CAIRO: Everyone is talking about the thousands at Cairo International Stadium that cheered on the national team during the African Cup of Nations: they were organized and enthusiastic even though many had no idea what off-side actually means.
Analysts and government officials have translated the phenomenon as a new wave of patriotism. Those audiences, analysts say, came for one reason: Egypt. Many of them were not even football fans.
Yet it is a wonder how six football games played by the Egyptian team have united a nation. The stadium was continuously packed and the 74,000-plus attendees were often caught cheering in unison and standing in single file waiting for their turn to get in – something not often seen in Egypt.
The audience was mainly composed of men and women between the ages of 18-30. They are to be commended, not only for their enthusiasm but also for showing what has been described as a civilized attitude. Their organized and decent behavior came in contrast to the continuous shouting of obscenities, absence of civility and abundance of fights usually associated with local football games. The stadium that was once no place for women, witnessed a huge increase in the number of attending females, signifying a new era of stadium security and decency.
It wasn’t just sports professionals that observed this phenomenon. Other industries have also taken notice. Earlier this month, producer and actress Isaad Younes refuted claims that quality films are not well received in Egypt by referring to the then-ongoing African Cup. She explained that when presented with quality, Egyptians are appreciative and act accordingly.
Dr. Madiha El Safty, sociology professor at the American University in Cairo, shares the same opinion. She explains that people gathered around the national team because the project was well prepared and highly “credible; the championship was hailed for its orderliness, which is new to Egyptian-organized events.
It was not just organization and credibility; El Safty explains that the championship was like light in a dark tunnel. In the midst of all of the problems and depressing news, people found a cause of joy in the African cup. This, according to El Safty, uncovered the feeling of patriotism among Egyptians.
She stressed that patriotism was the driving factor behind the phenomenon; like others, she suggested that this feeling could be used positively. In fact, the question on everyone’s minds now is how to turn this obvious patriotism into positively constructive energy that helps in the development of the country.
Sports professionals repeatedly said in the media that this newly-observed behavior should be maintained by whatever means, citing all of the potential positive effects such a civilized audience has on sports development
All of the writers and analysts, however, who addressed the issue were more concerned with larger-scale projects that directly affect the future of the country.
Even government officials took notice and have expressed intentions to make use of this feeling of patriotism. Last Sunday, during a press conference organized by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Egyptian Institute of National Planning, all present government officials began their speeches by mentioning the African Cup success.
“What we witnessed in the African Cup is that Egyptians have a huge sense of belonging, said Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif. “How can we translate that into real active power? How can we make those young people concerned about problems in the environment?
He then explained that the UNDP’s recent report, which debates the endeavor to establish harmony between the government and civil society, could help in this area. “We must expand on social, economic and political reforms with the participation of the civil society, said Osman Mohamed Osman, minister of planning and chairman of the board for the Institute of National Planning, during the same event. “Such initiative will instill momentum and growth in all citizens.
But so far, less than a week after Egypt won the championship, nothing but intentions have been expressed. According to El Safty, establishing credibility is a key element in any plan. She said that before the championship, actions did not go in line with the preceding announcements, which in turn destroyed people’s faith in the credibility of any announced project.