/ 12 November 2009

Egypt, Algeria battle on Net before key game

A crunch World Cup qualifier between Egypt and Algeria in Cairo on Saturday has seen unprecedented tensions between the North African rivals spill onto the Internet in a no-holds-barred cyber war.

The footballing showdown has been the talk of the town for weeks, with Facebook groups, Twitter statuses, media headlines and television adverts setting up for the big game.

The verbal sparring has reached such a pitch that both governments have issued appeals for calm.

On the Internet, Algerian and Egyptian fans have hurled abuse at each other, reviving a decades-old on-pitch enmity that erupted into violent riots during a similar qualifier in 1989.

”Listen to me Pharaohs, you are aleady cursed,” said an Algerian music video circulating on the web addressing the Egyptian football team and laced with profanities.

But the lashing goes beyond football, targeting Egypt’s insecurity over its defeat to Israel in the Six-Day War of 1967 war which saw the loss of Arab territories most of which are still unrecovered two decades after Cairo’s controversial peace treaty with the Jewish State.

”Israel beat you in six days in 1967 … We are not the ones who sold Palestine to the Jews,” the song charged, played against a picture of the Cairo-based Sunni Muslim authority Sheikh Mohammed Tantawi shaking hands with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Egyptian fans hit back with a song of their own that received 29 462 views on the popular video sharing website, YouTube.

”Your words are not important, your words do not affect us. Talk to me in French because your Arabic is so broken,” the Egyptian song retorted.

Despite the efforts of the Algerian authorities to promote the use of Arabic through the recruitment of thousands of teachers from Egypt and the Levant, the colonial language remains widely used and Algerian Arabic is frequently punctuated with foreign loanwords, a source of amusement to Egyptians.

”We liberated you when France made you slaves,” the Egyptian song added referring to the support given by then Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser to the Algerian independence movement in the 1950s and 1960s.

Officials, who are eager to avoid a repetition of the crowd trouble of 1989, are desperately calling for calm, roping in newspapers and media professionals to help drive home the appeal to Egyptians to offer ”a rose for every Algerian”.

”We will welcome them, because as Egyptians we are [hospitable], but on the pitch, it’s a different story,” team captain Ahmed Hassan told a private television network after promising to turn the stadium into ”a stadium of horror” on the night.

”There is a joint Egyptian and Algerian desire for calm ahead of the crucial match between the national teams of both countries for the World Cup qualifier,” Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said.

He said there was ”official cooperation between both sides to ensure that the competitiveness, no matter how intense, does not affect the relationhip which links both peoples and countries.”

Egyptian and Algerian media ”hold a responsibility in this regard … and must work to maintain the strong ties between both countries and should not fuel disagreements that are unrelated to sports and sportsmanship,” Zaki said.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s younger son, a senior member of the ruling party, visited the team to offer moral support, the Egyptian weekly Al Youm Al Sabie reported.

”Gamal Mubarak asked the players to exert all efforts to win in order to bring joy to the Egyptian people,” the paper said.

Egypt has to secure a three-goal difference to make it to the World Cup. A two goal difference would take both teams to Sudan for a re-match.

”All this hype is just setting them up for a big fall,” one Egyptian fan, Ahmed al-Meligui, said. — AFP