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The Arab Soccer Wars: Khartoum, Cairo, Algiers ... As Well As Paris, Lyons, and Marseilles

These did not reach the intensity of the 100 hours war in 1969 between Honduras and El Salvador which was also over fought over World Cup soccer matches. After all, in that war, according to John Signoriello, 900 El Salvadoran troops and civilians met their maker and 100 Honduran combat troops plus 2,000 (!) just ordinaries met theirs. TNR's editor, Frank Foer, narrates many other such violent episodes in his book, How Soccer Explains the World, which is itself amazing.

But the Arab soccer wars are nothing to laugh about. You can read about them in the attached news reports, along with photos. Still, nothing explains the riots in France where thousands and thousands of mostly young and temper-torn French-born men and women who hail from Algeria took to the streets and ripped them up, broke shop windows, muscled non-participants and wrought general havoc. The provocation for one of these mob mutinies was the defeat of Algeria by the Egyptian team. Others were ... well, just others.

It was different in Cairo where the jacqueries seem to have been ignited by insults perceived across the usually rigid class barriers. As Jason Keller of the Associated Press reported

The troubles began when crowds in Cairo hurled stones as the Algerian team's bus before a first match here on March 14, injuring three players. Egypt won 2-0, forcing the playoff. And in the following days, mobs in Algeria ransacked the offices of Egyptian companies... 

“Barbaric attacks on Egyptian fans in Khartoum,” read one headline in the Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm. “Algerians chase Egyptian fans with knives and machetes,” said another.

“Algeria: a legacy of blood, hatred and a history of violence” read another headline in an apparent reference to the civil war between Islamic extremists and Algerian government forces that killed up to 200,000 people in the 1990s.

One Egyptian TV program blamed the violence on ... who else? The Jews or, to be precise, Israel. Sure. Why not? Some Egyptians even claimed Algerians are not real Arabs or Muslims. Well, yes, many of them--perhaps 40% of them--are Berbers. But they're still Muslims.

And here entered one of Hosni Mubarak's sons. No, not the one being groomed for the succession to his father. But Alaa, a wealthy businessman. “It is impossible that we Egyptians take this. We have to stand up and say, ‘Enough,’ he said.” “When you insult my dignity ... I will beat you on the head.”

Then papa joined the mob, an “agitated” papa. The elder and visibly angry Mubarak told a joint session of the two houses of parliament: “I want to say in clear words that the dignity of Egyptians is part of the dignity of Egypt.”

Algerians, of course, retaliated. Retaliated mightily.

And, well, Sudan. You know of what it is capable.

By the way, “more than 40 percent of Egypt's nearly 80 million people live on less than $2 per day,” according to various reports of the United Nations. Human dignity, indeed.