Heated football elections tarnished by suspicions of govt obstruction
World Cup football match in Cairo. Image from Shutterstock. - Courtesy: Shutterstock

Elections for the management of Egypt’s two leading football clubs, Ahly and Zamalek, took place on Friday amid controversy surrounding government interference in football.

The elections took place in an “extremely difficult” context, wrote the privately owned newspaper Al-Shorouk, suggesting that this would prove a heavy burden for the winners to shoulder.

The competition for the leadership of Zamalek Club was the most heated in the 100-year-old club’s history, according to Al-Shorouk, due to the “convergence of the fortunes of the three candidates, Murtada Mansour, Kemal Darwish and Raouf Gasser, alongside the fourth candidate Ashraf Sukkary.”

Darwish is interim chairperson of the club while Gasser previously served as its vice-president.

Intense debate between the candidates and their campaigns continued until the 11th hour both inside and outside the club as they fought to garner support from members of the general assembly.

Commentators indicated that there was the possibility of surprise results, although the old faces appeared confident of victory.

This may be because club members have not felt the impact of any service development in the previous period, suggested Al-Shorouk’s Mohamed al-Qa’oud.

Most of the candidates have long been involved with the club. Gasser appeared confident of the win, banking on the history of his late father George Saad, a revered club symbol, reported Al-Shorouk.

Ahmed Ibrahim, prominent on Murtada’s list, was also depending on the history of his father as a recent club president, the newspaper reported.

The Ahly elections saw a face-off between Mahmoud Taher and Ibrahim al-Muallem, owner of Al-Shorouk media corporation, seen as close to the club’s incumbent chairperson, Hassan Hamdy.

Hamdy, in the position for eight years, was arrested last week on corruption charges that were first levied against him during the one-year presidency of Mohamed Morsi. Hamdy was not due to run in elections due to a sports bylaw passed in September that limits tenure of club management to two terms.

Hamdy also previously served as head of the advertising agency of Al-Ahram, the state’s flagship newspaper. He was banned from travel last week alongside several senior Al-Ahram figures.

A travel ban had also imposed on Hamdy by the Illict Gains Authority in 2012. He was imprisoned and released on bail in the same year.

The ministry was able to remove the board of Zamalek Club led by chairperson Mamdouh Abbas and replace it with an interim administration, while Ahly’s board was more resistant.

Former Sports Minister Taher Abu Zeid resigned from the Cabinet in January after it reversed his decision to disband the board of Ahly Club.

Hamdy has been holding meetings with several fronts, from Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb to sports federations, demanding the postponement of the elections until the new Sports Law is issued.

The global football regulatory authority FIFA entered into the fray, and sought a response from the Egyptian Football Association (EFA) on the question of government interference in football.

The management of both clubs lobbied for elections to be postponed until a new Sports Law is issued, citing FIFA support on the issue.

In a harshly worded letter, FIFA expressed “deep concern” about the Egyptian Football Association’s failure to take steps as a response to interference from authorities, or to respond to FIFA on the matter.

“The committee deemed that the absence of answers and/or the very late replies should not be tolerated anymore, and it is therefore anticipated that EFA will show due diligence in the future,” the letter read.

Some commentators suggested that this tug-of-war around the club’s management should be seen as part of the military’s efforts to isolate businessmen with close ties to Gamal Mubarak, son of former President Hosni Mubarak, in a broader struggle between the military and neoliberal businessmen who pose a threat to the military’s vast economic interests and as a new regime seeks to consolidate itself.

Local reports suggest similar scenes as voting takes place at both Zamalek and Ahly clubs. Al-Shorouk reported skirmishes this morning at Zamalek between supporters of opposing candidates. Central Security Forces were reportedly dispatched to secure the club’s gates.

The voting in both clubs has been paused more then once.

The committee supervising the electoral process at the Zamalek and Ahly clubs stopped the voting as a result of campaigning and distribution of flyers by supporters of different candidates, as well as general lack of organization, the privately owned newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm (AMAY) reported.

In Zamalek, following ignored warnings from committee representatives, security ejected the campaigners before voting was resumed.

The Ahly committee chairperson initially refused to resume the vote after Friday prayers and threatened to call in security forces because of the state of chaos and lack of organization in the voting marquee.

He called on all election candidates to agree to suspend the voting process until the situation was calm, AMAY reported.

Mahmoud Khatib, deputy chairperson of Ahly Club, fainted as a result of crowding, the newspaper also reported.


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