Monday, November 16, 2009

National Pride: A Soccer Game That Brought My Heart Home - Egypt Vs. Algeria Football

I tire myself with my eternal quest to define all the elements that shape my identity. Who am I? Where do I belong? I never seem to have a clear answer.

I’m Egyptian, but my kids are born in the US and I’ve established roots in at least three other spots on the world map. So at times I feel more American, for two years I felt Jordanian and on many occasions I feel very Swiss.

Last Saturday I had a rare moment of clarity.

As 80 million Egyptians were gravitating towards the Cairo Stadium in anticipation for the big soccer game against Algeria (only 80,000 managed to see it live), I found myself grabbing an early cab to the bus station, jogging the rest of the way to my terminal and hopping on the bus to go all the way to New Jersey to watch the game with some friends and family.

It took me two hours to go. I managed to watch the last half hour but it was so worth it. Thousands of spectators with red tee shirts, wearing their red, white and black Dr. Seuss hats were waiving the Egyptian flags and cheering our team.

It wasn’t just a game. For 95 minutes on Saturday, our soccer field was turned into a battle field. The few Algerians who went to the stadium were using all kinds of vernacular and physical profanity to antagonize our people.

For days before the game, they launched a media campaign lashing and slashing at Egypt and its people. I heard rap songs especially written and produced for that not-so-noble cause.

It got me furious. I used to work on an initiative called Peace Through Sport, a project which was initiated by Jordanian Prince Faysal to promote peace among youth through sport. So when I heard about that Algerian YouTube clip all I could think of was: BRING IT ON!

So here I was, for a whole afternoon on Saturday hoping, praying and at times cheering at the top of my lungs for the players on the TV screen. I wanted Egypt to win because this wasn’t just a soccer match to qualify for the Coupe Mondiale, this was a match to regain our national pride!
That Saturday I was a very proud Egyptian, even before we scored the winning goal in the last 30 seconds of the game. Especially when the camera zoomed in on an Algerian girl, furious to be defeated, giving us all the hand sign for (Screw you).

That Saturday I was a proud Egyptian and it really felt good.

We still have another match to play, again against the Algerians. I find myself relying on friends to pick up the boys from school, arranging with others to watch the game together and again…hoping and praying and wishing I were there.

This Wednesday, I will be all Egyptian and it will really feel good.


  1. Hey Lilo,
    Lovely piece, and eye-catching photo! I heard about the venom that occurred between the Egyptians and Algerians and I thought how troubling that sports can drive people who are connected in many ways into craziness. In football (as used in America) I always cringe when I hear athletes being coached to smash or kill another player as a way of referring to bringing a player down. Too much testosterone can be deadly, not that it's simply men who take it over the top, but mostly I think. In Brazil, a few years back, I think either a player or coach was killed by a fan because he apparently did not perform up to winning par. I used to play basketball and I love it, and I am competitive too, but I think there's a line, and
    hopefully it won't be crossed in your Wednesday game or any other sport anytime soon. Enjoy!

  2. Hi, Lilo, your posts are so moving. I'm not a big sports fan, but I got chills reading your account of the game. It really is so sad that sports somehow contribute to this weird kind of hatred between people from different countries.

    I look forward to reading more of your blog. There's so much noise out there, blogs like yours and Thandiwe's are really important. I hope you both continue blogging classes - the things that you write deserve to be heard, and more importantly, I think people could really benefit from the things that you guys write.