The thoughts of two Egyptians MuslimMatters writers about the upcoming match between Algeria and Egypt (28 Jan. 19:30 GMT )

By : Youssef Chouhoud

A remarkable phenomenon swept over North Africa the past few months.  Citizens of Egypt and Algeria, normally indifferent if not hostile to their respective governments, have en masse unearthed from the back of their closets dusty national flags to display proudly from balconies, windows, and even their own person.

The cause for this sudden shift in sentiment?  Thankfully, neither country was the victim of a catastrophic event that united them in solidarity (though, I guess that depends on who you ask).  Conversely, neither country is gearing up for war against a hated enemy (though…yeah, ditto).  No, the reason that millions of Egyptians and Algerians have gotten a sudden injection of pride in their homeland, with the corresponding side effects of dizzying highs and depressing lows, is the same reason all eyes will be focused on South Africa this summer: futebol.

To those living in America, and thus unaccustomed to the sort of national rivalry that is common to international sport in general, let me assure you that the outcomes of soccer matches are rife with ramifications.  This Thursday marks the first time that the Egyptian soccer team will be up against the Algerian national squad since losing 1 – 0 to them last November and falling short of World Cup qualification.  That match and its exhilarating predecessor were not only the source of multi-million dollar ad campaigns, but also the cause of senseless violence and diplomatic rifts.  What's more, there was no underlying historical animus behind the asinine aftermath of these contests, only the misguided nationalistic convictions that occasionally surface when politics and sports clash.

The Egypt vs. Algeria story is far too intricate to completely unpack here (touching as is does on topics as broad and complex as colonialism, greater Arab nationalism, and Egypt's waning regional hegemony), yet the fact that these two countries are overwhelmingly Muslim majority demands consideration.  The Prophet Muhammad (SAWS) warned us time and again against the evils of internal division.  One hadith in particular drives home this point quite emphatically:

“He who calls for `Asabiyyah is as if he bit his father's genitals” (Mishkat al-Masabith )

*`Asabiyyah is closest to tribalism, but in the modern context can be used to refer to nationalism.

Think about how few the instances are when the Prophet (SAWS) was that graphic and you will realize how serious this issue is (the hadith on riba being worse than fornicating with your mother immediately comes to mind).

I won't lie – I'll be rooting for Egypt to win this Thursday.  But, if Algeria happens to win, then I'll accept the qadr of Allah and not spend one moment lamenting an outcome that, in the end, affects me in no discernable way.  I urge all my Egyptian and Algerian brothers and sisters to do the same.

————-

By: Haytham

Foreign Policy magazine reported the football match between Algeria and Egypt in the qualifying rounds of the FIFA World Cup 2010 in South Africa: “It was described as a 'historic opportunity,' a 'decisive battle,' a matter of 'divine justice,' a question of 'dignity.'”

Note: Dear American/Canadian reader: by football I mean the real football. The one you call soccer? Yup… that one!

Even before the start of the match, the circumstances and emotions surrounding the build-up to the match had already reached fever pitch and if you were in either country during this match you probably would have seen what no eyes have seen before. Two nations that speak the same language, share the same religion, and have helped each other politically in the recent history became the worst enemies – over a football game.

Just to give you an idea of what happened, both countries claimed that the other country had attacked its players and both countries called for disqualification of the results. Fuel was added to this combustible mixture when Egypt won their final group qualifying match 2-0 to finish tied with Algeria in their qualifying group. To determine which country would qualify for the 2010 World Cup, a playoff match was held in Sudan.

On that day, Wednesday Nov. 18th, the match ended and the war started. Egypt lost the match 0:1 and ironically, it was the Algerians that took revenge. Buses of Egyptian fans that had flown to Sudan to watch the game and support their team were smashed. Egyptians called in to the most watched TV show called”AlQahira AlYaum” (Cairo Today) reporting Algerians carrying knives and other light weight weapons. It was just bad!

