Jingo hooligans and the police state

Things are getting increasingly strange here. Hosni Mubarak’s eldest son, Alaa, has basically added fuel to peoples’ fake fire against Algeria – the government co-opting popular frustrations with Wednesday’s loss and the news that Egyptian businesses in Algeria were attacked and Egyptian fans in Khartoum were assaulted by Algerians.”It is impossible that we as Egyptians take this, we have to stand up and say ‘enough,'” said Alaa, who had traveled to Khartoum for Wednesday’s game, the AP reported. “There should be a stance, we have had enough. When you insult my dignity … I will beat you on the head,” added the younger Mubarak.”

Today Zamalek is a cordoned police zone, thousands of Central Security troops and dozens of trucks not only around the Algerian Embassy, but on every side street on that side of the island. Honking horns and chants against Algeria can be heard in the air — I was walking near the Indian Embassy this afternoon and heard crowds, probably across the river in Bulaq. 26th of July street is littered with rocks, garbage, and broken glass. Storefronts on money exchanges and the various other shops — Egyptian stores — were smashed late last night, early this morning.

I took some video of the protests on 26th of July last night, but before the rioting really took off. Still, people were burning Algerian flags, waving huge Egyptian ones, and chanting insults to Algeria – (not just “Allahu Akbar” as the AP and other agencies focus on). More vulgar things.. insults more suitable for a kind of soccer riot, which this is, sort of, but is clearly ballooning into something else.

Hooliganism and narrow nationalism

The vehemence, fanaticism, and recriminations that were blatantly expressed in the media and on the streets of Algeria, Egypt, and Sudan [the host country where the deciding final game is to be played] all point to a trend. This is the logical outcome of the narrow nationalism that has prevailed in Arab politics since the death of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the former Egyptian president.

Asad AbuKhalil on the politics of a sporting rivalry for Al Jazeera English.

to Amman, to Sinai and back again

This time last week I was sleeping at the Holiday Inn near JFK. “Flight 93” was playing on TNT earlier that night; the hotel was full of Jordanians and other Arabs, many with brand new biometric American passports like the new one I finally have. Royal Jordanian delayed the Sunday night flight, because of a hurricane we heard. Which one? The one that had mildly hit the northeast two days earlier, making Rafa Nadal wilt in swamp weather in Flushing? Or the one coming in two days?

Either way I landed in Amman early Tuesday morning. By Wednesday morning I was in a bus south to Aqaba to catch the ferry to Nuweiba in Egypt. “You want speed?” a ticket man asked me at the crumbling port building in Aqaba, which shares coastline with Eilat in Israel and Taba in Egypt. There are two ferries that run between Jordan and Egyot; the fast one is only supposed to take one hour, plus the casual but unclear waiting before leaving and after hitting port on the other side of the Gulf of Aqaba.

Amman and Aqaba share claims to possess the world’s tallest flagpoles. However I heard in the days since getting here and since seeing both flagpoles (impressive) that in fact Turkmenistan has the world’s tallest. And Azerbaijan, or perhaps Kazakhstan is about to out-do that. Sort of like the supertall skyscraper rivalries in Dubai, only a little thinner.

Returning to Egypt invited immediate haggling. Jordanian cabs use a meter and the drivers, besides each having unique knowledge of the best hotel in town (surely better and cheaper than the one you ask them to take you to), seem to share little with their surly Egyptian counterparts.

In a shared taxi ride from Aqaba to Amman last night, at a rest stop on the side of the highway for tea somewhere north of Kerak, the driver told me that he used to work in Baghdad. “I was a driver for KBR in Baghdad for four years. I was a driver between Amman and Baghdad for twenty years.”

I confessed I didn’t know much about KBR. He looked surprised, then annoyed, then was silent. We looked at each other and I asked if he was from Amman. He was. KBR is the major Ameican contractor in Iraq, building housing for soldiers. The driver said they work as police through the American army, and he was explaining this to the man from Madaba sitting shotgun next to him. He seemed stung that I didn’t ask him more about Baghdad, and I was embarassed that I didn’t know that KBR, among other things, employs more American private contractors and holds a larger contract with the U.S. government than does any other firm in Iraq.