FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Instep Intifada

In a world where mainstream media dumb down news reportage with inane sports metaphors, sometimes it takes sports to remind us of the gravity of the actual news. While the press acts like extras on Gossip Girl as they assess the latest machinations of Bill, Barack and Hillary, a soccer player aimed to alert the world to a humanitarian catastrophe.

Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Aboutreika of the Al-Ahly Pharoahs is the player who stepped up to this task. It’s a safe bet that Pharoah mania isn’t exactly sweeping the States. It’s also probably true that most readers don’t know Mohamed Aboutreika from Muhammad Ali, but the two men share more than a name.

After scoring in the Egyptian national side’s 3-0 victory over Sudan in the African Nations Cup, the player known as the Smiling Assassin lifted his jersey to reveal a T-shirt that read, “Sympathize with Gaza.”

For such a simple slogan, the reaction has been profound. Aboutreika received a yellow card for breaking world soccer’s ruling body FIFA’s year-old rule against political sloganeering on the pitch, and a suspension may be in the works. But then the unexpected: The confederation was flooded with emails from fans and even reporters expressing their support for Aboutreika’s actions.

“He is a good player and he belongs to all Arab and Muslim nations, and he reflected what is in our hearts,” journalist Ahmed Gamal wrote to FIFA. “We are asking you, in the name of human rights, to cooperate with us and support him. Please do not even think about any suspension for him, because your tournament will be fake and the whole Muslim world is supporting him. Please don’t make that mistake. We are all sympathizing with Gaza.”

The immediate solidarity was due as much to the man as the message. For those who care more about navel lint than the seditious, flag-burning world of soccer, Aboutreika isn’t some obscure sideline footballer. One of the top players in Africa, he’s known as the “Smiling Assassin” for his trademark ear-to-ear post-goal-scoring grin.

Like calling Walter Payton “Sweetness,” it speaks to Aboutreika’s personality more than his play. He’s a media favorite for treating fans and reporters alike with a rare respect.

He follows the Muhammad Ali credo: “I’ll never look down on someone who looks up to me.” If Roger Clemens can make a person feel like bathing in Listerine after meeting him, Aboutreika makes the people around him feel lifted for loving sports.

After his team won the African Champions League in 2006, the press lavished him with praise. But Aboutreika gently rebuked them, saying, “We need to stop this habit of praising [an individual] player. It isn’t Aboutreika, but the whole team who got the Cup. Without the others’ efforts, I can’t ever make anything. Football is a game played by many players. It isn’t tennis or squash.”

He has said: “Every athlete has a humanitarian role in society. He doesn’t live solely for himself, but for others too. I like to participate in charity work and try my best to help the poor and penniless. I’m also seeking to use soccer in humanitarian work.”

Quaint as this may sound, Aboutreika backs his words with deeds. He’s made fighting poverty the focus of his life out of uniform, appearing in an Egyptian public service announcement broadcast in which he said: “Hunger takes away a child every five seconds. We have to move immediately and lend each other a hand because every second counts. This is a game we have to win.”

For a person committed to fighting poverty, the need to raise awareness about Gaza is an act of obvious principle.” (John Edwards, take note.)

FIFA may have been horrified by this breach of politics/sport propriety, but that’s nothing compared to what’s happening in Gaza itself.

Like Gotham in Kurt Russell’s Escape From New York, Gaza has become a prison city, a scrap of land containing 1.5 million prisoners”men, women and children. Bad turned to dystopic on Jan. 18, when the state of Israel imposed a total Gaza blockade. Before this action, unemployment exceeded 40 percent. Now life in Gaza isn’t about finding work. It’s about basic survival.

“A stream of dark and putrid sludge snakes through Gaza’s streets,” wrote journalist Mohammed Omer. “It is a noxious mix of human and animal waste. The stench is overwhelming. The occasional passer-by vomits. Over recent days, this has been a more common sight than the sale of food on the streets of Gaza, choked by a relentless Israeli siege.”

All of this came home after hundreds of thousands of desperate residents fled Gaza through a breach in the border wall. As Al Jazeera reported, “If Gaza is the biggest prison on the planet, this is the biggest jail break.”