Fast forward to the present, a couple of months later, and the Egyptians were still angry and fuming from what had happened to them in Sudan, but some of that pent-up emotion was released this past Monday. Currently, the African Cup of Nations is taking place in Angola. Egypt finished atop its group over Nigeria, Benin, and Mozambique. In the quarterfinals, Egypt played against Cameroon and won 3:1. One the other hand, Algeria finished second in its group behind Angola (the host country). Algeria also reached the quarterfinal round and played Côte d'Ivoire and won 3:2. Both Egypt and Algeria are scheduled to play each other in Thursday's semifinals. The winner of the match will face either Nigeria or Ghana in the Cup final.

This game isn't about the African Cup and it isn't about two great teams playing each other, rather it's about dignity, revenge, and bragging rights.

The sad part of this story isn't really about who wins and who loses. The sad part is the weak condition of the people from both of these Arab countries. It's as if the only thing that can uplift the moral of these people is football. Even though both of these Third World countries are suffering from corruption, social injustices, and the per capita GDP in both countries is estimated at less than 10,000 dollars (ask Wikipedia), people in both countries were able to find joy and meaning in their lives through a football match.

It was once said “the value of every person is [in] what they seek” so does that mean that the collective intellect of these Arab nations is so degraded that all they seek after is a football game? Is their quality of life so impoverished that they can't find joy in anything other than a football match? Do their lives have such little meaning that a football game decides whether a whole nation is happy or sad? I pray to God this isn't true, for if it is, we are truly in a poor state.

Finally, I have to admit that I would love for Egypt to win, but if they lose I promise I will not hate on Algeria nor call them names; I will simply watch the finals and move on with my life.

Here are some videos for you to enjoy:

Egyptians in NYC after Egypt won 2:0 (Youtube)
Riots in France about the loss to Algeria 0:2 (Youtube)
Riots in Egypt about the loss of Egypt 0:1 (Youtube)
Attack on the Algerian's bus (Youtube)

39 Responses

  1. Amatullah

    I’m not Egyptian, but I do currently live in Cairo, and the mayhem that ensued before, during and after those games were just crazy. SubhanAllah I’ve never seen anything like it! It reminded me of the riots that happen at colleges during NCAA championships.

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    • TheAlexandrian

      Yeah, mobs are weird like that. No matter what happens, good or bad, they seem to always be bent on rioting. Our team won? Let’s torch a car! Our team lost? Let’s flip a car over and then torch it!

      Reminds me of that Snickers commercial :P

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    • AnonyMouse

      @ Aaaaaarrrrrrggggggghhhhhhhhh I hear you! It would be nice to be able to go to bed without being kept up by screams, cheers, and those ridiculously irritating car horn tunes!

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  2. AbdurRahman

    The governments must be absolutely loving this and “flaming the fire”… Anything to get the people’s minds off the bigger picture and the more relevant issues at hand, e.g. corruption, poverty, unemployment, oh yeah and THE UNDERGROUND FENCE ON THE RAFAH/AREESH BORDER!

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    • Haytham

      Ya AbdurRahman….. people who politicize this match are definitely conspiracy theorists…at least in my mind.

      That is because the main reason for the fuel behind this match is nationalistic feelings and beliefs of both countries. Coupled with unwise media from both countries, the results were just as bad as you have seen, heard, and read.

      I believe that its the mistake of people of both countries….

      If energy spent from the millions of Egyptians and Algerians to promote, prepare, and attack the other nation was spent on self improvement….. wallahi, I swear by Allah, both countries would have had a very enriched lives……… but i guess not!

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  3. Joyhamza

    I am right now in Qatar doing a one year course of Arabic in Qatar University. Most of the students in the dormitory (except the Egyptians) are supporting Algeria. I asked a Somalian brother the reason. He pointed at the fact that Egyptian government has created that wall against Palestine. I asked: “Don’t you think that its just the government not the whole country?” He said: “Well they can go to Sudan to fight against the Algerians for a football match but can’t pressurize the government against this despicable act!” My next question was: “Don’t you think all the other muslim governments would do the same thing?” He bluntly said: “They didn’t, did they?”

