It was not surprising that FIFA punished Egypt after fans attacked Algeria’s football team bus.
That at least two Algerian players sustained head injuries from rock throwers in November’s World Cup qualifying incident here in Cairo was enough to earn for Egypt an $88,000 fine and an order that Egypt must stage its first two home matches in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup at least 100 kilometers from the capital.
FIFA could not support the consistent claims by Egyptian officials that the Algerians themselves broke the windows of the bus from within the vehicle, or the accusation that the Algerians themselves practiced masochism on each other, purposely injuring themselves, or the assertion that the blood on the faces of the hurt Algerians was in reality ketchup.
It could have been worse. If anything, we were lucky that points were not deducted from us in the 2014 World Cup qualifying stage.
That would have dug for us a hole too deep to climb out of.
We were lucky the game was played in the first place. If players the likes of Messi, Ronaldo or Rooney had been assaulted in such a manner, their teams would have definitely refused to play.
If the Algerians had declined to play, FIFA would have been forced to cancel the match and rightfully declare Algeria, which would cite Egypt’s failure to ensure the Algerian delegation’s safety, the winner by default.
Rubbing salt into the wound, Egypt was found guilty not only of attacking Algerians before the game but making Cairo Stadium a death trap during the match.
FIFA’s disciplinary committee said it equally noted that security and order in Cairo Stadium were not guaranteed "as an excessive number of spectators were granted access to the stadium and the entrances and stairways were obstructed."
Still, we weathered FIFA’s ire fairly well. The fine should not badly dent Egypt’s football coffers while the two games we must play outside Cairo should not pose a predicament. It was in Cairo Stadium that we tied with Zambia in the first match of the 2010 qualifiers, which cost us two priceless points. Had we won that game, we would have been going to South Africa. We won’t do worse playing outside Cairo.
Nor should it have come as a surprise that FIFA decided not to take disciplinary action against Algeria following our claims that Egyptian fans were assaulted by Algerians in Sudan in the aftermath of the deciding World Cup play-off clash between the two sides.
The difference between Egypt getting penalized and Algeria going scot-free was in the evidence and the lack thereof.
The Algerians supported their claims with a video showing that Rafik Halliche and Khaled Lemmouchia, among others, suffered head injuries in the attack in Cairo.
Egypt, on the other hand, had absolutely nothing to show for the purported attack on its fans in Omdurman four days later, not one iota of documented proof except much hearsay.
Of the thousands of Egyptians in Omdurman that Nov. 18, and which included politicians, actors, actresses, journalists and TV presenters, not a single one managed to take one, just one picture of a single incident, particularly on a mobile camera which, like all Egyptians, they all have.
Of all the Egyptian TV crews and newspaper and magazine photographers covering this, one of the most important matches in Egypt’s history, not one captured any incident on film, on tape or on air.
There was an Egyptian TV sports anchor who stayed up late that night receiving phone calls from besieged Egyptians in Sudan begging for help. Up until today, few people understand or even care to ask why people who were being attacked decided to get in contact, not with the police, an ambulance or fire station in Sudan, but with a TV sports host in Egypt, thousands of miles from the scene of the alleged crime.
If you’re being attacked by knife-wielding marauders, and your life is on the line, what’s the first thing you do? Call up a talk show? In another country?
For the first few days after the events in Omdurman the Egyptian public was highly critical of Sudan for what it termed as its failure to protect Egyptians. But when we realized our complaints were starting to harm political relations, we stopped the grumbling.
We needed Sudan’s support when we took our complaint to FIFA. We never got it.
Host Sudan said it had not seen any Algerian holding a knife lunging at any Egyptian. It said a handful of Egyptians had suffered minor injuries from scuffles, were hospitalized promptly and released.
In an attempt to cover up any security deficiencies, it’s possible Sudan might have been trying to cover its backside. Whatever, like any backside, that’s behind us. Today, we need Sudan’s support over another battle, this one between Egypt and other Nile Basin countries for the Nile. So far, Khartoum is standing shoulder to shoulder with Cairo.
The water row is a crisis looming as the fight of our lives, much, much more important than football.