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Mo Salah, the revolution and Egypt’s defeat

The real trouble with Egypt is that it’s a place where hope never lives, but never truly dies. العربية

Mohamed Salah during the match between Russia and Egypt at the 2018 World Cup. Picture by Ricardo Moreira Fotoarena/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved. It’s no shock that Egypt is out of the World Cup, yet there is disappointment. The real trouble with Egypt is that it’s a place where hope never lives, but never truly dies. We dared to hope yet again despite everything telling us not to. We were inspired by the unlikely success of someone we felt was one of us, fought the same battles we had to in order to reach the top, ever diligent and hardworking. The small framed man who defied giants to become one of them, Mohamed Salah was a source of hope for many Egyptians in many different ways.

We wanted to think of him as a representative of what Egypt can become, but we knew deep down that he only represented himself. We admired his escape from a horrible fate of mediocrity that he would be sentenced to have had he remained in Egypt. If only now that he was strong enough, if only now he would come back and fight on our behalf… and he did, but one man’s success isn’t enough to save a nation, did I say nation? I meant team.

Football is political, and to ignore the politics of football is a political statement.

Mo Salah’s skills were laid to waste because while he is a star, he needed those around him to make him shine. I cannot truly blame his teammates as individuals. They too have been victims of their non escape. They cannot escape the mediocrity around them. There was no team. Everything is political in Egypt even when it doesn’t seem to be. Football is political, and to ignore the politics of football is a political statement.

The analysis of what has gone wrong is allegorical. The brilliance of a few have not saved the team. It applies to many other things in Egypt not the least of which is the revolution. The ambitions and integrity of a few could not save a nation, there were too many other forces at play beyond control.

We dared to hope, and we continue to dare to hope. After we’ve vowed a thousand times not to have hope again, we could not help but hope again. When the blow comes, it’s not shocking, it’s not surprising, it’s simply disappointing. After it’s all said and done we ask ourselves, “Are we stupid or something?”

I’ve told myself not to hope again because everything is against us, but there I go doing it. We never learn.

Yet despite all these blows, I’m almost glad that this is the lesson we haven’t learned. This is the lesson we never learn, this is the lesson we never want to learn. I’ve met so many who have escaped our revolutionary defeat. Everyone has vowed not to have hope in different ways, some have changed their environment, some have changed the way they talk about the revolution and some are particularly critical of it and curse it. But in many of these cases, this distance from the revolution is merely a thin facade, stripped away when engaging in a deeper conversation, a few drinks at a party or through hopes of winning a football match. There is no walking away from what we could have done and what we could have been. It lingers on like the aftertaste of a bitter sweet drink.

We dared to hope, and we continue to dare to hope

But aside from revolutionaries, those accepting folk singing the regime’s tune know well that beneath their drums and loud rhetoric of successes and pride, Egypt is not really succeeding. Football was an opium that the regime administered but went out of control. It also became an escape where people escaped the government control, a place of pure joy divorced from the political reality. It is for this reason that groups of young men fanatically followed their teams and turned political at the time of revolution. It is because football became more than an opium for the people that the regime then went after supporters, first conspiring to murder them in Portsaid stadium and later the Air Defense Stadium and then arresting them and placing them under harsh conditions with practically no real charges. 

Football was an opium that the regime administered but went out of control

For those Egyptians who have nothing going for them as prices increase and living conditions deteriorate, they looked for football to give them some sort of unadulterated happiness. Mo Salah boosted their pride, because he was truly successful worldwide and was willing to come back and fight on their behalf. In a way it was hope that we didn’t have to do anything collectively to dig ourselves out of that hole. But no matter what he did, it was always going to be an impossible feat. One man cannot pull up a hundred million no matter how strong he had become. Similarly it was not just one man who dug us into a hole even though sometimes it appears that way.

We can go on about how the World Cup was exploited by football officials and how Salah was used as a propaganda prop. We can talk about the details of how it all went down in detail but in the end these details aren’t what matter. We are collectively responsible for where we are no matter how exceptionally good or evil some of us are.

The weight was too much for one person to lift, and yet we continuously hope… and just like something miraculous happened on January 25 of 2011, where there were enough people gifted with integrity and courage to shake us into an awakening, maybe in the future there will come a time when there will be enough brilliant people to lift us out of this hole we find ourselves in. For that reason, despite the bitterness of disappointment that comes from hope never coming to life, it may be worth it to continue to keep some hope and never let it die. Maybe one day something good may happen, and hope will live again.

About the author

Wael Eskandar is an independent journalist and blogger based in Cairo. He is a frequent commentator on Egyptian politics and has written for Ahram Online, Al-Monitor, Daily News Egypt, Counterpunch, Middle East Institute, Atlantic Council: Egypt Source and Jadaliyya, among others. He has also contributed to Egypt's Kazeboon campaign and other projects that focus on youth and digital information. Eskandar has made media appearances for numerous news channels including France 24, Russia Today, Al Jazeera and Alhurra.


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