    I will support Egypt because I somehow have a liking for this Egyptian team. Plus I didn’t forget their ace footballer Abutrika, a devout muslim, showing solidarity with Gaza after a match some two years back. But in general I dearly want that muslims don’t lose their brotherhood for a football match. I translated the feelings of Shaykh Yusuf Al Qaradawi Hafidhahullah after that dreadful incident here in my blog.

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    • TheAlexandrian

      Thanks a lot for sharing. Your experience points to one of the themes I alluded to in the piece – Egypt’s waning regional hegemony. There was a time when Egypt could do no wrong. Then there was a time when even if they were doing wrong, you overlooked it because of all the previous good. Now there are just so many heaps of wrong that any good is overshadowed – and, unfortunately, all that corresponding ill will falls on Egyptians as a whole.

      The truth is that the vast majority of Egyptians are much closer in character and deed to Abutreika than they are to Mubarak (Sr. Amatullah can, I think, attest to that). But those in power simply have a strangle hold on society, so the common voice gets drowned out. I assure you, too, that there is far more solidarity with Gaza on the streets of Cairo & Alexandria than your friend would think.

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      • Joyhamza

        Absolutely akhi. It doesn’t even have to be attested, I myself have met many nice Egyptians and have personal desire to visit the country one day inshaAllah. And I can relate to what you said totally! I remember watching that fateful match between Egypt and Algeria. Whenever an Egyptian player was making a foul or doing something wrong some of the fellow students and spectators were mockingly saying: “Masriyoun! Masriyoun!” I really felt a pain and was thinking why cant we keep justice in our judgment and opinions.

        Funny thing is the same students were all supporting Egypt against the match against Cameroon. So there’s an interesting sense of wala and baraa you might say. lol

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  4. Muslim Apple

    Just wanted to say I’ll be supporting the Nigerian Super Eagles tomorrow :)

    And I find it interesting how our North African neighbors are generally only interested in being identified with the larger African continent when it comes to football. Amatullah, can I get an amen?

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    • Haytham

      hahaha you just had to say it …. didnt you? :D

      Well… I hope Nigeria wins its game tomorrow only so that they can be crushed with the Egyptians in the finals… after all, they lost to Egypt already in the first round :)

      hahaha.. Definitely it would be an interesting game tho :)

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    • Amatullah

      And I find it interesting how our North African neighbors are generally only interested in being identified with the larger African continent when it comes to football. Amatullah, can I get an amen?

      Yup!!

      Bro Haytham you can’t deny it!

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    • Haytham

      I don’t think football is “useless”.

      The prophet peace be upon him used to wrestle… didnt he?

      No doubt tho.. much much much more can and should be done for dawah matters!

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  5. Uthman

    Assalam o alaykum wa rahmatullah i wabarakatuhu,

    The hadith mentioned about 3asabiyya should be enough for anyone contemplating about the superiority of their respective countries. At the end of the day its just a soccer match. Its just a game. Why has it become the focus of a war between the two countries? Indeed, the evil of tribalism/nationalism has permeated through the blood of some and is the cause of this corruption and evil division.

    Unfortunately, some egyptian/algerian brothers I spoke to completely ignore the hadith and keep at their mindless and somewhat overzealous chit chat of the issue.

    A few months ago when this happened a brother put this up as his facebook status.
    ‘Regimes would rather their people watch sports than follow the daily scenes of oppression in Palestine’
    As’ad AbuKhalil

    We are brothers in Islam. Brothers! We do not harm each other and love each other for the sake of Allah(SWT).

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    • Haytham

      Brother… again… lets not start a conspiracy theory that has noooooo based what so ever..

      I personally dont believe that the regimes have anything to do with this, if you claim so, please support your claim with evidences… otherwise its nothing but buhtaan – and that is not cool…..

      I certainly believe that they didnt start all this mess!

      As for the ‘assabiya comment…. I just want to make sure that the readers understand the differences between healthy and unhealthy competitions….

