Football Is Faster Than Politics: Sudan, Egypt, and FIFA Boycotts

By Sophia Azeb
Submitted to Session P4553 (Black Palestinian Solidarity and Anti-Blackness: A Way Forward, 2016 Annual Meeting
Media Arts
African Studies; Arab-Israeli Conflict; Cultural Studies;
After sinking a goal during a 26 January 2008 African Cup of Nations match, Egyptian attacking midfielder Mohamed Aboutrika lifted his jersey to reveal a shirt that read “Sympathize with Gaza.” Hailed simultaneously as a hero and a scoundrel for drawing attention to the siege of Gaza, Aboutrika subsequently received a “stern warning” from the Confederation of African Football (CAF) for bringing politics onto the pitch.
However, in spite of numerous news items and think pieces ruminating on Aboutrika’s political statement at the time (though the footballer himself cited a “humanitarian,” not political, impulse as his driving factor) little was made of the fact that the display occurred during a match between Egypt and Sudan. Both are among the first African nations to affiliate with FIFA in 1923 and 1948, respectively, as well as the first Afro-Arab nations to jointly boycott the World Cup by refusing to compete against Israel.
I therefore contribute to this panel a brief historical account of the political use of football in the context of Palestine solidarity movements emergent from the African continent. The goal of this conversation is to transcend the so-called ‘Sahara as boundary’ barrier in cultural and political considerations of Egypt and Sudan’s shared commitments to Palestinian liberation, as I contend that both are centers of pan-Africanist and pan-Arabist dialogue and action, particularly through their sporting practice.