This is what pushed Aboutreika to make his stand. How novel to see a superstar athlete stand up and protest the wreckage of U.S. imperial policy in the Middle East. Tom Brady is more likely to call his new cologne “Gaza Mist” than acknowledge the humanitarian horror show underwritten by his tax dollars.

Against the expectation of star athletes and his own federation, Aboutreika has decided that while there’s a soul in prison, he himself isn’t free. Amid the graveyards dug by the West, a smiling assassin has taken a stand for survival and a measure of human compassion.

DAVE ZIRIN is a columnist for sports illustrated.com and the author of “Welcome to the Terrordome,” (Haymarket).

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

DAVE ZIRIN is the author of A People’s History of Sports in the United States (The New Press) Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
September 20, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Unipolar Governance of the Multipolar World
Rob Urie
Strike for the Environment, Strike for Social Justice, Strike!
Miguel Gutierrez
El Desmadre: The Colonial Roots of Anti-Mexican Violence
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Pompeo and Circumstance
Andrew Levine
Why Democrats Really Should Not All Get Along But Sometimes Must Anyway
Louis Proyect
A Rebellion for the Wild West
T.J. Coles
A Taste of Their Own Medicine: the Politicians Who Robbed Iranians and Libyans Fear the Same for Brexit Britain
H. Bruce Franklin
How We Launched Our Forever War in the Middle East
Lee Hall
Mayor Obedience Training, From the Pet Products Industry
Louis Yako
Working in America: Paychecks for Silence
Michael D. Yates
Radical Education
Jonathan Cook
Israelis Have Shown Netanyahu the Door. Can He Inflict More Damage Before He Exits?
Valerie Reynoso
The Rising Monopoly of Monsanto-Bayer
John Steppling
American Psychopathy
Ralph Nader
25 Ways the Canadian Health Care System is Better than Obamacare for the 2020 Elections
Ramzy Baroud
Apartheid Made Official: Deal of the Century is a Ploy and Annexation is the New Reality
Vincent Emanuele
Small Town Values
John Feffer
The Threat of Bolton Has Retreated, But Not the Threat of War
David Rosen
Evangelicals, Abstinence, Abortion and the Mainstreaming of Sex
Judy Rohrer
“Make ‘America’ White Again”: White Resentment Under the Obama & Trump Presidencies
John W. Whitehead
The Police State’s Language of Force
Kathleen Wallace
Noblesse the Sleaze
Farzana Versey
Why Should Kashmiris be Indian?
Nyla Ali Khan
Why Are Modi and His Cohort Paranoid About Diversity?
Shawn Fremstad
The Official U.S. Poverty Rate is Based on a Hopelessly Out-of-Date Metric
Mel Gurtov
No War for Saudi Oil!
Robert Koehler
‘I’m Afraid You Have Humans’
David Swanson
Every Peace Group and Activist Should Join Strike DC for the Earth’s Climate
Scott Owen
In Defense of Non-violent Actions in Revolutionary Times
Jesse Jackson
Can America Break Its Gun Addiction?
Priti Gulati Cox
Sidewalk Museum of Congress: Who Says Kansas is Flat?
Mohamad Shaaf
The Current Political Crisis: Its Roots in Concentrated Capital with the Resulting Concentrated Political Power
Max Moran
Revolving Door Project Probes Thiel’s White House Connection
Arshad Khan
Unhappy India
Nick Pemberton
Norman Fucking Rockwell! and 24 Other Favorite Albums
Nicky Reid
The Bigotry of ‘Hate Speech’ and Facebook Fascism
Paul Armentano
To Make Vaping Safer, Legalize Cannabis
Jill Richardson
Punching Through Bad Headlines
Jessicah Pierre
What the Felicity Huffman Scandal Says About America
John Kendall Hawkins
Draining the Swamp, From the Beginning of Time
Julian Rose
Four Funerals and a Wedding: A Brief History of the War on Humanity
Victor Grossman
Film, Music and Elections in Germany
Charles R. Larson
Review: Ahmet Altan’s “I Will Never See the World Again”
David Yearsley
Jazz is Activism
Elliot Sperber
Captains of Industry 
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail