Egypt’s National Sports Council has ended the controversy surrounding reports that the Egyptian national soccer team intended to play a friendly match against its Palestinian counterpart at a stadium in one of Occupied Jerusalem’s neighborhoods. The council decided to indefinitely postpone the team’s trip, which had been scheduled for March 30th, in light of the bloody events that have been taking place in the Al-Aqsa Mosque lately.
On Sunday, Egyptian sources reported that the decision was apparently taken because of events at the Mosque. However, it turns out that the events “were an opportunity to end controversy sparked at many levels in Egypt over the Egyptian national team’s trip.”
Samir Zahir, chairman of Egypt’s National Football Association, asserted that Hassan Saqr, the head of the National Sports Council, had told him that he received instructions “from above” to postpone the team’s travel to Jerusalem until further notice on account of the incidents taking place. Zahir said that the decision had been expected in light of current events and asserted that he is in favor of providing help and support to the Palestinians in line with the vision of state officials. He added that the Football Association was part of the country’s fabric and that he would never endeavour to take significant step such as this one before first gaining the government’s approval.
The travel decision had sparked fierce opposition from within sports and political circles on the grounds that the delegation’s members would have had to obtain Israeli visas. This would have been a form of direct normalization of relations with the Occupation’s government. Ahmed Omar Hashem, head of the religious committee in parliament, announced his objections to visiting Jerusalem and receiving an Israeli visa as it would mean “recognizing the legitimacy of Israeli occupation of our land and holy sites.”
Ibrahim Abu Ouf, an engineer and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood bloc in parliament, demanded the cancellation of the team’s trip to Jerusalem, and invited it to travel to the besieged Gaza Strip to play the Palestinian team there instead. Abu Ouf considered the team’s visit a “reward for the Zionist enemy, which carries out excavations and [digs] tunnels under the Al-Aqsa Mosque so as to destroy it and build the alleged temple in its place.” He also said that the trip would have been “recognition of the occupation and its control over the holy city.”