CAIRO: At approximately 9:00 pm Friday night, Mohamed Aboutrika sent his penalty shot into the back of the net, bringing Egypt the African Cup of Nations title. Egyptian goalkeeper Essam Al Hadari raced after Aboutrika immediately following the goal, and the celebrations began.
At the stadium, across Cairo and throughout Egypt, people came together in a show of celebration and jubilation. I was on a high after watching the match with a group of ex-patriots and Egyptians at a local café in Mohandiseen. Every stressful moment was met with yells from both Americans and Egyptians. We were one; us rooting for our adopted country and them rooting for their homeland. Having just attended the semi-final match between Egypt and Senegal, we knew all the chants and chimed in when they began to be heard across the country. It was a beautiful experience that only a World Cup victory could surpass.
But my excitement and celebration were cut short the following morning when I picked up the International Herald Tribune and hoped to see some positive coverage of the happenings the night before; Egypt had just been crowned kings of African football and they deserved to be noticed. However, what I read was reprehensible. Instead of an article with some pictures of the match, or the celebrations afterward, what we got was an apology for the Ivory Coast lost.
Rob Hughes, of the IHT, begins his article “Despite yet another shameful home decision, a nonexistent penalty awarded to Egypt in injury time, the final of the African Cup of Nations in Cairo on Friday night boiled down to the dreaded lottery of a shoot-out after 120 minutes in which neither Egypt nor Ivory Coast had the nerve or skill to win. That first paragraph was, needless to say, upsetting and despicable. It is obvious that Mr. Hughes doesn’t understand football, or the country he is supposedly writing from. And if he does, it is sad that he condemns an Egyptian victory the way he did.
He continues, “For the record, the match was goalless, almost guileless. Wow! The International Herald Tribune has the resources to have done better than an article that only attempts to show how Egypt used corruption and their status as host to win the tournament. The Pharaohs deserved to win. He then says that Mohamed Barakat should have been punished for “cheating on the foul committed by Ivorian Didier Zokora. Cheating! While the foul might not have been worthy of a call, the replay shows that Barakat was indeed hit on the upper shin by Zokora’s boot.
The supposed article goes on for a few paragraphs to describe that the Ivory Coast should have goals. They didn’t score and they didn’t win. While they might be the better team, they were not on Friday. Egypt was the better team. Where is the credit deserved? Instead, the article that will be read by millions of English speakers worldwide will show the tournament to be another testament to the wrongs of the Middle East. Where is the justice?
American and European editors talk about freedom of expression in the Danish cartoon row and the need to support such actions. It is then even more disrespectful to the Egyptian population that a night in which the nation came together, not to protest Danish cartoons or the injustices of the west, to take to the streets in large numbers to support their nation’s victory, that there was no coverage of the celebrations.
It is no wonder that westerners see the Middle East as a region full of violence and hate, when events that could show the love of a people for their nation could have been reported to the entire world. Instead, all the world got was an article hijacking the Egyptian victory as something it was not. It was a great victory for Egypt and Egyptians.
Recently, the Danish cartoon row has enveloped the pages of international press coverage. Friday was a chance for western editors to show that there are indeed two sides to the people living in this region, but like so many times before, they failed. They failed their profession, their readers and the world. It is as though they want a clash of civilizations to come to fruition. It brings more revenue to the industry that is probably true. If that is the goal, then journalists the world over have lost. If Mr. Hughes honestly feels that Egypt stole the tournament and didn’t deserve the title, then we have lost. There is nothing Muslims and Arabs can do then, to show that they are human, just like those people living in Copenhagen, New York or London.
Nonetheless, Friday night was a night I will not soon forget. It made me proud to live in Egypt and share in the victory of our nation. Yes, it is my nation too, as I call Egypt home. And Saturday made me even prouder to be living in Egypt after I read the IHT article. It continued to show me the west has no desire to put the Muslim world in a positive light. Yes, there are problems in this part of the world, but there are problems everywhere. Maybe if the west would support the positive more, instead of dwelling on the negative, there would be a greater chance for reconciliation between the two cultures. If anything, Egypt deserved more than being called cheaters. They were champions for a night and nobody, even you Mr. Hughes, can take that away from them and this nation.