Egypt, Algeria in a growing diplomatic row caused by their bitter soccer rivalry

By Maamoun Youssef, AP
Thursday, November 19, 2009

Egypt, Algeria soccer tiff grows

CAIRO — Egypt on Thursday recalled its ambassador to Algeria for consultations as part of a growing diplomatic row caused by a bitter soccer rivalry between the two Arab nations that has sparked violence among fans.

Egyptian fans were attacked after Algeria won a make-or-break World Cup qualifying game Wednesday in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, and offices of Egyptian companies in Algeria were ransacked after a matchup in Cairo over the weekend.

On Thursday, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry summoned Algeria’s ambassador in Cairo to express to him “extreme dismay” over the attacks. Egypt’s ambassador in Algiers, Abdul-Aziz Seif al-Nasr, was instructed to return to Egypt as soon as possible, a ministry statement said.

Late Thursday night, hundreds of angry soccer fans marched through the streets near the Algerian Embassy in Cairo, beating drums and chanting anti-Algerian slogans and “Allahu Akbar.” They threw stones over the wall of the nearby Indian Embassy, but riot police at the scene allowed the crowd to continue marching toward the Algerian Embassy as they screamed “To the Embassy.”

Algeria advanced to the World Cup for the first time since 1986 after its 1-0 victory in Wednesday’s game. That match was a playoff after Egypt won Saturday’s game in Cairo, 2-0.

Ahead of Saturday’s game, Egyptian fans pelted a bus carrying Algerian players soon after their arrival in Cairo. Three players were injured and two of them played with head bandages. Clashes between Egyptian and Algerian fans after that game injured 32 people.

A separate official Egyptian statement Thursday said the summoning to the foreign ministry of the Algerian ambassador, Abdul-Qader Hajar, was ordered by President Hosni Mubarak himself.

The Egyptian leader also chaired a top level meeting Thursday to look into the situation in Khartoum, to which thousands of Egyptian fans traveled, according to the statement.

It said most of the fans have returned safely to Egypt, but made a brief mention of the “difficulties” encountered by some on the way to Khartoum airport.

Egyptian media reports said several buses carrying Egypt fans to the airport were pelted with rocks, allegedly by Algerians, and that several of them were slightly hurt.

Charges in some Egyptian media outlets that Sudanese security forces stood by as Algerian fans attacked the Egyptians in Khartoum led to another diplomatic row, this time between Cairo and Khartoum.

Sudan’s official news agency said the Sudanese Foreign Ministry summoned Egypt’s ambassador in Khartoum Thursday to express to him the government’s “absolute objection” to the media reports, which it said insulted Sudan and its people.

For the Algerians, however, Wednesday brought sweet revenge.

Egypt qualified to the 1990 World Cup at their expense, beating them in a decider played in Cairo in 1989. The Khartoum win sent thousands of people celebrating on the streets of Algiers, Paris and the French port city of Marseille. France is home to a large Algerian community.

Cairo was subdued after Wednesday’s game, with only several hundred noisy fans protesting near the Algerian Embassy against the attacks on Egyptians in Sudan and Algeria. The protest continued until the early hours Thursday, but a riot police cordon kept protesters away from the embassy.

Headlines in Cairo’s Thursday newspapers reflected the soccer-mad nation’s disappointment to reach the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, with front-page photos of tearful Egyptian players.

Egypt, a record six-time African champion, last appeared on the game’s biggest stage in 1990.

“Algeria qualified and the dream is lost,” bemoaned the red banner of the daily Al-Gomhuria. “The World Cup dream turned into ruins,” said the independent Al-Masry Al-Youm daily.


Associated Press reporter Marjorie Olster contributed to this report from Cairo.

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