Egyptian national soccer coach may resign amid criticism for supporting Mubarak
Crowned Egyptian national soccer coach Hassan Shehata may become the latest victim of efforts to remove from office supporters of ousted President Hosni Mubarak.
Charging that Egyptian soccer and media are corrupt, Mr. Shehata, who has been under attack for the national team’s recent poor performance in African competitions as well as his public support for Mr. Mubarak, says that he is considering handing in his resignation.
Mr. Shehata’s remarks to Al Ahram follow the disclosure earlier this month that Egyptian Football Association (EFA) president Samir Zaher would step down 18 months before his current term ends.
Mr. Shehata is one of several soccer officials appointed by the old regime that provoked the ire of militant fans by publicly supporting Mr. Mubarak at the very moment that they were playing a key role in the protests on Cairo’s Tahrir Square that ousted the Egyptian leader in February 2011.
Mr. Shehata has since sought to fend off criticism by asserting that he shared the protesters’ demand for an end to corruption, but did not want to see Mr. Mubarak humiliated.
Alongside Mr. Zaher, other officials who fans would like to see go include National Sports Council chairman Hassan Saqr, national goalkeeper trainer Ahmed Soliman who is suspected of having abused political prisoners in Mr. Mubarak’s jails, crowned Cairo club Al Zamalek SC board member Ibrahim Hassan, national team coach Hassan Shehata and Hassan Hamdi, chairman of Egypt’s most popular club, Al Ahly SC.
Fans have also denounced soccer players for their failure to join them in the anti-Mubarak protests.
Egyptian authorities last month remanded in custody controversial lawyer Mortada Mansour, the former head of Zamalek, in the first post-Mubarak arrest of a senior football figure.
Authorities are investigating Mr. Mansour’s alleged role in the February 2 attack on anti-government protesters in Tahrir Square. These attacks have been attributed to supporters of Mr. Mubarak; they were riding camels and donkeys. Mr. Mansour has denied any involvement in the attack.
Mr. Shehata is widely viewed as Egypt’s best ever national coach. A former star striker for Cairo’s Al Zamalek SC, Mr. Shehata led Egypt to win three African Cups in 2006, 2008 and 2010.
Egypt has fared less well this year in part because Egyptian soccer was paralyzed by the three-month suspension of all domestic league matches to prevent the soccer pitch from becoming an opposition rallying ground.
Fan violence during matches after the suspension was lifted in mid-April could persuade authorities to cancel the current season.
“I’m very unhappy with what is going on. The atmosphere is corrupt and it is very difficult to work in such circumstances. This corrupt atmosphere is mainly down to some media personnel and football analysts, who have a very negative influence on Egyptian football. Regardless of the fact that my contract will run out in 2014, I’m seriously thinking about handing in my resignation,” Mr. Shehata said.
Mr. Shehata made his remarks despite EFA president Zaher saying he would maintain confidence in the coach even if Egypt failed to make it to next year’s African Cup finals in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
Mr. Shehata suggested that he feared that Egypt’s failure to qualify could turn him into a scapegoat. “I know that Zaher trusts me, but our position in the qualifiers may change many things,” he said.
Egypt needs to beat South Africa in June at Cairo Stadium to progress in the African Cup qualifiers.
(James M. Dorsey is a senior researcher at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer. He can be reached via email at: email@example.com)