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  6. Abdullah

    Football is haram as the players are not properly covered, wearing short shorts. Additionally it’s a waste of time. This petty misguided Arab display of nationalism is disgusting and unIslamic.

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    • Haytham

      Jazakom Allahu khayran Mufti Abdullah for this fatwah. You will meet Allah on the day of judgment and he will ask you for this verdict.

      As for the dress code, as you probably don’t know… there is a difference of opinion on the ‘awra of the man. Some school of thoughts says that its from the belly button to the knee, while other scholars says that the thigh is not part of the ‘awra.

      Their evidence for that is the hadith of the prophet where it was narrated that he was sitting down while his thigh was shown and Abu Bakr entered and He didnt change his seating position, then Omar entered and He didnt change his seating position, but when Uthman Ibn Affan entered, He covered up His thigh. When He was asked about this he replied, Shouldnt I have ‘ayaa’ of a man that the angels have ‘ayaa’ around him”.

      This hadith is narrated by ‘Aisha radia Allahu ‘anha in Sahih Muslim.

      The full hadith in Arabic:
      عن عائشة رضي الله عنها قالت: كان رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم مضطجعا في بيتي ØŒ كاشفا عن فخذيه أو ساقيه فاستأذن أبو بكر فأذن له وهو على تلك الحال فتحدث ثم استأذن عمر فأذن له وهو كذلك فتحدث ثم استأذن عثمان فجلس رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم. وسوى ثيابه – قال محمد : ولا أقول ذلك في يوم واحد – فدخل فتحدث فلما خرج قالت عائشة: دخل أبو بكر فلم تهتش له ولم تباله ثم دخل عمر فلم تهتش له ولم تباله ثم دخل عثمان فجلست وسويت ثيابك ! فقال عليه الصلاة والسلام: ” ألا أستحي من رجل تستحي منه الملائكة “. رواه مسلم.

      Point is.. if thigh was haram…. why wouldnt the prophet cover it!

      This a fiqhi opinion .. I am not saying its correct… I m just saying that it exists out there.

      Here is a copy of their shorts (Egyptian team making sujood of thanks after scoring a gaol) http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/media/images/44412000/jpg/_44412592_sujud_afp416.jpg

      So Mufti Abdullah, please dont hasten on giving Fatwas online :)

      As for the time wastage…. if its done properly, there is no harm in having some fun… again, the prophet peace be upon Him had his fun moments as well as his serious moments.

      As for the “misguided” arab display of nationalism… If you are talking about competition in general… as I said before.. there is the healthy competition that is actually praised … and there is the unhealthy competition… so lets not pass judgment blindly nor act ignorantly!

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      • Abdullah

        Someone sounds like an armchair scholar…I see you’re willing to come up with any justification for what is clearly haram.

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      • Amad

        I think this is just a troll trying to get a kick out of folks… just ignore.

        Trolling should be haram… fatwas anyone ;)??

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      • Haytham

        Ay.. Abdullah… bro… let me make a part of my statement above clear and bold for you incase you forgot how to read:

        This a fiqhi opinion .. I am not saying its correct… I m just saying that it exists out there.

        I quoted you a sahih hadith and a valid fiqhi point… so if you disagree.. thats cool… but dont be silly and just attack me personally.. thats just not cool man.. not cool at all…

        On the positive side tho… Egypt won 4:0 … :)

        Enjoy

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    • sabirah

      back to the good old Camel race then? I heard the Prophet (saw) himself had a pretty fast one!

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  7. someone

    The funny thing is I remember reading an article about the soccer war between Honduras and ElSavador and showing it to my sister , and laughing on how silly it was to declare a war over something so meaningless as a sport and then this happen, I brushed it off thinking that there was some other issues at hand. But the similarity was insane. I never imagined this would happen between two Muslim country.

    two opposing countries vying to be qualified in Fifa world cup= check

    Other issues=check

    Both teams were welcomed by crazy home team fans=check

    Winning gave them a sense of pride and nationalistic unity= check

    the media played a huge part, reporting the abuse each team received by fans=check

    Both countries wanting retribution and punishment =check

    Result

    Honduras and El Savador declaring War=check

    Egypt and Algeria declaring ?

