The taxi driver had skin the color of the Nile bed – a cross between earthy brown and the brick red of henna which grows in abundance in southern Egypt. His features too seemed to hail from the south; resembling those of the dogs of Armant, that historical city located in the deepest recesses of the southern Qena province famous for this ancient Egyptian species.
Despite the long trip, the driver was silent, his lips tightly puckered up to highlight a wide jaw that disproportionately descended from a rather narrow forehead.
He didn’t interfere in the heated conversation I was having with my daughter – his sculpted face didn’t even flinch, almost as if he was a stone statue.
Perhaps he may have pouted once in disapproval of an English word my daughter had uttered.
But when the conversation gradually veered towards Gaza, the Rafah crossing and the parched and famished Palestinian children, the driver finally opened his mouth. With much effort to bring his heavy lips to life, he whispered: “This Palestine issue was like manna from heaven to our Arab leaders, he said. “It’s a gift on a silver platter, an excuse to hold useless meetings, negotiations and dialogues; an excuse to make our lives miserable.
And in the end, they come up with resolutions that are never enforced and make financial pledges that never reach those who need them.
“If it wasn’t for Palestine, Arab leaders would never have suffocated us for so long. It doesn’t matter to them if the Palestinian people burn in the hell of occupation or if we burn in the inferno of public bus emissions.
He spoke without looking our way, his neck completely still, moving neither right not left, it almost seemed stiff as it rested on a massive double chin that looked like a giant belly.
“You just want to blow yourself up at those Israelis, he continued, “they’ve poisoned the water, mixed the sewage system with drinking water pipes and cut the power off those poor Palestinians. It’s a war of attrition, I tell you!”But did you see what Abou Treika did? By God, he’s one hell of a man! As soon as he landed that second goal in the Sudanese net, he pulled up his red national team shirt to reveal a T-shirt with the words ‘Sympathize with Gaza.’
“I can’t even begin to describe the people’s reaction at the café in Bab El Sheireya. I swear to God they forgot all about the goal and started cheering for the people of Gaza and the courageousness of Abou Treika.
“When the match was over, I drove off, all the while listening to the news analysis on the youth and sports station. All the messages were about Gaza.
Some said they were willing to pay the yellow card fine on behalf of the national team, while others said this was the best yellow card in football history and that they supported Gaza heart and soul. The poor show host didn’t know what to do. He kept telling listeners that the program was about sports not politics – poor guy, he was afraid the information minister would sack him. Guests on the show would say of course we’re not talking about politics but then they’d go on to talk about Gaza and there’d be no stopping them. An hour later, a reporter announced that the CAF considered expelling Abou Treika from the whole tournament, despite threats by Arab critics in Ghana if the federation allowed such a thing.
“I was on fire. Remember the last World Cup when this kid from Ghana raised the Israeli flag smack in the middle of the field . and where? In the World Cup! He didn’t even get a warning or anything else for that matter! But here in Africa, the referee is considering a suspension for a player who is simply sympathizing with Gaza.
“But the radio host assured his guests that they won’t be able to slam Abou Treika with anything more than a warning. The text messages supporting Gaza and Egypt’s beloved playmaker didn’t stop flooding in.
“I swear to God, if I had any money I would have sent it to the national team to pay the fine in sympathy and solidarity with Gaza.
Then he gave a deep, raspy sigh that ended with what sounded like the long groan of a dog from Armant.
Khaled Al Khamissi is a political scientist and prolific social commentator.