There are two big teams in Cairo. You are either Ahly or Zamalek. Even people who have no interest in soccer, seem under a compliment to express allegiance to one or the other. It is fundamental to the identity of Cairenes.
The rivalry is fierce. Not as fierce as the most epic derby in Christendom ( Bohs v Rovers of course), but pretty darn fierce nonetheless.
I know a Belgian guy here, who has extended family in Egypt. When he met them last week, he discussed his own secular beliefs. His family of devout Coptic Christians were very shocked.
He is a big football fan, and I asked him about going to a Zamalek game next week.
“No I don’t think so”
“Why?” I asked.
“Well my family here are Ahly. They are already shocked at my beliefs about religion. But if I went to a Zamalek game and they found out. Well, that would be much worse. I don’t think they would ever see me again!”
I am researching an article for Blizzard magazine http://www.theblizzard.co.uk focused on how the Egyptian revolution has affected the local soccer scene, how the fans have engaged with the Arab Spring, and the evolving political and social identities of the major teams following the fall of the former regime.
As part of the research (and also to get my live game fix) I went to an Ahly home match in the Cairo International Stadium last week-an impressive ground. The stadium was well less than a third full, but the Ahly ultra’s generated a superb atmosphere through-out. Violence is an issue at Egyptian league games, but not at the one I attended.
The “ultra” phenomenon leaves me a little cold (the insistent singing sometimes feels weirdly disconnected to the actually action on the pitch for one thing) but it is hard not to be impressed by the consistency and ingenuity of the fans. I particularly liked the languid beat to this...