went on for several minutes. The guy next to the tv actually stood up, embraced it and began kissing the screen. The game ended, 2-0 Egypt, and everyone took to the streets. People were on top of cars, yelling Misr!, the sound of blaring horns filled the air, and of course there was fire. I was kind of awestruck by all this. After all, if Egypt was this excited after winning a match to force a game to decide to go to the world cup, what would happen if say, they won the world cup? I can’t even imagine. Here’s a brief video I took as we walked around on the streets.
The playoff took place on later that week. I stayed and watched it in the dorms that night, and there was a rather large crowd gathered there. Algeria went up 1-0, and Egypt had countless opportunities but was unable to convert. The match ended, and I didn’t even realize it at first. There was just silence as people stood and silently left. Outside, the streets were also in stunned silence. I headed upstairs, did some homework and fell asleep thinking that was the end of the football madness.
The next day, Egyptian media (and people on sites such as Facebook) reported that Egyptian fans in Sudan had been attacked and killed by Algerians, and Egyptian businesses were burned down in Algeria, while attacking Egyptians with swords. These were all pretty much blown out of proportion, and Cairo rapidly became a very angry town. My roommate and I were walking back from some Ultimate and passed by the Algerian embassy around midnight in order to get to the dorms. The taxi driver actually dropped us off on one side of the island because he didn’t want to drive near the embassy. I’m not sure how many people were gathered there, but I would guess somewhere in the low thousands. It was not a happy gathering. They were mostly chanting something about attacking Algeria and standing there, so we quickly hustled by. We went by at midnight, and later read that the riot had turned ugly between midnight and 230 am. Rioters attacked the riot police with stones and firebombs, and the police responded.
Needless to say, Zamalek remained in lockdown mode for the next few days. It’s settled down now, but I really found the whole thing to be rather unnecessary and stupid. My friend Luke posted this article on my facebook wall, and I definitely agree that the political leadership seized on this opportunity to improve their waning reputations. Nick Rowlands had this tweet that pretty much sums up the riots:
Perfect 4 Egyptian gov: years of pent up anger & humiliation reg domestic issues channeled into violent, racist nationalism