Football's post-revolution future in Egypt and Tunisia

By Matthew KenyonBBC World Football
Egypt play South Africa at the Military Academy Stadium in Cairo in June 2011
Football is back in Egypt and Tunisia, but what will the game look like following the revolutions of the Arab uprising?

As revolution swept through Tunisia and Egypt earlier this year, football was put on hold.

Domestic leagues were suspended as players and fans were caught up in wider events.

But now football is back and everyone involved in the game is beginning to look to the future.

I recently travelled to Tunisia and Egypt for the BBC's World Football programme, to find out what has happened to the game - and what role it played in the revolutions of the Arab uprising.

Before the revolt

Ask anyone in either Tunisia or Egypt what football was like in the era of their now former rulers and the answer is the same.

"There was direct interference from the politicians in the affairs of football," Mohamed Shihib Ben Hammouda, a spokesman for Tunisian club Etoile du Sahel, told me - a view echoed 1,000 miles to the east by the former Egyptian goalkeeper Nader El Sayed.

The sons of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak (half-right, standing and crouching) celebrate winning the Nations Cup in 2010 with the national team
The sons of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak celebrate Egypt's success at the Nations Cup in Angola

"Since we started playing football in Egypt, politics came in - they tried to use [the game] to make people just busy with football, not with freedom, food or a house to live in," El Sayed said.

Politics, influence, patronage and money became the driving forces behind the game - and the leaders and their families associated themselves personally with the sport, especially the national teams.

During the uprising

Once the movements against Presidents Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak really started, football was suspended in both countries as the then authorities tried to hold on.

But football people were heavily involved in events on the streets.

"I like to say that the revolution began in the stadium," Hadji Abdullah, a member of Tunisia's Club Africain, told me.

"Fans could not express themselves in the street, so they went to the stadium - it was the only place where people could speak [freely].

"Fans were protected because they were not alone - there were thousands of them, and the police could not touch them."

Present but imperfect

As football has returned however, the freedom which fans found in the stadiums under the previous governments has spilled over into violence.

Continental games have been abandoned in both countries - and league matches in Tunisia are still being played behind closed doors.

While some claim that the trouble is the result of people testing the boundaries of their newfound freedom, others are certain the reasons for the trouble are more sinister.

Players of Al Hilal run for shelter after being attacked by Club Africain fans during an African Champions League game
Violence has forced the abandonment of several continental club matches in both Egypt and Tunisia, forcing the new governments to act

"[Supporters] of the old government began the incidents," Hadji Abdullah said.

"They want to show that they are still here, that we can't make security without them, that we need them - but they can make some incidents but they cannot come back."

What's coming next?

Like most aspects of life in both Tunisia and Egypt, uncertainty hangs over the future of football in both countries.

There are financial and legal questions to be resolved - and concerns about the continued presence within the game of people who were associated with the previous authorities.

That concern extends even to people within the national team set-up, although some - like former national team coach Hassan Shehata - have now gone.

Former national team goalkeeper Nader El Sayed, an active participant in the uprising in Egypt, says a compromise can be reached, but some of the people involved have to acknowledge that they were wrong.

""We are all Egyptian - maybe some people realised it was really a revolution and others weren't able to think about the situation. The Egyptian national team is the Egyptian national team - not Mubarak's national team, [but] these people must say sorry," he said.

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