Mubarak vows not to tolerate attacks on Egyptians

AP News
Posted: Nov 21, 2009 10:49 AM

President Hosni Mubarak entered Egypt's bitter soccer row with Algeria on Saturday, vowing in a televised speech that attacks on Egyptians abroad will not be tolerated.

Mubarak did not mention Algeria by name in his previously scheduled address to parliament, but it was clear he was referring to the fierce soccer rivalry that boiled over into violence when the two Arab nations met in two crucial World Cup qualifiers on Nov. 14 and 18.

Egyptian fans incensed by media reports of Algerian attacks after Wednesday's match in Sudan rioted in central Cairo on Thursday night and into Friday morning. Clashing with hundreds of police in an attempt to reach the Algerian Embassy, they threw rocks and smashed car and shop windows.

The tension in the streets has also reached the diplomatic level, with Egypt bringing home its ambassador to Algeria.

"I want to say in clear words that the dignity of Egyptians is part of the dignity of Egypt," a visibly angry Mubarak told a joint session of parliament's two houses.

"Egypt does not tolerate those who hurt the dignity of its sons," he said, without saying whether his government planned to take punitive measures against Algeria.

Algeria won the second, make-or-break playoff match 1-0 to reach next year's World Cup in South Africa.

The trouble began before the first match in Cairo when Egyptian fans pelted a bus carrying the Algerian team. Three Algerian players were injured and two of them played with bandages on their heads. Fan violence after that match injured more than 32 people.

Algerian fans also attacked the offices of Egyptian companies in Algeria, prompting hundreds of Egyptians fearing for their safety to return home, according to reports in official Egyptian media.

Street protesters and some media commentators have demanded that Egypt's government kick out the Algerian ambassador. Others have called for an all-out economic and cultural boycott of Algeria.

Lawmakers applauded Mubarak's comments Saturday. When egged on by lawmakers who apparently wanted him to directly threaten Algeria, Mubarak briefly departed from his prepared text.

"We don't want to be drawn into impulsive reactions. I am agitated too, but I restrain myself," he said.

Egypt has recalled its ambassador to Algeria for consultations and summoned the Algerian ambassador in Cairo to express to him its dismay over the attacks in Khartoum and Algeria.

The issue has convulsed the country and become less about a soccer match then a perceived insult upon the dignity of the nation itself.

Ahmed Okasha, a psychiatrist, said the escalation into violence is a reflection of the repressive nature of the two nations and a lack of healthy outlets for people's pent up frustration.

"Because of that suppression, the two peoples are searching for any kind of joy in their lives, even if it comes just from a soccer match," he wrote in the independent al-Masry al-Youm newspaper.

Prominent editor Ibrahim Eissa charged the government with politicizing the match, while at the same time devaluing Egyptians' sense of their own worth.

"We have became worthless, with no value, no rank, no respect because our regime has ruined our dignity and the Egyptian citizen had become nothing to his own government, thus so he has become a nobody for everybody," wrote Eissa in his paper, al-Dustour.

Also on Saturday, the Arab League's secretary general Amr Moussa condemned the escalation between the two countries and said more should have been done to defuse tensions.

"This is threatening the relationship between two Arab states ... this is not the time to pour oil on the fire and it is important that we work on not repeating this ever again," he said, urging the governments to crack down on baseless accusations.