    Factor weight : common sense, Muslim brotherhood, other political issues

    For more information about the football war go on wiki http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Football_War

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  8. Elham

    Salam alaykum,

    Personally I am looking forward for the upcoming Worldcup, as me and my family members would pick teams and there would be this competition between us…whos teams is the best …who was right in their choice.. and then the Argentiiinaaaaaa! and the Baraziiiiiiil!! woohooo…and the face paintings of countries you’ve never seen…soo weird

    But as for the matches between Muslims I don’t enjoy them as much because ..hey I can’t help praying the opponents LOSE! lol

    Its bad so I just stay away..and say ”may the best team win” . Its not just me really the dua’ books snap out around you..well not physically but you can see and hear the whisperings..especially at the critical moments…. :)

    we should try to remember to love for our brothers what we love for ourselves, so that whoever wins we are happy and if not then we are atleast not boiling in rage or feel that we lost when infact their win is your win.

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  9. Associates

    I know my opinion won’t be liked but I’ll be honest, even though playing sports is Halal, I am against following professional sports and getting too excited about it for the following reasons:

    1. Wastage of time: there is no doubt that fans of any professional sport waste hours of their life watching every match of that sport which sometimes leads to negligence on their part of their duties to Allah and other people. Such people would choose watching a match of that sport over attending an Islamic event every time, which is not the attitude of a believer.

    2. Wastage of knowledge: Sports fans tend to know the names and life stories of many players of their favorite teams, yet because of their preoccupation with this useless information which will not benefit them in this world, leave alone the Hereafter, such people tend to be ignorant of Islamic knowledge. This is completely unacceptable and Haraam. (Note: knowing about this trivial knowledge is not Haram but giving preference to it and neglecting Islamic knowledge is)

    3. Hero-worship: Some fans of professional sports begin to exaggerate in praising their favorite players, and would try to emulate and revere them in every way. This leads to hero worship and many sins are committed because of this, including revering the sports player (generally a disbeliever) above the heroes of Islam and even the Prophet (peace be upon him). Such people would prefer to look like and act like their favorite sports player, rather than the Prophet (peace be upon him), which is a great act of disrespect and could reach the levels of Kufr.

    That being said I see nothing wrong with the sports themselves and we should organize our own soccer, cricket and wrestling leagues for young Muslims, but wasting too many hours in front of the tube watching professional sports should not be encouraged. This is my honest view and Allah knows best.

    Abu Muawiyah Ismail Kamdar

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  10. sabirah

    agree. there is a limit to everything. good response, jazhakallah.
    But again, wouldn’t it be a fatwa to say it’s halal (to do brother Abdullah justice who was criticised for saying it’s haram)?
    I have come across a fatwa by Sheikh Abdallah Al-Najdi in 2005 that says soccer is halal only if certain rules are observed, not to make the sport does resemble something kafir do such as wearing the traditional arabic dress during the match, having no boundary lines, etc
    so I personally guess soccer is in the grey zone in regards to halal and haram. It sure is silly and a sin to start a riot because of a sport and shows that there are still some underlying issues that need to be addressed.

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  11. Ibn Muhammad as-Sudani

    Just as with anything moderation is key, that applies to all aspects of our lives whether its food, drink, pastimes, even worship.

    Its true that the citizens of both countries go too far in their animosity, that would in a way be justified if the teams were actually any good at football. Sadly they arent anything to write home about :-) . (not sour grapes from a Sudani)

    Br. Haythem thanks for your mostly balanced views but man…. you cant deny the interfering hands of the governments in this affair. We are talking about two regimes here in which all press is monitored and controlled, how can it be that when serious problems in the ummah need to be addressed such as Palestine, there is a crackdown on what can be printed and what cant? I saw with my own eyes the headlines in Algerian and Egyptian papers regarding the football, they were extremely defamatory to each other. For some reason the ‘crackdown’ never happened.

