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It was a war of the strong against the weak, of Goliath against David, of a superpower against a village. It was the kind of thrashing you read about in fairy tales. A terrible slaughter, sharp and swift, with no proof needed from any international investigating committee. The illustrious Egyptian soccer team Zamalek suffered a colossal defeat at the hands (or rather, feet) of the rival Egyptian team, Alahli, 6:1.

In order to convey to the Egyptian public the magnitude of this tragedy, ordinary descriptions from the world of crime, or even Israel's atrocities against the Palestinians, were not sufficient. A disaster of such proportions called for the intervention of the minister of history.

After the defeat, Samir Rajab, editor of the mass-circulation Egyptian newspaper Al-Gumhuria, wrote, "Thursday [the day of the game] reminded me of the day the Soviet Union disappeared, leaving the international map with one superpower moving around freely on the stage, with no one to stop it from doing whatever it likes and satisfying its own desires. That is the story of Zamalek and Alahli. The only thing left for Zamalek is to sink into oblivion, because after this shameful performance, it will never have fans again. Gorbachev - may Allah never forgive him - sold his country cheap so he could live it up on American dollars. Maybe history will yet prove that Gorbachev was the greatest traitor to his people and homeland since God created Adam, but as we see in the case of Zamalek, there are many traitors in the world. Our duty as a people is to put them on public trial and let those who are authorized send them to hell."

And that is just the beginning. The fall of the Soviet Union apparently pales beside the enormity of this misfortune. Magdi Muhana, one of the editors of Alwafed, the newspaper of the opposition, brings an even more horrifying comparison: "Just as America says that the world before September 11 will never be the same as the world after September 11, Egyptian soccer fans say that the events of May 16 [the day of the game] are a fault line in the history of Egyptian soccer. Never in its entire career has Alahli beat Zamalek by such a wide margin."

Political commentary, of course, is not far behind: "Can the Alwafed party dream of a political victory like Alahli's?" Muhana goes on. "Can it dream of beating the ruling party someday? True, Alwafed is not Alahli and the ruling party is not Zamalek, but doesn't Egypt have a right to dream of a better life?"

Ahmed Ragab, the satirist of Al-Ahbar, is reminded of yet another catastrophe: "It was June 5 all over again," he writes. "The Six-Goal War. It was the kind of defeat that shows the depth of the infighting in the team and the club as a whole. Why don't the players and the managers take a tip from our upstanding government, where the ministers never fight and all is perfect harmony, as one sees from the fantastic achievements in every sphere, from exports and unemployment to the stability of the dollar exchange rate."

The Palestinian problem? The Saudi initiative? The Jenin massacre? These are the catastrophes of others, kid's stuff compared to Zamalek. Because when Zamalek loses so miserably, it is the kind of national tragedy that no other Arab country can rescue Egypt from. Life is thrown off kilter. Nothing is stable anymore. As long as it was just the government that was weak, the administration that was corrupt and the economy that was shaky, one could find some peace of mind on the playing field. But now?

The truth of the matter is that only tragedies that befall Egypt - as opposed to those that befall others, like, say, the Palestinians - have rallying power in Egypt today. And another bit of consolation: When the Cairo newspapers rant and rave against Israel using every swearword in the book, Israel can take comfort in the fact that it has a new partner: Zamalek.