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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Egyptian Soccer Star Banned for Expressing Sympathy With Massacred Islamists

Just days after he scored a crucial goal to clinch the African Champions League title for his club, Al Ahly of Cairo, an Egyptian soccer player has been suspended by the team and put up for sale because of the way he celebrated his strike, by raising four fingers in the air.

The player, Ahmed Abdel Zaher, confirmed after the game that the hand gesture, clearly visible on television, was intended to remind fans that hundreds of Islamist protesters were massacred in August outside Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque. (The mosque takes its name from the Arabic word for the number four and the gesture has become a symbol of Islamist resistance to the interim government installed by the military.)

Video of the Egyptian soccer player Ahmed Abdel Zaher celebrating a goal on Sunday with the four-fingered hand gesture of support for Islamist protesters.

Mr. Abdel Zaher was immediately embraced by Islamist bloggers, even though he told an Egyptian soccer site that his gesture was meant to honor the memories of everyone killed there in August, both supporters of the deposed Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, and members of the security forces.

The player’s agent said on Wednesday that Mr. Abdel Zaher had apologized to the club, but, as the Cairene journalist who writes as Zeinobia explained on her blog, the political meaning of his gesture was reinforced when “a photo circulated online showing the young player visiting the Rabaa sit-in before its disastrous dispersal.”

As my colleagues Kareem Fahim and Mayy el-Sheikh report, the military-led government has tried to control or extinguish the memory of what took place in August, when the security forces opened fire on the Rabaa protesters, leading to the worst mass killing in Egypt’s modern history. That effort has included unveiling a massive memorial sculpture on the site, showing “two hands, representing the army and the police, cradling an orb that is supposed to represent the people.”

Earlier this week, Egypt’s Kung Fu champion, Mohamed Youssef Ramadan, was suspended for one year by his national federation for wearing a t-shirt with the four-finger sign on the podium at an international competition last month.

Al Jazeera video of the Egyptian martial-arts champion Mohamed Youssef Ramadan explaining why he wore a shirt with the Rabaa symbol on it last month.

To make matters worse for the directors of Al Ahly, who want to avoid antagonizing the military authorities, the only other goal in the club’s 2-0 victory on Sunday was scored by Mohamed Aboutrika, the nation’s most famous player, who was also a prominent supporter of Mr. Morsi. Video still posted on the YouTube channel of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party shows Mr. Aboutrika campaigning for Mr. Morsi in 2012.

A 2012 campaign video still posted on the YouTube channel of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party shows the Egyptian soccer star Mohamed Aboutrika endorsed Mohamed Morsi.

Late last year, when then-President Morsi issued a controversial decree increasing his powers, the Brotherhood’s official website made sure that Egyptians knew that Mr. Aboutrika supported the move.

After the victory on Sunday, Mr. Aboutrika angered Ahly officials by skipping the medal ceremony, which was interpreted by some as a snub of Egypt’s sports minister, and then pulling on a shirt with the number 72 for the celebration with his teammates. The shirt was a reminder of how many fans were killed after an Ahly match in Port Said in 2012, in a riot that many Egyptians fault the police for failing to prevent.

The club announced on Tuesday that Mr. Aboutrika was fined $7,000 “for not receiving his medal in the ceremony that followed the game,” the Egyptian news site Ahram Online reported.