Egypt: Aboutrika’s Homophobic Rant Diminishes His Image
Mohamed Aboutrika and Mohamed Salah command great respect and adoration in Egypt, the Arab world and the sporting fraternity at large. But they don’t always use that power for good.
In the pantheon of Egyptian football gods, Mohamed Aboutrika is almost untouchable. A great playmaker with gossamer skills, Aboutrika achieved hero-like status, playing a decade for Al Ahly and Egypt.
The rise of Mohamed Salah has prompted debate over who is the best Egyptian player ever. Salah dazzles at Liverpool in England where he won the Uefa Champions League. His last-gasp penalty against the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2017 led Egypt to their first Fifa World Cup finals since 1990. His credentials are impeccable, his skills commanding and his aura second to none.
“Salah has achieved what we had never seen before,” says Tarek Talaat, managing editor and sports journalist at Kora Plus in Egypt. “We never imagined that there would be an Egyptian player that can be compared with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.”
The pair of Egyptian stars have a lot in common. In a public display of faith, they kneel(ed) after scoring goals. They have taken up humanitarian roles: Salah donating to charity in Nagrig, a village in the Basyoun district, his place of birth; and Aboutrika becoming a United Nations Development Program goodwill ambassador in 2012. At home and across the Arab world, they command huge audiences. On Twitter and Instagram, Salah enjoys a combined audience of 62.1 million; Aboutrika, 12.1 million. The latter is also a pundit for beIN Sports, the main sports network in the Middle East and North Africa region and a vital cog in the global football broadcast industry.
But they use those audiences differently. Salah’s tweets are textbook and anodyne. Aboutrika is often more outspoken, opinionated and controversial. In many ways, he has always been different. A philosophy graduate from Cairo University, he came out in support of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. At the 2008 Afcon final, he wore a T-shirt with the words: “Sympathize with Gaza.” He was also very supportive of the ultras of Al Ahly who were front and centre of the Tahrir Square uprising in the Arab Spring a decade ago, which led to the overthrow of the long-standing dictator Hosni Mubarak.
The military quickly took over from Egypt’s only democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi from the Muslim Brotherhood. Suddenly, Aboutrika found himself on the wrong side of the political debate, accused of ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. His assets were frozen, his passport revoked and his name added to the terror list. Aboutrika has always denied any wrongdoing and fought to clear his name in courts, to little avail. He fled to Qatar.