CAIRO — Soccer followers in Egypt are indignant at Al-Merrikh, one among Sudan’s high soccer groups, for requesting to play its match in opposition to Egypt’s Al-Ahly group in a continental competitors not in Sudan, however in Ethiopia.
A draw for the spherical of 16 of the Champions League of the Confederation of African Soccer (CAF) positioned the 2 groups in a single group, along with Al-Hilal, one other Sudanese group, and South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns.
Al-Ahly is because of face Al-Merrikh on Feb. 11 in Sudan and Al-Hilal on Feb. 18 in Sudan as nicely, in response to the timetable of the matches drawn up by CAF.
Nevertheless, CAF inspectors had in September of final 12 months disqualified the Blue Jewel stadium in Sudanese capital, Khartoum, which often hosts the matches of each Sudanese groups, contemplating them unfit for worldwide matches.
This was why Al-Merrikh requested to play its match in opposition to Al-Ahly on Feb. 11 in Ethiopia, the closest nation to Sudan.
Nevertheless, Egyptian followers accuse the Sudanese group of in search of to reignite tensions between Egypt and Ethiopia.
Anger on this regard was clear on social media and on the streets in Egypt.
“Al-Merrikh stirs up new troubles between our nation and Ethiopia,” Abdurrahman Ahmed, a die-hard Al-Ahly supporter, instructed Al-Monitor. “The Sudanese membership is nicely conscious of issues between the 2 international locations.”
Deep beneath this anger are tensions between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over water-sharing.
The three Nile Basin nations have been locked in a decade-old dispute over Ethiopia’s building of a huge dam over the Blue Nile, the principle tributary of the Nile River that offers Egypt most of its fresh water needs.
Egypt says Ethiopia imperils its water share from the Nile by setting up the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
Egypt will get nearly 90% of its annual water from the river, and the mere notion of damming it places Egypt’s annual share of roughly 55.5 billion cubic meters in peril.
At this annual income from the river, Egypt is water poor already. The development and the filling of the GERD reservoir will drive the populous Arab nation’s annual water deficit as much as 30 billion cubic meters.
To partially bridge this deficit, Egypt has to deal with enormous quantities of sewage and desalinate seawater, coughing up enormous quantities of cash yearly.
Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan have been negotiating to achieve a legally binding deal on the dam for 10 years now, however these negotiations have produced nothing thus far.
This comes as each Egypt and Sudan accuse Ethiopia of enjoying time till the dam is an irreversible reality on the bottom.
“Ethiopia wastes time deliberately to hinder any authorized decision to the standoff over the dam,” Nadia Helmi, professor of political science at Beni Suef College in central Egypt, instructed Al-Monitor. “Egypt can do nothing however preserve placing diplomatic strain to achieve a deal.”
Egypt and Sudan referred the dam challenge to the United Nations Security Council in June final 12 months. Nonetheless, the council referred the entire matter to the African Union and requested the three states to barter in good religion.
This got here earlier than Ethiopia made its second filling of the dam reservoir.
Ethiopia now prepares for a 3rd filling of the reservoir, turning a deaf ear to Egyptian and Sudanese requires reaching a deal.
This stokes Egyptians’ anger and fears, particularly with Egypt insisting that the Ethiopian dam will put it on the sting of thirst.
Al-Merrikh’s request that its match in opposition to Al-Ahly be performed in Addis Ababa provides insult to harm, Egyptian soccer followers say.
The request will solely enhance tensions between Cairo and Addis Ababa, they add.
“Al-Ahly’s followers are in opposition to enjoying the match in Ethiopia as a result of there will likely be numerous rigidity,” Ahmed, the soccer fan, stated. “I can not additionally rule out the potential for fan violence.”
Soccer and politics are intertwined on this a part of the world. Soccer is even used as a political software by some rulers and governments within the area.
A 2009 World Cup qualifying match between Egypt and Algeria in Khartoum introduced Cairo and Algiers getting ready to conflict. The match witnessed bloody fan violence, prompting then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and then-Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to fly special planes to Khartoum to evict their international locations’ followers.
Political and diplomatic relations between Egypt and Algeria remained strained for a number of years after the match, and plenty of within the two international locations have bitter recollections of the aftermath of this soccer encounter.
Having been on the middle of accusations of sponsoring political Islam, together with some violent Islamist actions, Qatar is now utilizing soccer to woo Arabs again to it, particularly because it prepares to host the World FIFA Cup in 2022.
Doha, which had been subjected by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain minimize off diplomatic and trade embargo with it in June 2017, is now changing into the soccer capital of the Arab world.
Al-Ahly is Egypt’s most celebrated soccer group. With tens of thousands and thousands of followers throughout Egypt and Africa, the group can also be one of the crucial highly effective within the continent.
It claimed an enormous variety of native and continental competitions, and has gained the CAF Champions League 10 times for the reason that competitors’s launch in 1964.
Nevertheless, its encounters with Al-Hilal and Al-Merrikh would possibly put further strains on its gamers, if they’re performed in Addis Ababa, native sports activities commentators say.
“That is true, whilst Al-Ahly is by far Africa’s strongest group,” Egyptian sports activities journalist Gamal Hulail instructed Al-Monitor.
CAF will give the 2 Sudanese groups till Jan. 8 to fix the Blue Jewel Stadium, initially owned by Al-Hilal Membership, earlier than lastly deciding on whether or not to permit Al-Hilal’s and Al-Merrikh’s encounters with Al-Ahly to be performed in it or transfer them to a different nation, most likely Ethiopia.
Nonetheless, Sudanese sports activities commentators count on the 2 groups to fall in need of fixing their stadium earlier than the CAF deadline involves an finish.
“The positive factor is that the Blue Jewel Stadium is not going to be prepared for the matches earlier than the CAF deadline ends,” Sudanese sports activities journalist Mohamed Saleh Matar instructed Al-Monitor. “The Sudanese membership has dedicated a mistake by demanding to play its match in opposition to Al-Ahly in Ethiopia, given political tensions between Egypt and Ethiopia.”