    When the egyptian president’s son calls a famous egyptian talk show with an emotional 45-minute rant. Is that not government intervening? where else could that happen?

    Football is definitely the only pressure valve these people have, the only way they can take their frustrations out. The outpouring of patriotism is nauseating, ironically their love towards those who control them so crudely increases.

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    • TheAlexandrian

      I get why Haytham doesn’t want to promote unfounded theories (I myself think the whole conspiracy mentality is a big problem in the Middle East), but the points you made about the government’s general control of the society can’t be denied. For my part, I believe that even assuming the government’s of these countries aren’t actively promoting animosity and violence, they’re certainly not doing much to curtail these phenomena. It’s undeniably in their interest to keep their citizens occupied with a soccer game than with legitimate societal grievances. Your point about soccer being a release valve is crucial, too – sport in these countries is in effect a national opiate.

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  12. Kaminari

    It is healthy to be a “Muslim” but sometimes it feels very unhealthy to have a such kind of Ummah , this statement is not ! universal, the ummah can change it . I have no desire to be around the muslims , I have no desire in trying to be like a specific Muslim from my environment etc.

    But … Im very optimistic when I look around , when I see here in Germany which progress some people have made, when I see some Muslims around the world what they have established. Then we can say the children of our children will find alot.

    Or … they will pray for us that we get not punished by Allah ! Is this Ummah weak or strong ? Not everyone can say it – new situations new and old fitnahs – we have become strangers – a brother or a sister is praying in her room while her family members are listing to electro or 2pac and co.

    A time to be loved ? Such a difficult time and Iblees and Masih Dajjal are going to do for what they have been created – Who can be the best of Mankind – Who can be the best Muslim ? Who can be the one who is living in such a time and can get the reward by the Rahma of Allah – the reward of Firdaws ? Who will stand beside Adam and Zakariya ? Who will look around on day of judgment and will see the ppl of ‘Ad and who will look around and will see the faces of the Jiinns ? Who will look around on this day and will see Dhul Qarnayn ?

    Lets get started because we wont lose to anyone ! Everyone has a chance of being a Friend of Allah – may Allah make the universe useful for us !

    “I GOT SOUL” br. Kaminari

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  13. SK

    Nationalism sucks… lil bit of sporting pride is fine but our people take it WaaaYYYyyy to far….as do many other nations i guess…

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  14. Ek Ajnabia

    Aslamu alakum
    I agree moderation in all forms of entertainment but then for it to become a main focus for ones life is very unhealthy.

    I am not An Arab of any sort but for me i see events in Cairo against the Algerian team were taken personally , possibly as an attack against the country itself and all what the Algerians stand for by the Egyptians.

    Then of course you are always going to have an element in every society that will make it their point to stir and cause fitnah….this was the case on both sides.

    As a westerner i see Arab and North African Arab lands very patriotic. After spending many years in such lands i myself saw this first hand. Nationalism comes from deeper in these lands , than recent footie matches.

    I also see rivalry and retaliation naturally as a Muslimah i am not happy about radical football supports to the point it becomes violent and becomes haram when they begin to miss prayers for the sake of the match.

    I just feel football is no longer a game it is very POLITICAL!

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  15. TruthbeTold

    Way too overrated!

    If you wanna see a real action-packed rivalry game, watch Lakers vs Cavs or Lakers vs Rockets. Instead of people going crazy for 2 teams of some thick legged, wanna be Arab but in reality Africans going at it for hours before scoring a single goal.

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  16. Mohamed

    ASA brothers and sisters,

    Alhamdulilah the African cup is over but unfortunately it will take years if not decades for the relationship between the people of Algeria and egypt to go back to normal. the egyptian media really damaged the relationship between the two countries and the two people especially when spreading false facts and down playing the Algeria sacrifices in the revolutionary war against France. The Algerian people take their national heroes very seriously.

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  17. krim algerie

    salam leskom

    please don’t hate each others please egyptian will you support algeria in world cup

    i know algeria is your brother

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