Relations between Egypt and Algeria have been taking a serious turn for the worse in the aftermath of Algeria's World Cup playoff qualifying victory over Egypt's national football (soccer) team in Khartoum on Wednesday. Egypt has recalled its ambassador from Algiers and a wave of nationalistic fervor is gripping both countries.
Overnight, a mob of distraught Egyptian football fans attempted to attack the Algerian Embassy in Cairo, but were pushed back by security forces. Egyptian TV says that the crowd threw stones, injuring several dozen police officers and damaging cars, businesses and billboards.
The violence stemmed from this week's football game. Algeria and Egypt had to play a single-match tiebreaker at a neutral venue in Sudan because they ended the Africa zone group stage World Cup qualifying round with identical records after Saturday's match in Cairo. Algeria won the Sudan match, 1-0, securing a spot in football's premier tournament in Africa next year, while eliminating Egypt from contention.
Thursday, Egypt recalled its ambassador from Algeria, to protest violence against Egyptian fans in Khartoum and the looting of Egyptian businesses in Algeria by that country's soccer fans.
Algerian soccer fans celebrated for hours in the Sudanese capital, after their national team's victory over Egypt. And, many Egyptian supporters complained of being harassed or attacked. Egypt's Health Minister Hatem al-Gabali insists that such claims are exaggerated.
He says that the latest information we received is that there were no deaths among Egyptian fans, no serious injuries and that every fan made it back safely (from Khartoum).
Relations between Egypt and Sudan have also suffered because of complaints in the Egyptian media about allegedly lax security by the Sudanese government. The Sudanese police official in charge of security around the soccer stadium in Omdurman insists that his men did their best.
He says that the Sudanese security forces did their best, exerting their best effort and deploying the necessary number of men, to protect the interests of both Egypt and Algeria, including embassies, businesses, and citizens of both countries.
While Egyptians remain downbeat, Algerian soccer fans continue to celebrate, singing songs, chanting and honking car horns. Algerian TV devoted lengthy coverage to the players on the winning national team and discussed plans for next year's world championship in South Africa.
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was shown on national TV dancing and celebrating with the players of the national team, as supporters shouted and cheered. Mr. Bouteflika said recently that Algerians need to be proud their soccer team.
He says that Algeria must have a national soccer team that everyone can be proud of, as well as a flag that floats proudly over the nation, and young people that compete with pride.
Said Sadek, who teaches politics and sociology at the American University of Cairo, argues that politicians in both Egypt and Algeria are using soccer to whip up patriotic sentiment.
"Leaderships in the two countries are exploiting the event for some political gains and to whip up emotions and raise national and patriotic sentiment," he said. "It is a distraction from the real problems of the people and the winner would use this victory to cover up for the failure of all sectors of society, whether in Egypt or in Algeria. "
Sadek insists that media reports of recent skirmishes have been "blown out of proportion and that some obscure political objective is being served by the drama for the governments of both countries."