Sunday 10 Apr 2022
I have a close friendship with the Egyptian international football player Mohamed Salah and his family. This friendship places so many exigencies upon my opinions and perspective.
However, friendship aside, I am one of those who lamented the attacks that social media users launched against the great player after the last match of the Egyptian national team.
The match and the war
The Egyptians could not bear the defeat of their country against Senegal, because the dream of the next World Cup had ended completely: the masses were following the Ukraine crisis, the high levels of inflation in Egypt and the world and they were following the wheat and oil exchange without good news for about forty days. The greatest joy that might have redressed these news and afflictions, if briefly, was reaching the World Cup, but sports aligned with politics to ruin and kill the joy.
Egypt set its budget on the basis of an oil price equivalent to half of the new price. It had planned to subsidise bread by several billions, but it increased billions more in the wake of the war. This also affected the tourism sector, which had regained much of its health after the pandemic receded. Thus, it now faces a crisis that is taking place in two countries with a large tourist presence on its eastern shores. And, in addition to that, many of the raw materials that are used in several industries, most notably iron and cement, come from the war zone. This has led to price changes with the launch of the war.
The Senegal match, which wrecked the Egyptian dream in the 2022 World Cup, came in the midst of the global economic horrors resulting from the Russian-Ukrainian war. The anger increased in so far as the World Cup is being held this time in Qatar. Perhaps the Egyptians wanted to participate in this World Cup, in order to display their popularity in the streets of Doha during the Egyptian matches, and to show their presence in a country that had up till recently worked against their own for ten whole years and more.
So, the anger was great, and because the Egyptian team is not in its best condition, the public bet on the role of the star for creating hope. When this did not happen, a “Facebook war” broke out that outdid the coverage for several days of the Ukrainian war. The only target in that war was Mohamed Salah.
This is Negrig: Welcome to Basyoun
My first meeting with Mohamed Salah was at his home in the village of Negrig in Basyoun Center, Gharbiya governorate, in the Delta of Egypt. His father, Hajj Salah Ghaly, invited me to attend an Iftar celebration hosted by Mo. It was an opportunity to get to know the family more. As soon as the young people of my family knew about meeting Salah, they all asked to attend. I took my nephews, and we attended that generous Iftar, among the villagers and Mo’s family.
The media coverage of this Iftar was very crowded. We had coffee with Mo in his house, which was a precious opportunity for my nephews to take pictures with the big star. It is interesting that my older sister’s son saw that he was the star of the meeting, and he asked to stand between us in his memento photo. The TV presenter Tamer Amin commented on the photo while we were standing next to him: “We are before a big star whom we do not know, and it is time to know who that young man is and why Mohamed Salah was keen to take the picture with him.”
The Mohamed Salah Charitable Foundation
Part of the talk at that meeting, and in subsequent meetings, was related to the establishment of a charitable foundation bearing the name of Mohamed Salah. The foundation officially started a few years after that Iftar party. I was very pleased with the first cooperation of the Mohamed Salah Charitable Foundation with the Al-Moslemany Charitable Foundation, both of which started from Basyoun Center in the Gharbia Governorate.
My village is ten minutes away from Mohamed Salah’s and it was this circumstance that connected me with his father, mother and brother, a connection of friendship and affection.
Hajj Salah Ghaly is a polite and kind person. He is a serious man. He has not relied on his son’s fame or success. Rather, he continued to practice his work and other activities, and continued in his good relations with everyone, as though nothing had changed. Mohamed Salah’s mother possesses a special status for her star son and among all the families of the village. She is a virtuous woman, very kind and calm, and always seems to be at peace; she possesses a smiling and a friendly personality. She loves people and always wishes them well. Mo’s brother Nasr is the closest to his brother, both in looks and personality.
A wedding in the midst of the pandemic
The family of Mohamed Salah held a joyful wedding for his brother Nasr in a quiet venue on the outskirts of Cairo, attended by family and friends. The ceremony was held in the time of the pandemic after the government’s ban on large gatherings had ended. Mohamed Salah attended from beginning to end, and I was surprised by his mingling with the audience, clapping and singing; he carried his brother on his shoulders to celebrate the happy occasion.
After the ceremony, newspapers published the news of Mohamed Salah’s news of infection with the coronavirus. No one else got infected at that party. The international football player recovered days later, but his quarantine made it to the headlines worldwide.
The presence of Mohamed Salah at the celebration in this way, and to risk the possibilities of infection for the sake of his brother’s happiness and the happiness of the family, had a great impact on everyone’s hearts; the “human” Mohamed Salah was much greater than the “star” Mohamed Salah.
Mohamed Salah and psychology
The gradual rise of the global football player Mohamed Salah deserves a second thought. Salah has moved from the countryside of Basyoun to the cities of Europe, from a limited youth center to medium clubs to major international clubs, from average education to better and better, and cultivated behaviour; and from an economic situation that is not much different from the rest of his town, to a prestigious financial position and premium contracts; and from fame that does not exceed local people, to world fame from Japan to Mexico.
Despite that amazing rise, and in almost all aspects of life, Salah was not psychologically shaken or socially confused. He did not show-off cars or planes, or take pictures in ranches and mansions.
This kind of psychological growth that Mo celebrated – along with his general growth in fame and fortune – is the essence of what must be appreciated in the Salah phenomenon. Mo crossed all the great stages, from the village to the world, without noise or boredom. This is what children deserve to learn and what new generations need to realise.
Managing success may be more difficult than managing failure, and Mohamed Salah survived in managing failure in his early years, then he was able to manage success in his later years.
What should Mohamed Salah do?
One day, a picture of Mo holding the book The Art of Indifference went viral. A short time later, that book became known, and its distribution was on the rise. In the meantime, I met Mohamed Salah’s father. I said to Hajj Salah: “Mohamed Salah has to invest his fame and the youth’s attachment to him to be an ambassador for reading.”
Facebook has dominated people’s lives. Books and articles no longer have a decent existence. If the cultural deterioration in our country continues in this way, it will lead to dangerous consequences. And if some are investing in celebrities in many good businesses, the most important area, in my estimation, to invest in is culture.
Famous people from the worlds of art and sports should work to be cultural advocates for the youth, and to be ambassadors for the book. I really hope that Mohamed Salah will be presented as a reader, an intellectual, and a friend for the libraries. Our countries are in need of this difficult yet possible equation: sports in the service of culture, fame in the service of knowledge, and the star in the service of the book.